Obama awards medals in arts; humanities
July 10th, 2013
05:24 PM ET
9 years ago

Obama awards medals in arts; humanities

Washington (CNN) - What does President Barack Obama think George Lucas, Marilynne Robinson and Joan Didion all have in common?

Aside from the fact they’re among this year's recipients of the National Medal of Arts and Humanities, the president proclaimed Wednesday, “They are all teachers.”

Obama and 24 'teachers', also known as some of America's most influential artists and writers, gathered in Washington for the 2012 National Medal of Arts and the National Medal of Humanities Awards.

As Obama looked across the East Room of the White House, he described what he saw: "At first glance this is a pretty diverse group, we've got incredible singers and dancers, we have poets and producers, musicians, playwrights, scholars, they come from all across the country, all around the world and yet for all their differences today's honorees have one thing in common and that is they are teachers; whether they realize it or not. They have taught us about ourselves and our world."

Among the honorees, even the president seemed at times to be star struck.

"Frankly, this is just fun for me because I feel like I know you all because I've enjoyed your performances; your writings have fundamentally changed me. I think for the better,” he said.

The medals are given through the National Endowment for the Arts to "recognize extraordinary accomplishments of individuals engaged in the creation and production of the arts in the United States," according to the NEA website.

The medal recipients are more than just celebrities - their work will have a lasting impact on America, said Obama.

"We celebrate people like our honorees here today not just because of their talent but because they create something new,” Obama explained. “They create a new space and that becomes a lasting contribution to American life. Together the men and women with us today have helped us appreciate individual talent. But as I said earlier, they have also helped us to bridge our differences."

In his remarks, the president also gave the world a glimpse into what his childhood was like.

"They have also helped us…to recognize all the things we share as Americans, whether its arts or humanities, sports. Frank, I grew up reading Sports Illustrated. I think it was very good for me,” Obama said, referring to award honoree Frank Deford, the American sportswriter and novelist known for writing for Sports Illustrated for half a century.

George Lucas, the screenwriter and producer of the Star Wars films, also had Obama reminiscing about his youth.

"To make it look like those planes in space are actually flying like they are…I'm just saying, I remember when I first saw Star Wars. There's a whole generation that thinks special effects always looked like they do today. It used to be that you would see, like, a string on the little model space ships!"

Another medal recipient, Allen Toussaint, was lauded by the president for his contributions to enriching both music and the human condition.

"Somebody like Allen Toussaint is being honored here for his incredible contributions to the rhythm and blues and jazz music of his beloved New Orleans,” he said. “After his hometown was battered by Katrina and Allen was forced to evacuate, he did something even more important for his city, he went back and since then Allen has devoted his musical talent to lifting up and building up a city."

The full list of the 2012 National Arts Medals recipients are: Herb Alpert, Lin Arison, Joan Myers Brown, Renée Fleming, Ernest Gaines, Ellsworth Kelly, Tony Kushner, George Lucas, Elaine May, Laurie Olin, Allen Toussaint and The Washington Performing Arts Society.

The full list of 2012 National Humanities Medal recipients are: Edward L. Ayers, William G. Bowen, Jill Ker Conway, Natalie Zemon Davis, Frank Deford, Joan Didion, Robert Putnam, Marilynne Robinson, Kay Ryan, Robert B. Silvers, Anna Deavere Smith and Camilo José Vergara.

"Every one of them has helped us see beyond outward appearances and appreciate the significance of what's within and for that we are incredibly grateful," Obama said.

Filed under: President Obama
soundoff (6 Responses)
  1. tom l.

    I'm curious at what your thoughts are, as a lawyer, with respect to our President choosing which laws he wants to enforce and which ones he doesn't. Since he has delayed implementing the ACA, which is the law of the land as I keep being told by people like you, then why is it okay for him to just ignore parts of it? I would think that someone as intellectually "honest" as you would have a real problem with his selective enforecement.
    I can't wait for the rationalizing away of this one.

    July 10, 2013 05:39 pm at 5:39 pm |
  2. yeah but

    Why isn't he busy trying to implement Obamacare? If he spent less time on the golf course and at these bogus events, he might actually be able to get something done.

    July 10, 2013 05:53 pm at 5:53 pm |
  3. Richard Long

    Another "fluff" story to protect Obama and coved the fact that he:
    – went on a $multimillion trip/vacation to Africa (that accomplished what?)
    – pledged $7 billion to Africa rather than address problems in the US
    – backed and funded a regime in Egypt that the people hated and quickly got rid of
    – blatantly defying his own laws by delaying Obamacare provisions
    – silencing news sources through spying and intimidation
    – renewed and expanded spying on US civilians
    – used the IRS as a political weapon
    Etc., etc., etc...

    July 10, 2013 06:07 pm at 6:07 pm |
  4. Charlie W.

    You've got the Arts and Humanities recipient lists switched. Herb Alpert won the Arts medal today. An impressive group...

    July 10, 2013 07:02 pm at 7:02 pm |
  5. Revolution

    One of the worst presidents in our history!

    July 10, 2013 08:36 pm at 8:36 pm |
  6. Thomas

    National Medal of Arts and the National Medal of Humanities Awards.

    Thats what makes America inspiring , from sea to shining sea !

    Not the awards , but the people and our creative soul .

    @Jeff Brown in Jersey
    One of the best presidents in our history!
    Top ten , for sure !

    July 11, 2013 01:34 am at 1:34 am |