[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1997, Book II)]
[September 29, 1997]
[Pages 1261-1266]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

Remarks on Presenting the National Arts and Humanities Medals
September 29, 1997

    Thank you very much. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the White 
House. I thank the Members of Congress for coming, the members of the 
councils who stood up and were recognized. I also want to thank the 
First Lady for that very nice speech and unusual introduction. 
    The spin that was put on my going to the opera at home was slightly 
different than the one you heard. It went more like, ``I've been trying 
to get you to do this for 5 years now. I know you will like this if you 
go. And besides, it's `Carmen,' it's your kind of thing.'' [Laughter] 
And then afterward I said, ``Gosh, I just loved that, and I thought 
Denyce Graves was great, and it was fabulous.'' And she said, ``I told 
you. I told you. I told you.'' So I was glad to have the sort of 
sanitized version presented to you. But I thought, in the interest of 
openness, I should tell you the whole story. [Laughter]
    Let me again say to all of you, you are very welcome here in the 
White House. And let me

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say a special word of thanks to two people: first, to Jane Alexander for 
her outstanding leadership of the National Endowment of the Arts, thank 
you; and second, to Sheldon Hackney, who recently left his job as 
Chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, but who did a 
wonderful job for the United States in the position, thank you.
    This morning we honor 20 men and women and one organization for 
extraordinary achievement in arts and humanities. And in giving these 
awards, we also applaud the achievements of our country. We celebrate 
our capacity for individual expression and common understanding, and we 
rejoice in our Nation's thriving and growing diversity. We take pride in 
the power of imagination that animates our democracy.
    And above all, by giving these awards we declare to ourselves and to 
the world, we are, we always have been, and we always will be a nation 
of creators and innovators. We are, we always have been, and we always 
will be a nation supporting our artists and scholars. It is our 
heritage. It must be a great gift we give to the future.
    As Hillary said, as we work up to the millennium, we will be 
observing it in many ways over the next 4 years that both honor our past 
and encourage our people to imagine the future. Today I invite each of 
you to be partners in that endeavor in the White House Millennium 
Program, to help us to make sure the millennium is marked by a renewed 
commitment to the arts and humanities in every community in our Nation.
    One of the most important goals for the millennium is to give every 
child in America access to the universe of knowledge and ideas by 
connecting every school and library in our country to the Internet by 
the year 2000. Working together with business leaders, we've made solid 
progress. And as we work to connect our schools and libraries we must 
make sure that once our children can log on to the Internet they don't 
get lost there.
    So today I'm pleased to announce that on the 27th of October the 
National Endowment for the Humanities, in partnership with MCI and the 
Council of Great City Schools, will throw the switch on a new 
educational website called EDSITEment--EDSITEment, not bad--[laughter]. 
This exciting new tool will help teachers, students, and their parents 
to navigate among the thousands of educational websites, and there are 
literally tens of thousands of them now. Most important, it will expand 
our children's horizons and instill in them an early appreciation for 
the culture and values that will be with them throughout their lives.
    President Kennedy once said he looked forward to an America that 
raised the standards of artistic achievement and enlarged cultural 
opportunities for all citizens. The men and women we honor today have 
brought us much closer to realizing that vision. More than 30 years 
later, at the edge of the new millennium, we must pledge ourselves anew 
to meet this challenge.
    Now it gives me great pleasure to present the 1997 National Medal of 
Arts and National Medal of Humanities awards. First, the National Medal 
of Arts.
    Like Martha Graham and Georgia O'Keeffe, Louise Bourgeois' name is 
synonymous with innovation, and her life is proof that creative impulse 
never fails. In 1981 her retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, the 
first to be devoted to a woman artist, encompassed 40 years of 
extraordinary work. Since then, she has created another lifetime of 
enduring art, and I have no doubt she has more to teach us.
    Ladies and gentlemen, Jean-Louis Bourgeois, the artist's son, will 
accept the award on her behalf. Louise Bourgeois.

[At this point, the President and the First Lady presented the medal to 
Mr. Bourgeois, who then gave the President a gift.]

    Don't worry, I'll report this on my gift form. Thank you. [Laughter]
    When Betty Carter sings ``Baby, It's Cold Outside,'' it makes you 
want to curl up in front of a fire, even in the summertime. Performing 
with the likes of Ray Charles, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, and 
Lionel Hampton, she is truly a goddess in the pantheon of jazz. Her 
greatness comes not only from her unforgettable voice but from her 
passionate commitment to helping young artists develop their own 
    Ladies and gentlemen, the incomparable Betty Carter.

