WASHINGTON — In the final hours of the Trump presidency, tweets showing art and artifacts leaving the White House went viral, prompting questions about where they were being taken. Some were worried about theft, others say they are being returned to the museum who loaned them out.
The Verify team is here to clear up all the confusion.
Who owns the works of art in the White House?
Much of the art and artifacts are a part of the permanent White House Collection, managed by the White House curator, but White House and cabinet staff members can decorate with objects from government and public collections, like the Smithsonian.
Our researchers sent links to the viral claims to a spokesperson for the White House Historical Association (WHHA). They responded with a statement via email which states that, "It is important to remember that there are career professionals in place to secure and safeguard the permanent White House Collection and I have been reassured by the current Chief Usher that those roles and responsibilities are being carried out."
Many of the thousands of works of art and historical objects in the White House belongs to the permanent White House Collection, but the WHHA says White House staff can decorate their offices with personal items. Staff can also decorate with loaned works from private or government collections.
"For example," the spokesperson told us, "the White House Historical Association has recently had on loan a painting by Peter Waddell in a West Wing office, for which a loan agreement exists and has been returned to our collection as this administration draws to a close. This is not an unusual practice, but when these items are seen coming and going, this does not mean that these items that are leaving belong to the permanent White House Collection."
A spokesperson for the Smithsonian Institution told us via email that "for many decades, the Smithsonian has loaned works of art and sometimes artifacts to offices in the Capitol and the White House."
They say that there are currently nine Smithsonian-owned items in the White House. At the end of each Presidential administration, the loaned works are returned to the Smithsonian and the new White House staff can make requests for their own décor.
Smithsonian told us explicitly, "There has been no theft of our objects."
The White House Curator accounts for, manages and maintains all items in the permanent White House Collection. The position was established in 1961 by First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy; before this, presidents could throw away anything they wished. Now, it's all accounted for by a team of devoted professionals whose careers span several presidencies.