WASHINGTON (AP) - Describing them as teachers, President Barack Obama said Wednesday that two dozen recipients of national medals for contributions to the arts and humanities have created works that will last for American life.
At a White House ceremony, Obama awarded medals to 23 singers, dancers, poets, producers, playwrights, scholars and others, and one performing arts organization.
As applause and cheers rippled across the stately East Room, Obama joked that the audience was doing so "because I've bought their books, I've seen their movies, I buy their records. So we're major contributors here."
Turning more serious, he praised the medal recipients for using their talents "to open up minds and nourish souls, and help us understand what it means to be human, and what it means to be an American."
"We celebrate people like our honorees here today not just because of their talent, but because they create something new. They create a new space and that becomes a lasting contribution to American life," Obama said.
Among those receiving a National Medal of Arts are Herb Alpert, of Malibu, Calif., the musician behind the Tijuana Brass phenomenon and co-founder of A&M records; filmmaker George Lucas, of San Anselmo, Calif., and the Washington Performing Arts Society, of Washington, D.C.
Recipients of the National Humanities Medal include author Joan Didion, sportswriter Frank Deford and Robert B. Silvers, editor and co-founder of The New York Review of Books. All three are from New York.
The other National Medal of Arts recipients are:
- Lin Arison, of Bal Harbour, Fla., co-founder of the National YoungArts Foundation and the New World Symphony.
- Joan Myers Brown, of Philadelphia, founder of the Philadelphia Dance Company.
- Renee Fleming, of New York, soprano known to many as "the people's diva."
- Ernest J. Gaines, of Oscar, La., author who drew on his childhood in the rural South in his work.
- Ellsworth Kelly, of Spencertown, N.Y., painter, sculptor and printmaker.
- Tony Kushner, of New York, playwright.
- Elaine May, of New York, for contributions to American comedy.
- Laurie Olin, of Philadelphia, landscape architect.
- Allen Toussaint, composer, producer and performer born and raised in New Orleans.
The other recipients of the National Humanities Medal are:
- Edward L. Ayers, of Henrico, Va., historian.
- William G. Bowen, of Princeton, N.J., former Princeton University president and academic leader.
- Jill Ker Conway, of Boston, historian and academic leader.
- Natalie Zemon Davis, of Toronto, historian.
- Robert Putnam, of Cambridge, Mass., social scientist and Harvard professor.
- Marilynne Robinson, of Iowa City, Iowa, author.
- Kay Ryan, of Fairfax, Calif., former poet laureate of the United States.
- Anna Deavere Smith, of New York, actress and playwright.
- Camilo JosÃ© Vergara, of New York, photographer and documentarian.