Ronald Reagan picture

Remarks at the Awards Presentation Ceremony for the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities

May 17, 1983

The President. Well, it's a great pleasure for Nancy and me to welcome to the White House you who both create and support the arts.

The human need to create and enjoy art is as profound as the urge to speak. In fact, it's through our art that we best understand ourselves and can be understood by those who come after us.

The American way of supporting the arts is so different from that in many other countries. Our arts do not derive from national academies. Their support doesn't come from royal courts or ministers of culture. Ours is a much broader cultural base. It reflects the kaleidoscope of individuality, diverse land, ethnic population, and civic pride that are America. And they also reflect the great American volunteer tradition.

At the Federal level, we support the work of the National Endowment for the Arts to stimulate excellence and make art more available to more of our people. But the Endowment also encourages private support. We owe a great deal of thanks to the members of the National Council of the Arts, many of whom are here today, for their help in these areas.

While the purpose of this gathering is to honor six of our leading artists and six art patrons, its also an appropriate forum to call for a renewed commitment to private giving. Last year I appointed this Committee to help in this effort, and Nancy agreed to serve as the honorary chairman. Under the able leadership of Andrew Heiskell, I am glad to report that the Committee has accomplished a great deal. We hope that through events like this we can inspire others to join our cause and in doing so lift the spirits and enrich the lives of all our people.

The arts must be supported not only for themselves but for the joy they bring to Americans everywhere. So, I urge all of you here today to contact your friends, associates, and neighbors—to commit yourselves with corporations, foundations, and community groups—to the private giving that we need to assure that art continues to play an integral part in our national life.

You know I've never been very good, myself, at fund-raising. And I've told some of my friends on occasion that—that that's why I got in government, because we don't ask for it, we just take it. [Laughter] .

The story that illustrates this is one of a man who became the chairman of his small town charity. And, looking at the records, he went to a citizen of the town who had a 6-figure income and who had never contributed to the town charity. And he called his attention to this fact and said that the record showed that, "You have this income that you've never contributed." And he said, "Do your records also show that my brother was wounded in the war, permanently disabled and never able to work again? Do they show that my sister was widowed with several children, and there was no insurance, there was no means of subsistence?" And kind of abashed, the chairman said, "Well, no, the records don't show that." "Well," he said, "I don't give anything to them; why should I give something to you?" [Laughter] Well, fortunately, there are none such in this room.

And now I would like to call on Nancy to announce the honorees.

Mrs. Reagan. First, we would like to recognize the Texaco Philanthropic Foundation, represented today by John McKinley. For 42 years, Texaco has sponsored the Metropolitan Opera's Saturday afternoon radio broadcasts, the longest continuous sponsorship in the history of radio. These broadcasts have brought opera, and Texaco, into countless American homes. The Texaco Foundation celebrated the Metropolitan Opera's 100th anniversary by pledging an additional $5 million toward the Met's endowment drive. This is symbolic of the giving of corporate foundations.

Frederica Von Stade is one of this country's great young opera stars. Born in New Jersey, she worked as a secretary and salesperson to pay for her singing lessons. She made a sensational debut at the Met in 1970, and she has since appeared all over the world. I might add, we were lucky enough to have her sing at the White House last year.

Although James Michener is primarily known as a successful writer, he's also an arts patron, having contributed millions of dollars to help younger writers. Discovering that many talented students couldn't afford the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop, he established an endowment providing fellowships each year. He's also a founder of the National Poetry Series, which sponsors a yearly competition for poets. Mr. Michener sets an example for all those who've achieved success in the arts by aiding young and aspiring artists of the future.

Czeslaw Milosz is one of the world's great poets and thinkers. Born in Poland and a leader of the avant-garde poetry movement in the 1930's, Mr. Milosz is an opponent of oppression. He was a member of the Resistance during World War II and after the war resigned from Poland's diplomatic service to protest Communist repression. Mr. Milosz, now an American citizen, teaches at the University of California at Berkeley. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1980.

And next we commend Philip Morris, represented today by George Weissman, chairman of the board. With its overall giving increasing fivefold during the 1970's Philip Morris is a pioneering supporter of the visual arts. Philip Morris' support of the arts includes the Corcoran Gallery here in Washington, the current Vatican exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum, and the traveling exhibition, "Two Centuries of Black American Arts."

Frank Stella is a painter and sculptor whose work is represented in major museums the world over. He was only 24 when he astonished the art world in 1960 with severe striped paintings that seemed to mock the Abstract Expressionist movement that then dominated the American art scene. His shaped canvases of the 1970's are now replaced by monumental aluminum wall sculptures. We salute in Frank Stella an artist who has not yet made his final statement.

