I’m pleased to report that I’ve joined the Board of Advisors of the new Roger Scruton Legacy Foundation, which honors the work of the eponymous British philosopher, critic, and author who served on the National Civic Art Society’s Board of Advisors, and who passed away in 2020. In 2018, Scruton was appointed chairman of the UK government’s new Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission, which was established to promote better design of homes and living spaces. In a speech regarding his role on the commission, he said, “Aesthetic values are not arbitrary adjuncts to our intellectual equipment; they are our one sure defence against vandalism, and our way of resisting the forces that are destroying our city centres, and drowning us in junk.”
A brilliant, erudite defender of classical architecture and art, and an advocate for the preeminent role of beauty in human life, Scruton’s work on aesthetics and architecture is some of the very best of its kind. Indeed, he was the greatest philosopher of architecture of his time. A fierce opponent of Modernism, he also distinguished himself by his TV documentary essay “Why Beauty Matters.”
Patrick Hagopian, Senior Lecturer in History and American Studies at Lancaster University, published a well-researched, peer-reviewed article, “From a ‘New Paradigm’ to ‘Memorial Sprawl’: The Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Memorial,” about the making of the National Eisenhower Memorial. (PDF here) It appears in the book Constructing Presidential Legacy: How We Remember the American President (Edinburgh University Press). Hagopian discussed my role in the controversy:
Congressional leaders, conservative journalists, and others picked up on the cues coming from Eisenhower family members [in opposition to Frank Gehry’s design] and from a damning report Shubow had issued. . . .
Members of Congress borrowed a line of attack first mounted by Shubow, citing the need for a verbal explanation of the symbolic meaning of the tapestries. How, he asked, was anyone supposed to know that the trees depicted in the mesh represented the landscape of the Midwest? It could be anywhere, Kansas or Kazakhstan. “Monuments,” Shubow said, “ought to be clear and unequivocal in their meaning . . . . They must be legible without a guide or key, and certainly without a visitor center or iPad. Monuments speak to us even without signage.” Legislators critical of the Gehry design extensively quoted Shubow’s words. They said the memorial “should be self-explanatory so that ordinary Americans will understand the ideas being conveyed without the need of a visitor center or guide.”
On October 10, 2019, I’ll be giving a public talk at the Dallas Museum of Art titled “Building Dystopia: What Went Wrong in Modern Architecture.” The free event, which starts at 4:00 pm, is sponsored by the Edith O’Donnell Institute of Art History at the University of Texas at Dallas. The talk will be followed by a reception. For more information, click here.
The National Civic Art Society, along with the Ethics and Public Policy Center and Encounter Books, co-sponsored a panel discussion in celebration of Bruce Cole and his posthumously published book Art from the Swamp: How Washington Bureaucrats Squander Millions on Awful Art. Cole was chairman of the National Endowment of the Humanities from 2001 to 2009, and he was a member of NCAS’s Board of Advisors.
In my talk, I discussed the disaster of the Eisenhower Memorial.
Panelists: Roger Kimball, publisher of Encounter Books and editor of The New Criterion Catesby Leigh, National Civic Art Society Research Fellow Justin Shubow, President of the National Civic Art Society
Moderator: Ed Whelan, President of the Ethics and Public Policy Center
Date: January 14, 2019 Location: Cosmos Club, Washington, D.C.
On October 23, 2018, President Trump appointed me to the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts for a four-year term. I was sworn into the Commission at its November 15, 2018 meeting.
The Commission of Fine Arts is an independent federal agency consisting of seven presidential appointees who are the aesthetic guardians of Washington, D.C. The Fine Arts Commission has approval authority over the design and height of all buildings (public and private), monuments, and memorials that front or abut the grounds of the U.S. Capitol and White House, Pennsylvania Avenue, the National Mall and its constituent parks, and other similar sites. The Commission also has review authority over the design and aesthetics of all construction within the city.
The Fine Arts Commission was established in 1910 to supervise the design and construction of new buildings in accordance with the 1901-1902 McMillan Plan, which, calling for classical design, created the National Mall and the surrounding monumental core as we know them. The Commission’s first chairman was architect and urban planner Daniel Burnham.
I am continuing as President of the National Civic Art Society while undertaking my role at the Fine Arts Commission, which meets monthly.
On October 30, 2017 in Washington, D.C., I’m going to be speaking at a conference on “Culture and Art in a Populist Age” sponsored by the University of Arizona American Culture and Ideas Initiative and the Ethics and Public Policy Center. I’m going to be the respondent for the presentation by Eric Gibson, editor of the Leisure & Arts page of The Wall Street Journal. To quote the official description:
This one day conference explores the immediate future of the arts within the dynamic and controversial political environment that has emerged in the wake of the 2016 elections. How does the recent strand of populism affect the arts and humanities moving forward? Are the high arts insulated from the vicissitudes of quotidian life? Or does a populist surge speak directly to the arts in a post-Enlightenment era? Conference participants are uniquely suited to address these questions.
Heather MacDonald: “Vandals at the Opera House: Identity Politics Comes to the Opera Stage”
Eric Gibson: “Headwinds on the Road to a Democratic Culture”
Roger Scruton: “Why Taste Matters”
Bruce Cole & Daniel Asia: “Consonance and Dissonance in the Music and Art World”
Robert E. Gordon & Aaron D. Mobley: “The Value of Art and Music in a Popular Culture”
The National Civic Art Society is delighted to announce that on March 10 in New York City, the developers of the new Fitzroy condo building in Chelsea are hosting a party at which the Society will be honored. Roman and Williams – the designers of the Deco-inspired terracotta building, which will be located next to the High Line – chose to make NCAS the recipient of that honor. (You can find a Curbed story on the building, whose slogan is “Bring beauty back,” here.)
Roman and Williams released the following statement:
In celebration of the new Fitzroy Residences, JDS Development Group and Largo Investments have organized an event to honor the design firm Roman and Williams. In the same spirit of civic pride that motivated the creation of the building, the firm suggested a gift to the National Civic Art Society to mark the occasion.
For Stephen Alesch and Robin Standefer – the principals of Roman and Williams – the National Civic Art Society represents an organized entity that has chosen to stand up against the status quo approach to design in the public realm, fighting the battle to liberate us from the restricting myth that the modernist style is the only acceptable “architectural language of our time,” when many people – including Roman and Williams – express their values and now-ness using a traditional, vernacular and adaptive visual language.
According to NCAS president Justin Shubow, “The National Civic Art Society is proud to be recognized by the distinguished firm of Roman and Williams. Their widely acclaimed work demonstrates that traditional, beautiful architecture is alive and well – and highly desirable. They are rebels in defense of tradition who reconcile past and present in exciting and innovative ways.”
On April 23, 2016, I’m going to be delivering the keynote address at the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art-New England’s 2016 Bulfinch Awards. David Brussat announced the winners, which include Robert A.M. Stern Architects, at his blog.
For more information on the Keynote Lecture, please contact David Andreozzi at (401) 245-6800. For more information on the Reception, Dinner and Awards Ceremony Gala, please contact Sally Wilson at (978) 578-7129.