WNPR

Where Do The Arts Fit Into A Trump Presidency?

Jan 19, 2017

President-elect Donald Trump has been clear about issues important to him and his supporters: Build A Wall. Repeal and Replace Obamacare. Make Better Trade Deals. On other issues, large and small, Trump and his surrogates have been more ambiguous: Russia. Climate Change. 

For many who make their living in the cultural field, a big question mark is how arts funding and arts education will fare under the Trump Administration. Little is known about Trump's stance on the arts, and what is known is causing concern among some cultural institutions.

In the early 1980s, Trump commissioned pop artist Andy Warhol to paint a portrait of Trump Tower. Warhol was enjoying a renaissance in the art world, and Trump wanted to get on board.

But when Warhol came back to Trump with a series of eight silk screen images of his skyscraper, he didn't like them.

"Warhol writes in his diary that Trump was upset that the works weren't color coordinated," said Andrew Russeth, co-executive editor of ARTnews magazine, who published an article last summer that took a deep dive into Trump's record on the arts.

The deal fell through, and no money exchanged hands. Those paintings now hang in the The Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh.

One of the eight images of Trump Tower artist Andy Warhol presented to Donald Trump. Warhol wrote in his diary that Trump was upset because they weren't color coordinated.
Credit The Andy Warhol Museum

A few years earlier, Trump made headlines when he destroyed art deco friezes and sculptures from the old the Bonwit Teller Department Store, the structure he was demolishing to make way for Trump Tower.

"The Metropolitan Museum of Art had wanted him to donate parts of the building, decorative details to the Met, to make sure that they were preserved, which he kind of paid lip service to at the time," said Russeth. "But what ended up happening is that they were just torn down and destroyed anyway."

According to Harry Hurt III in his book Lost Tycoon, Trump changed his mind about saving the art after learning that doing so would put his crew two weeks behind schedule.

While demolishing the Bonwit Teller Department Store, Donald Trump also destroyed art deco friezes and sculptures the Metropolitan Museum of Art had requested him to save.
Credit Sigurd Fischer / Museum of the City of New York

Outside of these, and a few other examples, very little is known about Trump's record on the arts and artistic matters.

It's a little surprising -- after all, he has been in the public eye for decades as a wealthy businessman and reality TV star, and he lives in one of the best cities in the world for arts and culture.

But according to Russeth, he's not much of a theater or concert goer. Although he has professed a love of musical theater in interviews, he tends to skip art openings. And unlike other wealthy New Yorkers, including his daughter Ivanka, Trump isn't a collector of art.

It would be hard to consider him a benefactor of the arts. Washington Post reporter David Farenthold, who spent months scouring through Trump's charitable giving, said The Trump Foundation occasionally gives modest amounts to various arts institutions, and the giving seems to be more transactional than philanthropic.

"They (The Trump Foundation) do give money to the Metropolitan Opera in New York and the Kravis Center for Performing Arts in West Palm Beach, but it's consistent with his attendance at events," said Farenthold, "If he wants to go to an event, he will pay $10,000 to buy a table or buy a ticket. His contributions don't go above and beyond his existing social schedule, which those arts events are a part."

Clues about Trump's own personal tastes in art are almost non-existent.

Andrew Russeth said Trump's seeming indifference to art is cause for concern.

"Anyone who works in the cultural field is sort of holding their breath," said Russeth. "It's disappointing and scary when you see someone come into power who has not shown an interest in the arts. And when they have discussed art, it's been in a negative sense, and a sense of censorship."

Russeth fears all of this does not bode well for the future of National Endowment for the Arts.

Trump and the NEA did intersect briefly in the late 1990s when Mayor Rudy Giuliani went after the Brooklyn Museum for showing a work by artist Chris Offili made with inpart elephant dung. Trump weighed in on the controversy. In a statement, Trump called the work "gross" and "degenerate," and promised that as president, he would stop the NEA from funding this sort of art.

In the past, House Speaker Paul Ryan has proposed gutting the NEA, and the issue did not come up for Trump on the campaign trail.

Still, Trump has yet to appoint a nominee to head the NEA -- although several news sources report that Trump's first choice, actor and amateur painter Sylvester Stallone, turned down the job in December.