Bill Clinton photo

Remarks at the Friends of Art and Preservation in Embassies Dinner

May 27, 1998

Thank you, Ann; thank you, Jo Carole Lauder. Thank you very much, Robin Duke, for your remarkable work, and your partner John Whitehead out there. I thank our good friend Lee Annenberg and Walter and the people from the Packard Foundation, the Sara Lee Corporation, and the others who have contributed to the FAPE Gift to the Nation program.

I'd like to thank all the Members of Congress who are here and to say to Chuck, there still is, albeit smaller, a deep level of bipartisan support for the arts. And to the extent that it still exists, those who are part of it should be given even more credit because it's harder for them today. And I thank the Republicans and the Democrats who are here tonight for their support of the arts and our country's future.

I had the enormous privilege of giving Roy Lichtenstein the National Medal of the Arts a couple of years ago. He was especially treasured by us here in the White House for many reasons that Dorothy knows, but I want to thank you, Dorothy, for giving this wonderful gift. And I want to thank you, Chuck, for giving this wonderful gift and making Roy be here in a way tonight. I'm particularly grateful.

I understand that when Chuck paints and he's feeling especially good about his work, he does it to the music of Aretha Franklin, which brings him into my ambit of the arts. [Laughter] And judging by the energy of your work, I may issue an Executive order instructing all agencies to play Aretha Franklin from 9 to 5 every day from here on out. [Laughter]

I want to also thank all of you who are here who are in the diplomatic corps, who both benefit our country and are benefited by the generosity of those who place the arts in our Embassies. I have been literally exhilarated and stunned with surprise from time to time as I've gone into our Embassies all around the world and seen the result of your efforts. And it is altogether fitting that the world's oldest democracy should have a program like this.

In 1935 President Roosevelt said "the conditions for democracy and art are one. The arts cannot thrive except when men are free to be themselves and to be in charge of the discipline of their own energies and ardors." Our freedom and our diversity has stimulated some of the most remarkable art in the world, and FAPE and the Arts in Embassies program are sustaining that art and brightening its exposure to people all around the globe.

Tonight a young man whom I met in a different context came up to me tonight and showed me the card he got to certify that he was eligible to vote in the Irish election last week. And I think even those of you who aren't Irish felt a certain absolute exhilaration when the Irish people, both in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, voted for peace, and when the Protestants as well as the Catholics voted for peace.

And I think that we felt it not only because it was a good thing in itself but because we are so animated and often frustrated by seeing conflict after conflict after conflict after conflict in this allegedly blissful post-cold-war era, where people are fighting each other over ancient differences. And yet when you think about it, when you strip the external veneer that being in the Communist or the anti-Communist world provided all of us a sort of comfortable identity, each individual and each group of people and each nation then are confronted with what is a very elemental human question: How can you recognize that you're different from other people without thinking that you're better than they are and that there is something wrong with them and that therefore you have to do something to them in order to really count for something yourself? Or is there another way in which you can recognize your differences, be proud of what is unique to you and to your tribe or your clan, and still believe that underneath you're connected by something that's even more important than what is different?

I submit to you that that dilemma is being played out in some of the great epic battles around the globe today and in some of the more pedestrian and, for me, occasionally frustrating battles in this city today. And that in this context, when we look ahead to the 21st century— when Hillary convinced me we should start this millennium project, she said we would name it "Honoring the past, and imagining the future." And I submit to you that it happens to be that we're on the verge of a new millennium, but because of all that's happened in the last few years, there is upon this country and upon all of us and, indeed, thoughtful people throughout the world, an enormous obligation to imagine the future in a way that honors our past but does not chain us to its darkest moments.

So what kind of future are we going to create? How would we go about honoring the past? How will we meet the challenges of the future? What real gifts will we give to our children and our grandchildren? Our artists will have to help us find those answers. And every time someone walks into an American Embassy anywhere in the world, I want them to see that in America we are many people—we are many religions; we are many races; we are many backgrounds; we fight like cats and dogs—but we believe in the common values of freedom, and ultimately we believe that what unites us is far more important than what divides us, and it finds expression in the creative genius of the art they will see on the walls of our Embassies. That is what I hope.

And if somehow we can permeate the world with the sense of possibility that was so manifest in that Irish election, then all over the world we'll be giving people with and without the brilliance of artistic gifts a chance to live as God meant them to live. That is your ultimate gift, and I'm very grateful to you.

Thank you very much.

NOTE: The President spoke at approximately 9:45 p.m. on the South Lawn at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to Ann Gund, president, and Jo Carole Lauder, chair, Friends of Art and Preservation in Embassies (FAPE); Robin Chandler Duke and John Whitehead, cochairs, FAPE Millennium Project; Leonore Annenberg, chair emeritus, FAPE, and her husband, Walter, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom; Dorothy Lichtenstein, whose gift of an original painting, "Reflections on Senorita 1990," by her late husband, artist Roy Lichtenstein, was unveiled at the dinner; and contemporary artist Chuck Close, whose lino cut entitled "Roy" was also unveiled at the dinner.

William J. Clinton, Remarks at the Friends of Art and Preservation in Embassies Dinner Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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