In a ceremony at the White House, eight National Medals for the Arts and nine National Humanities Medals 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 to the medalists reflected on two American poets Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman to illustrate two fundamental contributions the arts and humanities make to the nation: “you create new possibilities for us all” and “the impact you have on each of us every day as individuals is the impact you have on us as society.” He closed by saying “The arts and humanities do not just reflect America. They shape America. And as long as I am President I look forward making sure they are a priority for the country.”
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 third annual gala celebrating all the medalists at the Smithsonian’s National museum of the American Indian.
Renowned actor John Lithgow was the featured speaker at the gala and his words to the medalists echoed the President’s remarks in the power of the arts and humanities to bring the nation together and to bring joy. Lithgow said, “The arts and humanities are our bulwark against fear. Tonight’s honorees don’t avoid harsh truths – they engage them. They don’t divide us from each other, they connect us and reveal to us our common ground.”
The humanities citations went to Kwame Anthony Appiah, philosopher and novelist; John Ashbery, poet; Robert Darnton, author and librarian; Andrew Delbanco, social critic and professor; National History Day, program that celebrates history; Charles Rosen, pianist and author; Teofilo Ruiz, historian and professor; Ramon Saldivar, writer and professor and Amartya Sen, economist. 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 recipients include Al Pacino, actor; Rita Dove, poet and former US Poet Laureate; Will Barnet, painter, printmaker and teacher; Emily Rauh Pulitzer, curator, art collector and philanthropist; Martin Puryear, sculptor; Mel Tillis, singer-songwriter; André Watts, classical pianist; and the USO (United Service Organizations), which holds performances for American service members stationed around the world.