John F. Kennedy photo

Remarks at a Close & Circuit Television Broadcast on Behalf of the National Cultural Center.

November 29, 1962

Mr. Stevens, Mrs. Gardner, Mr. Vice President, Mr. Chief Justice, ladies and gentlemen:

This is a notable occasion for all of us here in Washington and around the country, and I am very happy to greet all of you who have come and who are taking part in this great effort.

I hope that you're as proud of it as I am. We're .particularly pleased to have with us as our guest tonight from Augusta, Ga., the man under whose administration this project was started and who has given it wholehearted support--ladies and gentlemen, General Eisenhower.

General, I am sorry we are not all there with you.

I want to assure the officials of my administration tonight that this demonstration of support for the arts is modest and painless compared to what has been required of past governments and past administrations.

In 1664, Louis the XIV, in his own efforts to encourage the arts, donned brilliant tights and played in a drama called "Furious Roland" before a happy court. Moreover, he drafted the highest offices of his administration for the play so that, according to an account, all clad in brilliant tights themselves they passed before the Queen and the Court.

This was suggested tonight but for some reason or other the committee turned it down. But we are glad to be here in any case. And we are glad to be the guests of honor of the representatives of much of the finest in American culture and much of the finest in American life. And we are very much indebted to all the artists who have so willingly taken part in this work tonight. For when Thomas Jefferson wrote that the one thing which from the heart he envied certain other nations, and that was their art, he spoke from a deep understanding of the enduring sources of national greatness and national achievement.

But our culture and art do not speak to America alone. To the extent that artists struggle to express beauty in form and color and sound, to the extent that they write about man's struggle with nature or society, or himself, to that extent they strike a responsive chord in all humanity. Today, Sophocles speaks to us from more than 2,000 years. And in our own time, even when political communications have been strained, the Russian people have bought more than 20,000 copies of the works of Jack London, more than 10 million books of Mark Twain, and hundreds and thousands of copies of Hemingway, Steinbeck, Whitman, and Poe; and our own people, through the works of Tolstoy and Dostoievsky and Pasternak have gained an insight into the shared problems of the human heart.

Thus today, as always, art knows no national boundaries.

Genius can speak at any time, and the entire world will hear it and listen. Behind the storm of daily conflict and crisis, the dramatic confrontations, the tumult of political struggle, the poet, the artist, the musician, continues the quiet work of centuries, building bridges of experience between peoples, reminding man of the universality of his feelings and desires and despairs, and reminding him that the forces that unite are deeper than those that divide.

Thus, art and the encouragement of art is political in the most profound sense, not as a weapon in the struggle, but as an instrument of understanding of the futility of struggle between those who share man's faith. Aeschylus and Plato are remembered today long after the triumphs of imperial Athens are gone. Dante outlived the ambitions of 13th century Florence. Goethe stands serenely above the politics of Germany, and I am certain that after the dust of centuries has passed over our cities, we, too, will be remembered not for victories or defeats in battle or in politics, but for our contribution to the human spirit.

It was Pericles' proudest boast that politically Athens was the school of Hellas. If we can make our country one of the great schools of civilization, then on that achievement will surely rest our claim to the ultimate gratitude of mankind. Moreover, as a great democratic society, we have a special responsibility to the arts, for art is the great democrat calling forth creative genius from every sector of society, disregarding race or religion or wealth or color. The mere accumulation of wealth and power is available to the dictator and the democrat alike. What freedom alone can bring is the liberation of the human mind and spirit which finds its greatest flowering in the free society.

Thus, in our fulfillment of these responsibilities toward the arts lie our unique achievement as a free society. Thank you.

Note: The President spoke in the National Guard Armory in Washington, D.C. Mrs. Kennedy then spoke briefly before introducing Mrs. Dwight D. Eisenhower who served with her as Honorary Co-Chairman of the National Cultural Center. General and Mrs. Eisenhower participated in the broadcast from Augusta, Ga.

The 2-hour closed-circuit television program "An American Pageant of the Arts" opened a $30 million fundraising campaign for the Center. The telecast originated in Washington, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Augusta, Ga., and was seen in 75 cities throughout the country and in Canada. The program was produced by Robert Saudek, with Leonard Bernstein acting as master of ceremonies. Among those appearing on the program were Pablo Casals, Marjan Anderson, Van Cliburn, Robert Frost, Frederic March, Danny Kaye, Bob Newhart, and Harry Belafonte.

The President's opening words referred to Roger L. Stevens, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the National Cultural Center, Mrs. Arthur Gardner, St., chairman of the dinner committee, Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson, and Chief Justice Earl Warren.

Earlier, on October 16, the President had proclaimed November 26 through December 2, 1962, as National Cultural Center Week, urging State and city officials and civic, fraternal, and patriotic organizations to join in assuring a successful fundraising campaign for the Center.

John F. Kennedy, Remarks at a Close & Circuit Television Broadcast on Behalf of the National Cultural Center. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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