East Room

5:02 P.M. EDT

THE FIRST LADY:  Well, hello, and welcome to the White House.

Director Beyer, Megan, it’s so wonderful to be able to be a part of another Art in Embassies event. 

Art is about connection.  Art is the evidence and expression of our humanity.  And even when it’s easy to get caught up in differences, art can unite us.  Connection is what diplomacy is all about.

For 60 years, the State Department has recognized the diplomatic power of art, distributing works to American embassies and deploying over 200 U.S. artists as culture envoys to local communities.

In embassies and ambassadors’ residences in countries across the globe, the art of our five incredible medalists hangs on the walls.  And as guests enter, their works are not only a declaration of who we are, they’re an invitation to a conversation and an opening for a connection.

But for these artists, that wasn’t enough.   (Laughter.)  They’ve also spent their time forging connections between themselves, speaking at workshops and exhibitions, creating bonds of understanding of — and friendship that help our diplomats succeed.

Earlier this year, I traveled to Lisbon to see an exhibition there celebrating the 60th anniversary of this program.

One of the works on display was a retelling of Norman Rockwell’s famous “Four Freedoms.”  And some of you are shaking your heads, so I’m sure you know it well — most of you know ro- — Norman Rockwell, right?  (Laughter.)  Okay.  Created by a group of artists that includes one of our wonderful medalists here today: Hank Willis Thomas.  (Applause.)

Rockwell’s paintings capture how he saw his time.  Each presents a moment, a snapshot of American life made possible by our nation’s fundamental values — the four freedoms President Roosevelt laid out in his 1941 State of the Union address: freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. 

More than 70 years later, Hank Willis Thomas created four new images showing those same freedoms but now in his time.

And as each visitor took in the ex- — exhibit, those threads of history and under- — and understanding wrapped around us, staying with us long after we had left, weaving us together into a tapestry that stretches across a culture and language and borders.

That is the spirit of Art in Embassies and their program and of the Medal of Arts award.

Each of our recipients today — each of you — has done our world a service.  In other cities and other countries, you’ve woven more threads into that same tapestry of connection and fellowship.  Because diplomacy isn’t only about the government-to-government relationship; it’s people to people, heart to heart.

With each brush- — brushstroke and photograph, with each workshop and exhibition, you’ve added to that conversation, sewing more invisible threads tying us to one another.

So, I want to thank you — every diplomat working for a brighter future, every painter and sculptor helping us see the hidden colors of the beautiful world around us — for accepting the call to become something bigger than yourselves.

(A toddler in the audience babbles.)

Hi, Daddy.  (Laughter.)  That’s what it’s all about, right?  (Laughter and applause.)

So, thank you for using your talents to make this planet a little brighter, a little better, and a little more beautiful for us all.

Thank you.  (Applause.) 

I almost forgot.  And now, it’s my pleasure to introduce Deputy Secretary of State Richard Verma.  Richard.  (Applause.) 

END                 5:07 P.M. EDT

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