[The President and the First Lady presented the medal and congratulated 
Ms. Carter.]

    We can't celebrate art today without celebrating the people who help 
us to experience it. Aggie Gund has spent a lifetime bringing art into 
the lives of the American people. With the

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``Studio in a School,'' she forged a new partnership between 
professional artists and public schools to introduce children to the 
joys of creative expression.
    And I might say, that's even more important today. One of the things 
that a lot of us who care about our schools are concerned about are the 
dwindling opportunities too many of our children have in the arts of all 
kinds, because we know it gives these children, so many of them, a 
chance to learn, to grow, to find positive means of self-expression. If 
they never become any kind of artist, the increase in self-
understanding, self-control, self-direction, and pure, old-fashioned 
enjoyment in life is more than worth the effort. And so we are 
especially grateful to Aggie Gund. As president of the Museum of Modern 
Art, she is helping to usher in the 21st century of art.
    Ladies and gentlemen, it's an honor to present her today.

[The President and the First Lady presented the medal and congratulated 
Ms. Gund.]

    From the National Mall to the National Gallery, Dan Kiley has helped 
to redefine the American landscape. He's one of those rare artists who 
join the beauty and variety of nature with the joy and form of design. 
In his thought-provoking, memorable designs, building and site come 
together as one, proving that great landscapes and great buildings are 
part of the same vision.
    Ladies and gentlemen, Dan Kiley.

[The President and the First Lady presented the medal and congratulated 
Mr. Kiley.]

    It is no mystery--[laughter]--why Angela Lansbury deserves this 
award. From the Royal Shakespeare Theatre to Broadway to television, she 
has created vivid characters we can't forget. For that work, she has 
earned three Academy Award nominations, four Tony Awards, and 16 Emmy 
Awards. To that wall of honors we add this one, for she is her own 
unforgettable character.
    Ladies and gentlemen, Angela Lansbury.

[The President and the First Lady presented the medal and congratulated 
Ms. Lansbury.]

    A hush falls in the Metropolitan Opera as the great chandelier rises 
and James Levine raises his baton. For 25 years and 1,600 performances 
of 70 different operas, countless operagoers, television watchers, and 
radio listeners have shared that experience and shared in the great gift 
of his talent. His work has renewed the grand tradition of opera and 
infused it with new life for the next generation of opera lovers.
    Ladies and gentlemen, James Levine.

[The President and the First Lady presented the medal and congratulated 
Mr. Levine.]

    I really admire him. He was up here looking for his mother. He says, 
``I know she's out here somewhere.'' [Laughter] Where is she? Good for 
you. Thank you.
    Just hearing Tito Puente's name makes you want to get up and dance. 
With his finger on the pulse of the Latin American musical tradition and 
his hands on the timbales, he has probably gotten more people out of 
their seats and onto the dance floor than any other living artist. For 
50 years now, the irrepressible joy of his irreplaceable music has won 
him four Grammy Awards, countless honors, and a wide world of fans.
    Ladies and gentlemen, Tito Puente.

[The President and the First Lady presented the medal and congratulated 
Mr. Puente.]

    If anyone has actually given a voice to American dramatic arts, it 
is Jason Robards. In the great works of our greatest playwrights, Eugene 
O'Neill, Lillian Hellman, Clifford Odets, Arthur Miller, and in Academy 
Award performances in great movies like ``All the President's Men,'' he 
has brought the American experience to life with characters that animate 
history and illuminate the human condition. And every one of us who has 
ever had to give a significant number of public speeches has wished at 
some moment in his life that he had a voice like Jason Robards. 

[The President and the First Lady presented the medal and congratulated 
Mr. Robards.]

    Edward Villella quite literally leapt onto the world stage of ballet 
and changed it forever with the stunning grace and muscular athleticism 
that are his signature style. As principal dancer with the New York City 
Ballet, he collaborated with the men who defined 20th century ballet, 
George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins. And as artistic director of the 
Miami City Ballet, he is attracting the ballet audience of the 21st 

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    Ladies and gentlemen, the remarkable Edward Villella.

[The President and the First Lady presented the medal and congratulated 
Mr. Villella.]

