Just before the holiday, the White House announced the recipients of the 2012 National Medal of Arts and National Humanities Medals. Arts and Humanities Medals were first given out in the mid 1980’s by President Reagan. These medals are the highest award an artist or art patron may receive from the United States. Any US citizen may nominate an artist for a National Medal of Arts.
From the White House press release, “The National Endowment for the Arts was established by the Congress in 1965 as an independent agency of the Federal Government. To date, the NEA has awarded more than $4 billion to support artistic excellence, creativity, and innovation for the benefit of individuals and communities.”
This year the Arts Medal is being given to eleven people and one organization and twelve people will be honored with a Humanities Medal.
Several names on the list stood out to me as being especially significant for our generation.
Tony Kushner, the theatrical writer famously known for his award winning play Angels in America, is one of the honorees for an Arts Medal. According to information regarding the awards, he is being rewarded “for his contributions to American theater and film. Whether for the stage or the silver screen, his scripts have moved audiences worldwide, marrying humor to fury, history to fantasy, and the philosophical to the personal.”
Another honoree you may recognize is George Lucas who is being rewarded “for his contributions to American cinema. By combining the art of storytelling with boundless imagination and cutting-edge techniques, Mr. Lucas has transported us to new worlds and created some of the most beloved and iconic films of all time.”
I was touched to see Joan Didion on the list. Her book, The Year of Magical Thinking, is one of the most breathtaking books on loss and grief I have ever known. She is being honored “for her mastery of style in writing. Exploring the culture around us and exposing the depths of sorrow, Ms. Didion has produced works of startling honesty and fierce intellect, rendered personal stories universal, and illuminated the seemingly peripheral details that are central to our lives.”
For all of us who are fans of the (very much missed) West Wing, you will rejoice to see actress and and professor Anna Deavere Smith be honored “for her portrayal of authentic American voices. Through profound performances and plays that blend theater and journalism, she has informed our understanding of social issues and conveyed a range of disparate characters.”
The White House briefing room has a complete list of the nominees and what they are being honored for.
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