In a ceremony at the White House, eleven National Medals for the Arts and ten National Humanities Medals were presented by President Barack Obama to legendary artists, renowned scholars, musicians, historians, actors and institutions. The awards honor extraordinary contributions to the arts and humanities and are the highest recognition the United States bestows on its artists and scholars.
Each year the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities provides private financial support for these Presidential honors, including an annual gala, celebrating all the medalists, which was held this year at the U.S. Institute of Peace.
Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation, was the featured speaker at this year’s gala and his remarks wove the accomplishments of all the honorees into a larger narrative about the fundamental contributions the arts and humanities make to the nation. Walker said “This is why the work you do is so important. You demand that America fulfill its promise and purpose. You hold up the mirror to our society and you challenge us as a nation to be, as Langston Hughes said: “The land that never has been yet—And yet must be—the land where every man is free.”
On the following day, President Obama in his remarks to the medalists echoed Walker’s words, drawing on another American poet Emily Dickinson, saying “The men and women that we honor today, recipients of the National Medals for the Arts and the Humanities, are here not only because they’ve shared rare truths, often about their own experience, but because they’ve told rare truths about the common experiences that we have as Americans and as human beings.”
Joining the President and the First Lady in honoring this year’s awardees were the co-chairs and members of the President’s Committee, as well as the chairs of the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities.
The humanities citations went to The Clemente Course in the Humanities; Annie Dillard, author; Everett L. Fly, architect and preservationist, Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, philosopher and novelist; Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, historian; Jhumpa Lahiri, short story writer and novelist; Fedwa Malti-Douglas, scholar; Larry McMurtry, novelist; Vicki Lynn Ruiz, historian; and Alice Waters, author and food activist. 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 John Baldessari, artist; Ping Chong, director, choreographer, and video and installation artist; Miriam Colón, actress; The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation; Sally Field, actress and filmmaker; Ann Hamilton, visual artist; Stephen King, author; Meredith Monk, composer, singer, and performer; George Shirley, tenor; University Musical Society; and Tobias Wolff, author.