Though her husband’s boss — President Trump — has repeatedly called for the shuttering of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), Second Lady Karen Pence has emerged as one of the agency’s most improbable champions. The wife of Vice-President Mike Pence — an “award-winning watercolor artist“ in her own right — she has made art therapy her cause célèbre. And in a series of posts on the White House blog begun in October 2017, she has sung the praises of the NEA’s art therapy initiative for veterans.
“Over and over again, we hear amazing stories about how the art therapist working with vets has changed their lives forever,” Pence wrote in her second post, dated October 25, 2017. “That was definitely evident on Tuesday as we had the privilege of participating in Creative Forces Summit in Tampa, Florida. Creative Forces: NEA Military Healing Arts Network is an initiative of the National Endowment of the Arts (NEA) in partnership with the US Department of Defense and Veterans Affairs, plus state and local arts agencies.”
Since launching in 2011, Creative Forces has steadily grown, and in 2016 Congress allocated an additional $1.9 million in funding to the NEA specifically to support and expand this program. The initiative is a partnership between the NEA, the Department of Defense, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and state arts agencies. Earlier this month, Pence sat in on a Creative Forces music therapy session at the Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage, Alaska, and “was serenaded by four brave servicemen.” She attended another Creative Forces summit the week before.
Not all of Pence’s blog posts about art therapy are paeans to NEA-funded initiatives. Many recount visits with art therapists and patients at major hospitals, or nonprofit organizations that depend primarily on corporate grants or private donations. One chronicles a party at the Vice President’s Residence last November where she and 60 spouses of current and former members of Congress assembled 800 art supply kits for children’s hospitals.
Though contradictory messaging has been one of the only consistent features of the Trump White House, it’s still striking that the Second Lady is writing glowing articles about an agency the President seems hellbent on closing down. Or perhaps, given her feelings about Trump, Pence’s outspoken support of the NEA isn’t surprising at all.