Remarks at a White House
Luncheon for the Recipients of the National Medal of Arts
August 9, 1988
The President. Well, thank you for
being with us today as we confer the fourth annual National Medal of Arts. I
would like to thank the National Council on the Arts for its list of nominees
and the Committee on the Arts and Humanities for its help in our efforts to
enhance private-sector support in these critical areas. And I also want to
thank Frank Hodsoll, Chairman of the National
Endowment for the Arts, for all of his work.
occasion is a special pleasure for me every year. As I look at the names of the
12 people we honor today, I think of the words of the poet Walt Whitman: ``I
hear America singing.'' The voice
within -- heard -- is the same voice that all great artists can hear. It's the
voice that inspires them, the voice that inspires great American art. But America does not sing in one
voice. No, she sings in many voices, a thousand different songs in a thousand
different keys. And when American art captures the breathtaking variety of this
land, as it does in the work of the seven artists we honor today, America's voices come together
in a chorus of what is best and noblest in us.
can hear America singing in the
compositions of Virgil Thomson, the virtuosity of Rudolf Serkin,
and the performances of Helen Hayes. We can hear her in the prose of Saul
Bellow and the choreography of Jerome Robbins, in the photography of Gordon
Parks and the architecture of I.M. Pei. But we
couldn't hear America's song without the
wonderful contribution of those who dedicate themselves to bringing the arts
before us and instructing us in them. And that's why we honor five others today
J. Freedberg has helped America to sing by teaching
generations of Americans how to look at paintings. Mrs. Vincent Astor, Mr.
Francis Goelet, and Mr. Obert
Tanner have helped America to sing by spending so
much of their lives supporting and promoting the best that America has to offer. Roger
Stevens has helped America to sing by helping its
playwrights find their voice. Every American, as Whitman said, is ``singing
what belongs to him or her and to none else.'' Well, that gift, the right to
sing your own song, is the promise and the glory of America. And I'm proud to be
able to honor those who've used the freedom to speak and think and write and
bring the arts to all Americans. They enrich us and immortalize us and make us
Nancy now is going to help me
do the honors.
Reagan. Mrs. Vincent Astor was born in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and lives in New York where she serves as
president of the Vincent Astor Foundation. Under her guidance, the foundation
has provided major funding to many organizations, including the Metropolitan
Museum of Art and the New York Public Library. The foundation's current focus
is on the homeless and illiteracy. Mrs. Astor was honored by the AmericanAcademy and Institute of Arts and Letters in 1986.
Bellow was born in Lachine, Quebec, and lives in Chicago, where he serves as
professor of the committee on social thought at the University of Chicago. A Pulitzer and Nobel
Prize winner for literature, Mr. Bellow was also the first American to receive
the International Literary Prize. He's contributed fiction, criticism, and
essays to numerous magazines. Mr. Bellow has written 10 novels, the latest of
which is ``More Die of Heartbreak.''
Goelet, a major donor and commissioner of American
music, was born in Bordeaux, France, and now lives in Riverside, Connecticut. He is most noted for
commissioning new works for the New York Philharmonic. His donations for new
productions of the Metropolitan Opera include the world premier of Samuel
Barber's ``Antony and Cleopatra.'' He's
assisted orchestral and operatic composers nationwide.
Hayes was born here in Washington, DC, where at 5 she first appeared on stage
as Prince Charles in ``A Royal Family.'' Her memorable roles include Mary
Stuart, Queen Victoria, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Portia. She's delighted
audiences nationwide in motion pictures, on radio, and television. A beloved
and versatile actress, she's indeed deserving of the [title] First Lady of
Parks was born in Fort Scott, Kansas, and in his youth
supported himself by working as a piano player and professional basketball
player. A newsreel led him to buy his first camera. And within a few months, he
had his first exhibit. His career includes 19 years on assignments for Life
magazine. Mr. Parks is an accomplished photographer, composer, writer, and
director of films.
Pei was born in China and came to this
country to study architecture. He began his own firm, known as the I.M. Pei and Partners. A world-acclaimed architect, Mr.Pei has designed nearly 50 projects
in the United States and abroad, half of
which are award winners. His most recent work on the LouvreMuseum in Paris has earned him the 1988
Medal of the Legion of Honor.
Robbins was born in New York City and made his debut at
19 as a modern dancer. Since then, he's choreographed many Broadway shows,
including: ``On the Town,'' ``High Button Shoes,'' ``Call Me Madam,'' ``The
King and I,'' and ``The Pajama Game.'' He's directed and choreographed such
greats as ``Fiddler on the Roof7E 7E'' and ``West Side Story,'' which is often
considered his masterpiece. Today he serves as co-ballet master and chief of
the New York City Ballet.
Serkin was born in Bohemia, now part of Czechoslovakia -- a little trouble
there -- and today lives in Guilford, Vermont. A child prodigy at 4,
he made his European debut at the age of 12. He made his first American debut
in Washington, DC, in 1933. A
world-acclaimed concert pianist, Mr. Serkin has
toured extensively and taught at the Curtis Institute, where he served as
director from 1968 through 1976. There he helped establish the MarlboroMusicSchool and Festival in Vermont. Mr. Serkin regrets that he can't be with us today, but
accepting for him is his granddaughter, Ms. Sarah Ludwig.
L. Stevens was born in Detroit and grew up in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He began his career as
a real estate dealer and later became a major theatrical producer in New York City and London. In total, he has
produced or coproduced nearly 200 plays. He chaired
the JohnF.KennedyCenter for the Performing Arts
from 1961 to 1988, guiding its fundraising and programming with outstanding
Obert C. Tanner was born in Farmington, Utah, and lives in Salt Lake City. There he's noted for
leadership in constructing Salt Lake City's Symphony Hall and
restoring the historic Capital Theater. Mr. Tanner's also the author of 10
religious and philosophical books. As founder and chairman of his own company,
he's generously contributed to Utah's artistic community.
He's also promoted aesthetic and intellectual growth throughout the United States and Great Britain.
Thomson was born in Kansas City, Missouri, and lived in Paris from 1925 to 1940. He
was the music critic of the New York Herald Tribune for 14 years and has been a
guest conductor with major orchestras throughout the world. A Pulitzer Prize
winner, he's written music in all forms. Among his most important compositions
are three operas: ``Four Saints in Three Acts,'' ``The Mother of Us All,'' and
``Lord Byron.'' Mr. Thomson regrets he can't be with us today, but accepting
for him is Mrs. Richard Flender.
J. Freedberg was born in Boston, Massachusetts, and was educated at BostonLatinSchool and Harvard. He served
twice as chairman of the fine arts department at Harvard and later was
appointed the Arthur Kingsley Porter Professor of Fine Arts. In 1983 he became
Chief Curator with the National Gallery of Art in Washington. A distinguished art
historian and curator, Professor Freedberg has
written five major books and influenced generations of art historians and
The President. Well, again, just thank
you all. God bless you all. And, again, a great congratulation, I know, for all
those who are here -- the recipients of this award. And now, we're going to run
real fast down the hall. [Laughter]
Note: The President
spoke at in the Residence at the White House.