President Obama Presents the 2012 National Medals of Arts and Humanities

President Obama Awards the National Medal of Arts to George Lucas

President Barack Obama awards the 2012 National Medal of Arts and National Humanities Medal during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House. The President presents the National Medal of Arts to George Lucas. July 10, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

  • President Obama Presents the National Medal of Arts to Herb Alpert

    National Medal of Arts, Herb Alpert

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  • President Obama Awards the National Medal of Arts to Lin Arison

    The President presents the National Medal of Arts to Lin Arison. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

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  • President Obama Presents the National Medal of Arts to Joan Myers Brown

    The President presents the National Medal of Arts to Joan Myers Brown. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

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  • President Obama Awards the National Medal of Arts to Renée Fleming

    The President presents the National Medal of Arts to Renée Fleming. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

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  • President Obama Presents the National Medal of Arts to Ernest J. Gaines

    The President presents the National Medal of Arts to Ernest J. Gaines. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

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  • President Obama Presents the National Medal of Arts to Ellsworth Kelly

    The President presents the National Medal of Arts to Ellsworth Kelly. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

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  • President Obama Awards the National Medal of Arts to Tony Kushner

    The President presents the National Medal of Arts to Tony Kushner. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

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  • President Obama Awards the National Medal of Arts to George Lucas

    The President presents the National Medal of Arts to George Lucas. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

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  • President Obama Awards the National Medal of Arts to Elaine May

    The President presents the National Medal of Arts to Elaine May. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

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  • President Obama Awards the National Medal of Arts to Laurie Olin

    The President presents the National Medal of Arts to Laurie Olin. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

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  • President Obama Awards the National Medal of Arts to Allen Toussaint

    The President presents the National Medal of Arts to Allen Toussaint. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

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  • President Obama Awards the National Humanities Medal to Edward L. Ayers.

    The President presents the National Humanities Medal to Edward L. Ayers. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

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  • President Obama Awards the National Medal of Arts to Jenny Bilfield, President of the Washington Performing Arts Society

    The President presents the National Medal of Arts to Jenny Bilfieldof the Washington Performing Arts Society. (White House Photo by Pete Souza)

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  • President Obama Awards the National Humanities Medal to William G. Bowen

    The President presents the National Humanities Medal to David Bowen, accepting for his father, William G. Bowen. (White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

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  • President Obama Awards the National Humanities Medal to Jill Ker Conway

    The President presents the National Humanities Medal to Jill Ker Conway. July 10, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

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  • President Obama Awards the National Humanities Medal to Natalie Zemon Davis

    The President presents the National Humanities Medal to Natalie Zemon Davis. July 10, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

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  • President Obama Awards the National Humanities Medal to  Frank Deford

    The President presents the National Humanities Medal to Frank Deford. July 10, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

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  • President Obama Awards the National Humanities Medal to Joan Didion

    The President presents the National Humanities Medal to Joan Didion. July 10, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

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  • President Obama Awards the National Humanities Medal to Robert Putnam

    The President presents the National Humanities Medal to Robert Putnam. July 10, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

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  • President Obama Awards the National Humanities Medal to Kay Ryan

    The President presents the National Humanities Medal to Kay Ryan. July 10, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

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  • President Obama Awards the National Humanities Medal to Robert B. Silvers

    The President presents the National Humanities Medal to Robert B. Silvers. July 10, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

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  • President Obama Awards the National Humanities Medal to Anna Deavere Smith

    The President presents the National Humanities Medal to Anna Deavere Smith. July 10, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

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  • President Obama Awards the National Humanities Medal to Marilynne Robinson

    The President presents the National Humanities Medal to Marilynne Robinson. July 10, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

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  • President Obama Awards the National Humanities Medal to Camilo José Vergara

    The President presents the National Humanities Medal to Camilo José Vergara. July 10, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

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What do an acclaimed Opera singer, the director of Star Wars, and a Harvard scholar have in common? Today at the White House, they were all honored by President Obama as recipients of the National Medals of Arts and Humanities.

In a ceremony in the East Room, President Obama presented 24 medals, equally divided between the National Medal of Arts and the National Humanities Medal, to extraordinary individuals who impacted American life. As the President said, the medal recipients "used their talents in the arts and the humanities 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."

And that's no small feat. Today's awardees included screenwriters, dancers, poets, and professors. They made phrases like "Luke, I am your father" familiar, and they challenged our fundamental beliefs about American civic society. Some won a Grammy, Pulitzer or MacArthur Genius Award, but all awardees gave more to the country than their physical prizes can ever represent.

In today's ceremony, President Obama said that "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. And that’s true for all of these honorees."  

President Obama told the medalists:

"The work that we honor today, the lifetime achievement of these artists and these scholars, reminds us that the human imagination is still the most powerful tool that we have as a people. That’s why we celebrate their creativity and the fundamental optimism, the notion that if they work that hard somebody will actually pay attention. That’s why we have to remain committed to the dreamers and the creators and innovators who fuel that progress and help us light the way ahead, because our children, our grandchildren deserve to grow up in a country where their dreams know no bounds and their ambitions extend as far as their talents and hard work can take them."

Watch this video on YouTube

Here's a full list of the impressive recipients of the National Medals of Arts and the National Humanities Medals:

2012 National Medal of Arts

  • Herb Alpert
  • Lin Arison
  • Joan Myers Brown
  • Renée Fleming
  • Ernest J. Gaines
  • Ellsworth Kelly
  • Tony Kushner
  • George Lucas
  • Elaine May
  • Laurie Olin
  • Allen Toussaint
  • Washington Performing Arts Society, Washington, DC

2012 National Humanities Medal

  • Edward L. Ayers
  • William G. Bowen
  • Jill Ker Conway
  • Natalie Zemon Davis
  • Frank Deford
  • Joan Didion
  • Robert Putnam
  • Marilynne Robinson
  • Kay Ryan
  • Robert B. Silvers
  • Anna Deavere Smith
  • Camilo José Vergara

You can learn more about the National Medal of Arts from the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Humanities Medal from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Related Topics: Inside the White House
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