PCAH Honors National Medalists PCAH Honors National Medalists

In a ceremony at the White House, twenty National Medals for the Arts and the Humanities were presented by President and Mrs. Barack Obama to legendary artists, renowned scholars, musicians, poets and institutions.  The awards honor extraordinary contributions to the arts and humanities and are the highest recognition the U. S. bestows on its artists and scholars.

President Obama in his remarks said of this year’s medalists, “Time and again, the tools of change, and of progress, of revolution, of ferment—they’re not just pickaxes and hammers and screens and software, but they have also been brushes and pens and cameras and guitars.”

Each of the twenty individuals and organization recognized with the nation’s highest award for achievement in the arts and humanities fits this description. Through the work and vision of these artists and scholars, our assumptions are challenged and as the President remarked, “That’s what pushes us to be better, to be faithful to the sense of humanity that can be lost in the experience of our daily lives.”

PCAH Honors National Medalists President's Committee Co-Chair George Stevens, Jr. congratulates the National Medal of the Arts & Humanities awardees at the Smithsdonian's Renwick Gallery, which hosted the PCAH event honoring the 2010 Medalists. Photo by Tony Brown
Joining the President and the First Lady in honoring this year’s awardees were the co-chairs and members of President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities (PCAH), as well as the chairs of the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities.  Each year the President’s Committee provides private financial support for these Presidential honors and this year it hosted the second annual gala celebrating all the medalists at the Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery.

PCAH Honors National Medalists Academy award winning filmmaker Mira Nair was the keynote speaker for the dinner honoring the medalists, and she recalled how her own career was propelled by support from NEA and NEH as were many of the medalists.  Photo by Tony Brown
Renowned filmmaker Mira Nair was the featured speaker at the gala and her words to the medalists echoed those of the President when she said, “All of the individuals here tonight are true luminaries. This visionary quality has defined America around the globe for many decades. These individuals have, with their work, brought us truth and beauty with feeling, personal and political stories about how they see their world.”

The humanities citations went to prizewinning authors and historians Gordon Wood,  Bernard Bailyn, Jacques Barzun, Philip Roth, Joyce Carol Oates and Arnold Rampersad; poet Wendell Berry; scholars Roberto Echevarria, Stanley Katz and Daniel Aaron.   First awarded by NEH in 1989 as the Charles Frankel Prize, the National Humanities Medal, honors individuals and organizations whose work has deepened the nation's understanding of the humanities, broadened citizens' engagement with the humanities, or helped preserve and expand America's access to important humanities resources.

The NEA’s National Medal of Arts established by Congress in 1984, is awarded by the President to those who have made extraordinary contributions to the creation, growth, and support of the arts in the United States. This year’s recipient’s include pianist Van Cliburn; sculptor Mark di Suvero; musical impresario Quincy Jones; legendary jazz saxophonist and musician Sonny Rollins; singer and songwriter James Taylor; actress Meryl Streep; author  Harper Lee; poet Donald Hall; critic, playwright and theatre impresario Robert Brustein; and Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival.      

Additional information on the National Medal of the Arts can be found  here and the National Humanities Medal here.