    There may not be a serious, committed baby boomer alive who didn't 
at some point in his or her youth try to spend a few minutes at least 
trying to learn to pick a guitar like Doc Watson. A guitar virtuoso 
whose unique style merges many musical traditions, he started his 
remarkable career at age 13, armed with a $12 guitar and a deep love of 
mountain music. Five Grammy Awards and a lifetime of achievement later, 
he still lives in the land his great-great-granddaddy homesteaded, and 
he's still making that old-time mountain music.
    Ladies and gentlemen, Doc Watson.

[The President and the First Lady presented the medal and congratulated 
Mr. Watson.]

    For our artists to create the kind of works we're here to celebrate, 
they have to have three things: time, space, and inspiration. For nearly 
half a century, that is what more than 4,500 artists have found at the 
MacDowell Colony. On this 450-acre farm in rural New Hampshire, Thornton 
Wilder wrote ``Our Town;'' Leonard Bernstein finished his great 
``Mass.'' Today, a new generation of artists thrives in the atmosphere 
created by composer Edward MacDowell and his wife, Marian.
    Ladies and gentlemen, the award to the MacDowell Colony will be 
accepted by the chairman of the MacDowell Colony, a man we all know in 
other guises, Robert MacNeil.

[The President and the First Lady presented the medal and congratulated 
Mr. MacNeil.]

    Now I have the honor of introducing the recipients of the National 
Humanities Medal, men and women who keep the American memory alive and 
infuse the future with new ideas.
    First, Nina Archabal. To those who know and work with her, she is a 
fireball who lets no one stand in the way of her mission to preserve 
Minnesota's history. To the State of Minnesota, she's a bridge-builder 
between native peoples and other Minnesotans, helping them share their 
stories. To America, she exemplifies how tradition informs everyday life 
and shapes history. And just this morning she told the President that it 
was high time he high-tailed it out to Minnesota to see exactly what she 
was doing. [Laughter]
    Ladies and gentlemen, Miss Nina Archabal.

[The President and the First Lady presented the medal and congratulated 
Ms. Archabal.]

    David Berry and I share a goal: to strengthen our Nation's 2-year 
community colleges so that more Americans can get the education they 
need to succeed in life, no matter how old they are or where they come 
from. As professor of history at Essex County College in Newark, New 
Jersey, he's broadened the horizons and expanded the dreams of his 
students. As director of the Community College Humanities Association, 
he's helping 2-year colleges all over the country to do the same.
    Ladies and gentlemen, I don't know how many of you have ever spent 
any time in these 2-year institutions, but they are exhilarating in the 
opportunities they offer to people who not so long ago would never have 
been able to dream of them. And the fact that we are bringing the 
humanities into them and putting them front and center is a very 
important part of inspiring the Americans of the 21st century, because 
more and more of them will find their way to these remarkable 
    Ladies and gentlemen, David Berry.

[The President and the First Lady presented the medal and congratulated 
Mr. Berry.]

    After a very, very successful career as chairman and CEO of an 
investment banking firm, Richard Franke could well have rested on his 
achievements. Instead, he made it his mission to advance the cause of 
the humanities in everyday life. Through the Chicago Humanities Festival 
he founded in 1989, he's bringing the pleasures of art and ideas to the 
people of the great city of Chicago. And his commitment to the 
humanities extends to the entire Nation.
    Ladies and gentlemen, Sir Richard Franke.

[The President and the First Lady presented the medal and congratulated 
Mr. Franke.]

    I doubt that there is a more revered force in American education 
today than Bill Friday. As president of the University of North 
Carolina, he devoted himself to improving education for all Americans. 
There is hardly an important

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educational task force he has not been a member of. He helped to found 
the National Humanities Center. He sat on the Carnegie Commission on 
Higher Education and the President's Task Force on Education. As 
executive director of the Kenan Charitable Trust, he continues his life 
of achievement.
    I can tell you that in all the years that I served as Governor and 
Hillary and I worked to improve education for our children from 
kindergarten through higher education and to change the horizons of the 
South in ways that would bring people together and elevate their 
conditions, no one was more respected or had more influence on how we 
all thought and what we tried to do than the remarkable Bill Friday.
    Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Friday.

[The President and the First Lady presented the medal and congratulated 
Mr. Friday.]

