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Recent presidential portraits at the Colorado State Capitol and the notice about how to donate toward the creation of a similar image honoring President Donald Trump.
Recent presidential portraits at the Colorado State Capitol and the notice about how to donate toward the creation of a similar image honoring President Donald Trump.

Inside the Controversy Over Donald Trump's Portrait at the State Capitol

A short time ago, Colorado Senate President Kevin Grantham's GoFundMe campaign to finance a portrait of President Donald Trump to hang in the State Capitol exceeded its goal of $10,000, the amount needed for commissioning the artwork.

But while the controversy over such a painting's absence from the Capitol's presidential gallery was entirely a media creation, Steve Barlock, a former gubernatorial candidate who headed Trump's 2016 campaign in Denver and was at the center of the FOX31 story that raised the issue in the first place, doesn't blame the press. Instead, he points his finger at Colorado Citizens for Culture, a nonprofit charged with collecting money donated for the portraits.

"Nobody knew they needed to raise funds for this," Barlock says. "The nonprofit didn't give us any information."

In the view of Jay Sellers, president of Colorado Citizens for Culture, Barlock's frustration at the organization is "totally misplaced." He adds that "each political party seems to be spinning this in a different way."

The matter came to the public's attention thanks to FOX31 reporter Joe St. George. On June 23, St. George tweeted the collage at the top of this post and the following text: "Do you love President Trump? Now is your chance to donate to get his picture up at the Colorado State Capitol. We are approaching two years into his presidency and still no portrait #coleg #copolitics #kdvr."

Two days later, on June 25, St. George put together a package for broadcast whose online headline reads, "Zero Donations So Far for Trump's Portrait at State Capitol." In it, he quotes Barlock saying, "It makes me feel sad" that no portrait of Trump has joined those in the Capitol's collection. According to him, the call for donations toward this effort "should be put out easily. It shouldn't be hard. This should be a bipartisan effort to take care of the tradition of our State Capitol."

That heritage subsequently became international, at least temporarily. Following the FOX31 offering, as seen in a photo tweeted by Representative Steve Fenberg, a prankster supplemented the presidential pics with an image of Russian leader and alleged Trump crush Vladimir Putin.

Representative Steve Fenberg tweeted this photo of a Vladimir Putin portrait that appeared in the State Capitol after news broke about the lack of a Donald Trump painting.
Representative Steve Fenberg tweeted this photo of a Vladimir Putin portrait that appeared in the State Capitol after news broke about the lack of a Donald Trump painting.

In his remarks to St. George, Barlock also criticized the methodology by which Colorado Citizens for Culture solicited for portrait cash — a small sign on the Capitol's third floor with the organization's mailing address. "They want us to write a check?" he asked.

Yes, actually — because, according to Sellers, who's headed the group for four years and served on its board for around a decade, that's the way things have always been done.

Colorado Citizens for Culture is "only a conduit for receiving the funds and then paying the artist who's commissioned," he notes. "Since it's political, it has to be by donations. We're nonpartisan, and we stay that way on purpose. There's no pony in the race for us."

In relation to outreach for donations, Sellers points out that "the only thing we do is put a sign up on the wall and the funds come in — and the political parties already know the process, so there isn't a need for notification, etc. We're a nonprofit, and we don't have the marketing budget to do a capital campaign for a presidential portrait, regardless of party."

St. George's piece states, "It took more than three years for President Barack Obama's portrait to appear inside the third floor's Gallery of Presidents" — a line that suggests the year-plus gap between Trump's election and the portrait's appearance may not be especially unusual. But Sellers reveals that the money for the Obama portrait "was paid for in a couple of months. In the past, there was usually a zealot in either party who took the initiative and brought the funds. That was true for Obama, Bush, Clinton, everybody."

This time around, Grantham has taken the reins, blasting out information about the GoFundMe page via the Colorado Senate Republicans and creating the following video pitch:

On August 1, Grantham starred in a second email on the subject, saluting the "yuuuge" start to the bid for donations. Expect more celebrations now that the amount has topped $10,000.

The windfall should cheer Barlock, who continues to believe Colorado Citizens for Culture dropped the ball when it comes to the portrait. "Did they tell anyone at the Republican Party they needed to raise money? Of course they didn't," he allows. "This is a nonprofit that gets money from the National Endowment for the Arts for the tradition of our Capitol, and for all people and parties. They should understand they need to take this responsibility."

Sellers certainly does. "It's our job and our duty to do this," he says. "And it's not like this wasn't going to happen. We knew the funds were going to be there eventually. It's just taken a little bit longer than usual."

Oh, yeah: Since the portrait tale broke, Sellers has received multiple donations beyond those pledged via GoFundMe — many sincere, but one with a snarky edge.

"I've gotten checks as large as $500," he maintains. "And a guy from Pennsylvania sent one penny."

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