The seven-member Commission of Fine Arts — an independent federal agency tasked with advising the President, Congress and government agencies on “matters of design and aesthetics” in the nation’s capital, according to the commission’s website — consisted entirely of commissioners appointed by Trump.
On Monday, four members — including the chairman — were instructed to resign from their positions by the end of the day.
Justin Shubow, who was appointed in 2018 and later elected chairman, received a letter from the White House on Monday requesting he resign from the commission — or be terminated that evening.
“Should we not receive your resignation, your position with the Commission will be terminated effective 6:00 pm tonight,” according to the letter reviewed by CNN.
Shubow says he refused to resign and is seeking an explanation for his termination. He described the ousting as “an attack on classical and traditional architecture,” pointing to how the commissioners who were removed were strong proponents of classical architectural design.
Last year, Trump signed an executive order seeking to ensure that federal buildings featured “beautiful” architecture, expressing a preference for classical architecture over modernist designs. The order did not explicitly define what standards buildings must meet to be considered beautiful, saying that new federal buildings should be of classical design but not mandating that style.
The move was met with resistance from some architects, including the American Institute of Architects, which expressed strong opposition to the executive order.
“Communities should have the right and responsibility to decide for themselves what architectural design best fits their needs, and we look forward to working with President-Elect Biden to ensure that,” said the group’s CEO, Robert Ivy, at the time.
Biden later revoked Trump’s executive order that promoted “beautiful federal civic architecture” in February.
Asked about the CFA removals during Tuesday’s briefing, White House press secretary Jen Psaki noted that “a number of them were nominated just recently, in January of 2021, so before President Trump left office, and certainly, any President coming in has the right to nominate their own people to serve on a commission or serve in any positions in their own administration.”
President Joe Biden will soon be announcing his intent to appoint four new members — Peter Cook, Hazel Ruth Edwards, Justin Garrett Moore and Billie Tsien — to the commission, the White House said.
“President Biden is proud to nominate this extremely qualified and well-respected group of professionals. … They will bring to the commission a diversity of background and experience, as well as a range of aesthetic viewpoints,” a White House official told CNN.
Monday’s shakeup at CFA comes as the Biden administration has also grappled with how to handle dozens of Trump-era appointees.
Recently the Environmental Protection Agency announced its decision to remove Trump-appointed advisers from two important scientific panels.
Earlier this year, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin also dismissed hundreds of members of 42 Pentagon advisory boards, including controversial late appointments by the Trump administration of former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski and David Bossie, Trump’s deputy campaign manager.
Additionally, since Biden took office, the administration has requested resignations or removed several other Trump appointees across various government agencies and boards.
But for the arts commission, Monday’s action “would represent a severe violation of norms,” Shubow told CNN.
“In the commission’s 110-year history, no president has ever removed a commissioner, let alone a majority of the commission, and let alone the chairman,” he said.
Perry Guillot, a landscape architect who was also among the ousted commissioners, reflected on his experience with CFA, telling CNN that “it has been a joy and an honor to be part of this commission — sadly this brief — but it is only with warm well wishes that I think of this time.”
“I understand the President’s desire to make his own appointments and wish him all the best,” Guillot added.