And next we honor the Cleveland Foundation, represented here by Stan Pace, who's also president of TRW. The Cleveland Foundation is our oldest and third largest community foundation. Recognizing in 1977 the need to develop a long-range plan for Cleveland's performing arts, the Cleveland Foundation formed a committee of community leaders and raised over $11 million. The Cleveland Foundation is a fine example of a foundation binding a community to its arts.

Philip Johnson is a world renowned architect. He grew up in Cleveland and is currently engaged in designing the new Cleveland Playhouse. His mark, however, is everywhere. His annex of the Museum of Modern Art and the Seagram Building in New York, the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth, his own Glass House, are all extraordinary. A major pioneer of the international style, Philip Johnson is now an advocate of what is known as Post-Modernism.

And next we honor Elma Lewis, the founder of the Elma Lewis School of Fine Arts and the National Center of Afro-American Artists in Boston. Miss Lewis has devoted most of her adult life to training aspiring young black people for careers in dance, opera, and theater. The recipient of more than 17 honorary degrees, she represents the spirit of the volunteer and over the years has helped hundreds from minority communities participate in the arts.

Luis Valdez of California created El Teatro Campesino to dramatize the plight of California farmworkers. It has since received numerous awards, including an Obie and three Los Angeles Drama Critics Awards. And his 1978 "Zoot Suit" was the first play by a Chicano playwright and director to be presented on Broadway. Because he's traveling today, his award will be accepted by Andy Heiskell.

Next we recognize the Dayton Hudson Foundation of Minneapolis, represented by William Andres, chairman of the board. Dayton Hudson is a household world-word—in philanthropy—world, too, I guess. Forty percent of its giving is devoted to the arts, not just in Minnesota but across the country—from the Arizona Opera Company to the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. Dayton Hudson is an advocate of the Five Percent Principle, which urges corporations to dedicate at least 5 percent of their pretax profits to philanthropy.

Finally, we honor Pinchas Zukerman, renowned violinist and conductor. Born in Tel Aviv, Mr. Zukerman entered New York's Juilliard School in 1961. Six years later, he embarked on a brilliant worldwide career. In 1982 he received his third Grammy Award. His versatility has enriched American music, and his artistry as a soloist and as music director of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra have delighted audiences everywhere.

The President. Thank you, Nancy.

Mrs. Reagan. That's all right.

The President. That's all right? [Laughter] That's all the pay a First Lady gets. [Laughter]

And thank you all for being here today. I would also like to thank Andrew Heiskell and the other members of the Committee for their leadership. You're an inspiration to all of us, and you represent the very best in our society.

Your contributions benefit not only our citizens today but also our children and our children's children. I hope this luncheon will be the first of a series recognizing artists and scholars and their supporters.

I've asked Frank Hodsoll as Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts to explore the possibility of establishing a medal to recognize the Nation's best in this area. We'll continue doing everything we can to encouraging growing private support for the arts. And with your help we'll demonstrate the commitment and appreciation of our people and our government for artistic excellence.

And let me just say one last word about this whole element of voluntarism, which so many of you here exemplify today. It's been amazing to me that in this time of economic hardship and need throughout the country-yes, the need was greater, but obviously the resources must have been less. But records have been broken all over.

The spread of volunteer efforts all over this country is just inspiring—and one little example I have to tell you. The other day there was a little awards ceremony in the Rose Garden. I was giving some awards to Peace Corps volunteers. And one of them was a nun, very tiny, quite elderly, who'd come back from Ghana, where she has a hospital and a canteen there, and where they're battling the disease and the hunger in that area.

And as I was handing her her certificate, everyone there was surprised to see her lean up and whisper something to me, and also surprised when I leaned down and whispered something back. And my own people, when I got back in the office, couldn't wait. "What—, What happened, What was she saying out there? What happened?" And I said, "Well, she whispered to me, was there anything I could do to help them get some flour, because in their canteen they were very short of flour—and the great hunger in the area—and they couldn't help with that." And I said, I leaned down and told her, "I'd see what we could do."

We made one phone call. And before the afternoon was over, 3,000 pounds of flour were on their way to that canteen in Ghana. And it's been that way all through the days that we've been here and inspiring this. So, I know that Nancy and I both feel very grateful to you all for what you're doing, and congratulate all of those winners and all of those donors.

It's little enough to receive a certificate. You have our heartfelt thanks as well.

Note: The President spoke at 1:15 p.m. in the State Dining Room at the White House.

Ronald Reagan, Remarks at the Awards Presentation Ceremony for the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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