    I think I should say that our next awardee, Don Henley, is not in 
the wrong category. [Laughter] He has already won so many awards for his 
wonderful, wonderful music, he may think that he doesn't need another. 
But today we honor him not for another hit record but instead for 7 
years of relentless effort to protect a vital part of America's history, 
the woods that inspired Henry David Thoreau to write his greatest work, 
``Walden.'' Through his support of the Thoreau Institute, Don is also 
keeping Thoreau's great legacy alive for the 21st century.
    I've known Don for many years, and I told him today right before we 
came out here that if I had a nickel for every time he has hit on me to 
preserve the woods around Walden Pond, I would indeed be a wealthy man. 
[Laughter] He has done his job to preserve a profoundly significant part 
of our legacy as a larger part of his passionate commitment to 
preserving our environment and our natural heritage.
    Ladies and gentlemen, Don Henley.

[The President and the First Lady presented the medal and congratulated 
Mr. Henley.]

    Great writers reveal a world we've never seen but instantly 
recognize as authentic. Maxine Hong Kingston is such a writer. In her 
groundbreaking book ``The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of Girlhood Among 
Ghosts,'' she brought the Asian-American experience to life for millions 
of readers and inspired a new generation of writers to make their own 
unique voices and experiences heard.
    Ladies and gentlemen, Maxine Hong Kingston.

[The President and the First Lady presented the medal and congratulated 
Ms. Kingston.]

    The great chorus of American voices has also been immeasurably 
enlarged by the work of Luis Leal. For 50 years he has told the story of 
the Chicano people, here in America and all over the Latin world. In 16 
books he has revealed the unique voice of Latin literature. In 1995, in 
recognition of his great contributions, the University of California 
created the Luis Leal Endowed Chair in Chicano Studies, the only one of 
its kind in our Nation.
    Ladies and gentlemen, Luis Leal.

[The President and the First Lady presented the medal and congratulated 
Mr. Leal.]

    As we approach the millennium, many Americans are examining their 
own and our Nation's spirituality, faith, and the role of religion in 
our Nation's life. No one has thought more deeply about these questions 
than Martin Marty, a renowned scholar of religious history, the author 
of 50 books, the director of the Public Religion Project at the 
University of Chicago which finds common ground in our diverse 
communities of faith.
    Among many things to which he is faithful, he is faithful to his 
teaching, and he told me he is missing class today, one of the very few 
times in a very long career of teaching. We have all been enriched by 
his work, and we thank him for it.
    Ladies and gentlemen, Martin Marty.

[The President and the First Lady presented the medal and congratulated 
Mr. Marty.]

    Paul Mellon has elevated the great tradition of American 
philanthropy to an art form. His gifts have immeasurably strengthened 
the cultural institutions that are at the very heart of our civil 
society, including, of course, the National Gallery here in Washington. 
With his sister, he established the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the 
Nation's largest private funder of the humanities. And through his 
exceptional generosity, he has enriched the libraries of our Nation with 
precious collections of the world's greatest works.

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    Ladies and gentlemen, Robert Smith of the National Gallery of Art 
will accept the award on behalf of Paul Mellon.

[The President and the First Lady presented the medal to Mr. Smith.]

    No one has done more to expand the American library of voices than 
Studs Terkel. He has quite literally defined the art of the oral 
history, bringing the stories of ordinary people to life in his unique 
style and letting the everyday experiences that deepen our history speak 
for themselves. That is why I am very pleased he has agreed to advise 
the White House Millennium Program on the best way to collect family and 
community histories, a project we will launch with the NEH this spring.
    Ladies and gentlemen, a true American original, Mr. Studs Terkel.

[The President and the First Lady presented the medal and congratulated 
Mr. Terkel.]

    He just thanked me for coordinating the medal with his trademark 
shirt, tie, and socks. [Laughter] The rest of our honorees will just 
have to abide it. We were trying to get the wardrobe right.
    Let me again thank all of you for coming and say a special word of 
thanks to Senator Pell and to Congressman and Mrs. Capps, to Congressman 
Horn, Congresswoman Maloney, Congresswoman Pelosi, Congressman Serrano, 
and Congressman Burr. And I thank them. We have talked a lot about all 
the fights that exist between the President and Congress over the NEH 
and the NEA. It's important to recognize we've got some good supporters 
there, too.
    Let me invite you to enjoy the Marine Orchestra, to enjoy each 
other, to enjoy this beautiful day and the rich gifts our honorees have 
given us.
    Thank you very much for coming.

Note: The President spoke at 9:45 a.m. in the Rose Garden at the White 
House. In his remarks, he referred to Metropolitan Opera mezzo-soprano 
Denyce Graves; former Senator Claiborne Pell; and Lois Capps, wife of 
Representative Walter Capps.