President Obama Awards the 2011 National Medals of Arts and Humanities at the White House

President Barack Obama awards Robert Darnton a 2011 National Humanities Medal

President Barack Obama awards Robert Darnton, author and librarian, the National Humanities Medal for his determination to make knowledge accessible to everyone. President Obama awarded the 2011 National Medal of Arts and National Humanities Medal in the East Room of the White House, Feb. 13, 2012. 2011. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

The 2011 honorees of the National Medals of Arts and Humanities were at the White House today for an event that President Obama said he and First Lady Michelle Obama look forward to every single year. "It's a moment when America has a chance to pay tribute to extraordinary men and women who have excelled in the arts and the humanities, and who, along the way, have left an indelible mark on American culture," the President said before the ceremony in the East Room.

Today's honorees represented the full spectrum of the arts and humanities, and included actors, poets, authors, singers, philosophers, sculptors, curators, musicians, historians and even an economist. President Obama praised the group for their contributions to the arts, and to American society:

You create new possibilities for all of us. And that's a special trait.  And it assigns you a special task.  Because in moments of calm, as in moments of crisis; in times of triumph, as in times of tragedy:  you help guide our growth as a people.  The true power of the arts and the humanities is that you speak to everyone.  There is not one of us here who hasn’t had their beliefs challenged by a writer’s eloquence; or their knowledge deepened by a historian’s insights; or their sagging spirits lifted by a singer’s voice.  Those are some of the most endearing and memorable moments in our lives.

Equal to the impact you have on each of us every day as individuals is the impact you have on us as a society.  And we are told we're divided as a people, and then suddenly the arts have this power to bring us together and speak to our common condition.

Mel Tillis shows off his 2011 National Medal of Arts

Performer Mel Tillis shows off his 2011 National Medal of Arts after being presented the award by President Barack Obama during a 2011 National Medal of Arts and National Humanities Medal ceremony in the East Room of the White House, Feb. 13, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Sonya N. Hebert)

The full list of recipients is below:

2011 National Medal of Arts

  • Will Barnet
  • Rita Dove
  • Al Pacino
  • Emily Rauh Pulitzer
  • Martin Puryear
  • Mel Tillis
  • United Service Organization
  • André Watts

2011 National Humanities Medal

  • Kwame Anthony Appiah
  • John Ashbery
  • Robert Darnton
  • Andrew Delbanco
  • National History Day
  • Charles Rosen
  • Teofilo Ruiz
  • Ramón Saldívar
  • Amartya Sen
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