National Medal Awards at the White House

Huffington Post Arts

I recently attended the National Medal of Arts Awards at the White House. The National Medals are awarded by both The National Endowment for the Arts and The National Endowment for the Humanities. The Medals are awarded by the President of the United States to individuals or groups who “… are deserving of special recognition by reason of their outstanding contributions to the excellence, growth, support and availability of the arts in the United States.”

This lifetime achievement award recognizes the extraordinary accomplishments of individuals engaged in the creation and production of the arts in the United States.

This year’s honorees included Will Barnet, painter and printmaker; Rita Dove, poet and author; Al Pacino, actor; Emily Rauh Pulitzer, contemporary arts patron and philanthropist; Martin Puryear, sculptor; Mel Tillis, singer and songwriter; Andre Watts, pianist; and the USO (United Service Organization). The National Humanities Medals were awarded to eight writers, poet John Ashbery, Kwame Anthony Appiah, critic Andrew Delbanco, historian Robert Darnton, musical scholar Charles Rosen, historian Teofilo Ruiz, literary scholar Ramón Saldívar, and Amartya Sen, Nobel laureate in economics. During the past 26 years, nearly 300 extraordinary patrons and artists in the fields of visual, performing, and literary arts have been honored. With this medal, the President recognizes the wealth and depth of creative expression of America’s artists. As NEA Chairman Rocco Landesman said, calling the awardees is one of the most enjoyable aspects of his job.

Every visit to the White House is special, but there is something very exciting about witnessing this event. Perhaps it is because I am a painter and I understand the years of work that went into what they have achieved and I can rejoice with them in their successes. It is an honor to be in a room full of some of our country’s finest artists and their families as they celebrate these achievements. Perhaps it is also being in the White House and the history experienced there. Each time I’ve visited, I’ve learned something new from the Marine Guards who are always happy to share information about the different rooms.

These public rooms are open for us to walk through during the reception. I always enjoy seeing the painting and furniture collection, as well as the portraits of first ladies and presidents. I paid particular attention to the portraits this visit as I was painting a portrait of Nobel laureate Jim Watson the next day. Any discussion with Jim is interesting but all the more so on this day as we talked about America’s artists and the process of creativity.

Having just returned from the White House, it was a reminder that creativity finds expression in many different ways.

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