Biden Purges US Commission of Fine Arts
An aerial view of Washington, D.C., shows the Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument as well as the U.S. Capitol. (Getty)
By Charlie McCarthy | Tuesday, 25 May 2021 01:34 PM
President Joe Biden on Monday unprecedentedly purged the nonpartisan U.S. Commission of Fine Arts that advises Congress on public architecture, firing its chairman and 3 other commissioners.
Justin Shubow, appointed by President Donald Trump in 2018 to chair the commission, provided NPR with a copy of a letter requesting his resignation. The letter said he would be fired at 6 p.m. E.T. Monday night.
The resignations of landscape architect Perry Guillot, architect Steven Spandle, and artist Chas Fagan were also requested.
Fagan, Spandle, and Guillot were appointed to their positions by Trump on Jan. 19.
No commission member since 1910 has ever been asked to tender his or her resignation before their term was up.
A May 24 letter from White House Office of Presidential Personnel Director Catherine M. Russell to Shubow, said, "Should we not receive your resignation, your position with the Commission will be terminated effective 6:00 pm tonight."
Shubow, a strong defender of classical architecture, declined to resign.
The Commission of Fine Arts is an independent federal agency that advises Congress and the White House on government "on matters of design and aesthetics." It reviews designs "proposed for memorials, coins, medals, and new or renovated government buildings."
The commission’s seven members are appointed by the president to serve 4-year terms and are chosen from "disciplines including art, architecture, landscape architecture, and urban design."
"As chairman of the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, I was shocked and dismayed to learn that 3 of my fellow commissioners, along with myself, have been asked to resign or be terminated by the President,” Shubow said in his response to the White House's request.
"In the Commission's 110-year history, no commissioner has ever been removed by a President, let alone the commission's chairman. Any such removal would set a terrible precedent."
A renowned sculptor and painter, Fagan's statue of Civil Rights icon Rosa Parks stands in the National Cathedral, and his statue of former President Ronald Reagan stands in the Capitol Rotunda. His paintings include First Lady Barbara Bush's official portrait, and the Vatican's official portrait of St. Mother Theresa.
Spandle's works includes the White House’s new Tennis Pavilion, and Guillot’s works include the new White House Rose Garden and Children’s Garden, The Federalist said.
Shubow, also president of the nonprofit National Civic Art Society, is at the forefront of the battle to rebuild Manhattan’s Penn Station.
He helped craft Trump's controversial executive order that intended to promote neoclassical architecture as the official style for federal buildings in Washington and at new federal courthouses elsewhere.
Biden revoked Trump's executive order in February.
The Trump administration stressed classical architecture, but opponents prefer modern architecture.
Biden's order instructed the director of the Office of Management and Budget and any related departments and agencies to "promptly consider taking steps to rescind any orders, rules, regulations, guidelines, or policies, or portions thereof" that would've implemented Trump's actions.
The president also called for the abolishment of any "personnel positions, committees, task forces, or other entities established" to fulfill Trump's actions "as appropriate and consistent with applicable law."
Guillot told NPR he was "disappointed" to receive the letter but accepted the decision that his position has been terminated. He added the request was more about "the math," since Biden will get 4 new appointments to the commission.