The President Presents the 2013 National Medal of Arts and National Humanities Medal

The President Presents the 2013 National Medal of Arts and National Humanities Medal


(applause) The President: Thank
you, everybody. (applause) Please have a seat. Well, welcome to
the White House. It has been 200 years since
Dolley Madison saved the portrait of George Washington
that hangs in this room from an advancing British army. So I guess you could say that
the White House has always supported the arts. (laughter) I’m glad to say that Michelle
has never had to save any paintings that I know
of from Bo or otherwise. (laughter) But we do believe in
celebrating extraordinarily talented Americans and their
achievements in the arts and in the humanities. So I want to thank
Jane Chu and Bro Adams, the chairs of the National
Endowment of the Arts and the National Endowment
of the Humanities for their outstanding work. And I want to thank
members of Congress, including a great champion
of the arts, Nancy Pelosi, for joining us this afternoon. (applause) The late, great Maya
Angelou once said, “A bird doesn’t sing
because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.” Each of the men and women that
we honor today has a song — literally, in some cases. For others, it’s a
talent, or a drive, or a passion that they just
had to share with the world. To our honorees: Like most
creative and brainy people, you did not cultivate your song
for accolades or applause. If there were no
medal for your work, I expect you’d still be out
there designing buildings and making movies and digging
through archives and asking tough questions in interviews. But we do honor you today —
because your accomplishments have enriched our lives
and reveal something about ourselves and about our country. And we can never take for
granted the flash of insight that comes from watching a
great documentary or reading a great memoir or novel, or
seeing an extraordinary piece of architecture. We can’t forget the wonder we
feel when we stand before an incredible work of art,
or the world of memories we find unlocked with a simple
movement or a single note. The moments you help create
— moments of understanding or awe or joy or sorrow —
they add texture to our lives. They are not incidental to
the American experience; they are central to it —
they are essential to it. So we not only
congratulate you this afternoon, we thank you
for an extraordinary lifetime of achievement. I’ll just close by telling
a tale of something that took place in this
house, back in 1862. President Lincoln called
together a meeting of his Cabinet to present them with
the Emancipation Proclamation. But that was not the
first item on his agenda. This is a little-known story. Instead, he began reading out
loud from a story from the humorist, Artemus Ward. It was a story called,
“High-Handed Outrage at Utica.” According to one
often-repeated account, after he finished a chapter,
Lincoln laughed and laughed. His Cabinet did not. (laughter) So Lincoln read them
another chapter. (laughter) And they still
sat there in stony silence. Finally, he put the book
down, and said, “Gentlemen, why don’t you laugh? You need this medicine
as much as I do.” To be clear, I probably
will not be trying this in my Cabinet meetings. (laughter) Certainly not if I’m
presenting something like the Emancipation Proclamation. (laughter) But what Lincoln understood
is that the arts and the humanities aren’t
just there to be consumed and enjoyed whenever we have
a free moment in our lives. We rely on them constantly. We need them. Like medicine,
they help us live. So, once again, I want to thank
tonight’s honorees for creating work that I’m sure would have
met President Lincoln’s high standards. In this complicated world, and
in these challenging times, you’ve shared a song with us and
enhanced the character of our country, and for that we are extraordinarily grateful. It is now my privilege
to present these medals to each of the recipients
after their citation is read. So, our outstanding
military aides, please. (applause) Military Aide:
The National Medal of Arts recipients: Julia Alvarez. The 2013 National Medal of
Arts to Julia Alvarez — (applause) — for her extraordinary
storytelling. In poetry and in prose, Ms.
Alvarez explores themes of identity, family
and cultural divides. She illustrates the complexity
of navigating two worlds and reveals the human
capacity for strength in the face of oppression. (applause) Accepting on behalf of
Brooklyn Academy of Music, Karen Brooks Hopkins. (applause) The 2013 National Medal
of Arts to Brooklyn Academy of Music for innovative
contributions to the performing and visual arts. For over 150 years, BAM has
showcased the works of both established visionaries and
emerging artists who take risks and push boundaries. (applause) Joan Harris. (applause) The 2013 National
Medal of Arts to Joan Harris for supporting creative
expression in Chicago and across our country. Her decades of leadership and
generosity have enriched our cultural life and helped
countless artists, dancers, singers and musicians bring
their talents to center stage. (applause) Bill T. Jones. (applause) The 2013 National
Medal of Arts to Bill T. Jones for his contributions
as a dancer and choreographer. Renowned for provocative
performances that blend an eclectic mix of modern
and traditional dance, Mr. Jones creates works that
challenge us to confront tough subjects and inspire
us to greater heights. (applause) John Kander. (applause) The 2013 National Medal
of Arts to John Kander for his contributions
as a composer. For more than half a century,
Mr. Kander has enlivened Broadway, television and film
through songs that evoke romanticism and wonder, and
capture moral dilemmas that persist across generations. (applause) Jeffrey Katzenberg. (applause) The 2013 National
Medal of Arts to Jeffrey Katzenberg for lighting up our
screens and opening our hearts through animation and cinema. Mr. Katzenberg has embraced new
technology to develop the art of storytelling and transform
the way we experience film. (applause) Maxine Hong Kingston. (applause) The 2013 National
Medal of Arts to Maxine Hong Kingston for her
contributions as a writer. Her novels and non-fiction have
