MRS. OBAMA: Thank you. (Applause.) Thank you so much. Please, rest. (Laughter.) Good afternoon and thank you, Emily, for that introduction, and thank you for reminding me. You know, after 20-some-odd years of knowing a guy, you forget that your first date was at a museum. (Laughter.) But it was, and it was obviously wonderful; it worked.
So I am delighted to be here with you to celebrate American history through the arts. From the beginning of our nation, the inspired works of our artists and artisans have reflected the ingenuity, creativity, independence and beauty of this nation. It is the painter, the potter, the weaver, the silver smith, the architect, the designer whose work continues to create an identity for America that is respected and recognized around the world as distinctive and new.
The American Wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art captures this spirit in presenting a variety of American art forms and providing a link to history for us to learn from, appreciate and be inspired by.
Our future as an innovative country depends on ensuring that everyone has access to the arts and to cultural opportunity. Nearly 6 million people make their living in the non-profit arts industry, and arts and cultural activities contribute more than $160 billion to our economy every year. And trust me, I tried to do my part to add to that number.
The President included an additional $50 million in funding to the NEA in the stimulus package to preserve jobs in state arts agencies and regional arts organizations in order to keep them up and running during the economic downturn. (Applause.)
But the intersection of creativity and commerce is about more than economic stimulus, it's also about who we are as people. The President and I want to ensure that all children have access to great works of art at museums like the one here. We want them to have access to great poets and musicians in theaters around the country, to arts education in their schools and community workshops.
We want all children who believe in their talent to see a way to create a future for themselves in the arts community, be it as a hobby or as a profession.
The arts are not just a nice thing to have or to do if there is free time or if one can afford it. Rather, paintings and poetry, music and fashion, design and dialogue, they all define who we are as a people and provide an account of our history for the next generation.
The President recently nominated renowned theater producer Rocco Landesman to chair the National Endowment for the Arts. Rocco's entrepreneurial spirit and his commitment to being a bridge between the philanthropic, non-profit and commercial arts community will ensure that all types of art and creative expression are provided fertile ground to live and to grow.
And that's what we hope to do at the White House, that's what we've been trying to do at the White House. We've been trying to break down barriers that too often exist between major cultural establishments and the people in their immediate communities; to invite kids who are living inches away from the power and prestige and fortune and fame, we want to let those kids know that they belong here, too.
I want to applaud the Metropolitan Museum of Art for all the outreach that you do, for having kids like these here today to be involved in this and to experience this and to share this with us, because this is your place, too. So we're very proud of the Met for the work that they've done.
So we are excited. Thank you for including me. And now we can get to the -- we're going to cut the ribbon now. (Laughter.) Thank you so much. (Applause.)