examined how the past influences our present, and her voice has
strengthened our understanding of Asian American identity,
helping shape our national conversation about
culture, gender and race. (applause) Albert Maysles. (applause) The 2013 National
Medal of Arts to Albert Maysles for rethinking and remaking
documentary film in America. One of the pioneers
of direct cinema, he has offered authentic
depictions of people and communities across the
globe for nearly 60 years. By capturing raw emotions
and representations, his work reflects the unfiltered
truths of our shared humanity. (applause) Linda Ronstadt. (applause) The 2013 National Medal
of Arts to Linda Ronstadt for her one-of-a-kind voice and
her decades of remarkable music. Drawing from a broad
range of influences, Ms. Ronstadt defied expectations
to conquer American radio waves and help pave the way for
generations of women artists. (applause) Billie Tsien and Tod Williams. (applause) The 2013 National Medal
of Arts to Billie Tsien and Tod Williams for their
contributions to architecture and arts education. Whether public or private, their
deliberate and inspired designs have a profound effect on the
lives of those who interact with them, and their teaching and
spirit of service have inspired young people to
pursue their passions. (applause) James Turrell. (applause) The 2013 National Medal
of Arts to James Turrell for his groundbreaking
visual art. Capturing the powers
of light and space, Mr. Turrell builds experiences
that force us to question reality, challenging our
perceptions not only of art, but also of the world around us. (applause) National Humanities Medal
Recipients: M. H. Abrams. (applause) The 2013 National Humanities
Medal to M. H. Abrams for broadening the study of literature. As a scholar, writer and critic,
Dr. Abrams has expanded our perception of the romantic
tradition and explored the modern concept of
artistic self-expression in Western culture,
influencing and inspiring generations of students. (applause) Accepting on behalf of
American Antiquarian Society, Ellen Dunlap. (applause) The 2013 National
Humanities Medal to American Antiquarian
Society for safeguarding the American story. For more than two centuries,
the Society has amassed an unparalleled collection of
historic American documents, served as a research center
for scholars and students alike, and connected
generations of Americans to their cultural heritage. (applause) David Brion Davis. (applause) The 2013 National Humanities
Medal to David Brion Davis for reshaping our
understanding of history. Dr. Davis has shed light on the
contradiction of a Union founded on liberty, yet existing
half-slave and half-free. And his examinations of
slavery and abolitionism drive us to keep making moral
progress in our time. (applause) William
Theodore de Bary. (applause) The 2013 National
Humanities Medal to William Theodore De Bary
for enlightening our view of the world. As a scholar of
East Asian Studies, Dr. de Bary has fostered a
global conversation based on the common values and experiences shared by all cultures, helping to bridge differences and build trust. (applause) Darlene Clark Hine. (applause) The 2013 National
Humanities Medal to Darlene Clark
Hine for enriching our understanding of the
African American experience. Through prolific
scholarship and leadership, Dr. Hine has examined
race, class and gender, and has shown how the
struggles and successes of African American
women have shaped the nation we are today. (applause) John Paul Jones. (applause) The 2013 National Humanities
Medal to John Paul Jones for honoring nature
and indigenous traditions in architecture. As the creative mind behind
diverse and cherished institutions around the world,
Mr. Jones has designed spaces worthy of the
cultures they reflect, the communities they serve, and
the environments they inhabit. (applause) Stanley Nelson. (applause) The 2013 National
Humanities Medal to Stanley Nelson for
documenting the stories of African Americans
through film. By using his camera to tell both
well-known and lesser-known narratives, Mr. Nelson
has exposed injustices and highlighted triumphs,
revealing new depths of our nation’s history. (applause) Diane Rehm. (applause) The 2013 National Humanities
Medal to Diane Rehm for illuminating the people and
stories behind the headlines. In probing interviews with
everyone from pundits to poets to Presidents, Ms. Rehm’s keen
insights and boundless curiosity have deepened our understanding
of our culture and ourselves. (applause) Anne Firor Scott. (applause) The 2013 National Humanities
Medal to Anne Firor Scott for pioneering the study of
women in the American South. Dr. Scott’s exploration of
the previously unexamined lives of Southern women
of different races, classes and political ideologies has
established women’s history as vital to our conception
of Southern history. (applause) Krista Tippett. (applause) The 2013 National
Humanities Medal to Krista Tippett for
thoughtfully delving into the mysteries
of human existence. On the air and in print, Ms.
Tippett avoids easy answers, embracing complexity and
inviting people of every background to join her
conversation about faith, ethics, and moral wisdom. (applause) The President: I think
now is a good time for everybody to stand up and give
these outstanding winners — or recipients a big
round of applause. (applause) So congratulations
to all of you. We could not be more
appreciative of everything you’ve done. I was mentioning, as people
were coming up, I’ve been personally touched by all
sorts of these folks. I was mentioning to Maxine
that when I was first writing my first book and trying to
teach myself how to write, “The Woman Warriors” was
one of the books I read. After the book was done,
Diane was one of the few interviews that was granted. (laughter) I told Linda Ronstadt
I had a little crush on her back in the day. And I know all of you
have been touched similarly by these amazing people. So we are very grateful to you. On behalf of
Michelle and myself, as we’re taking pictures with
the recipients and their families, please continue to
enjoy the reception here. Thank you very much, everybody. (applause)

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