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Remarks at the National Arts and Humanities Medals Dinner

September 29, 1997

Ladies and gentlemen, I want to begin the dinner by saying a special word of welcome to all of you.

Frequently in this room, it is my privilege on behalf of the people of the United States to offer a toast to a visiting leader of another nation or to showcase our culture to the world. Tonight it is my privilege to honor the leaders of that culture, our artists and scholars and those who support their work.

Our economy is measured in numbers and statistics, and we got some more good numbers today, and for that I'm very grateful. But nonetheless, in our childhood, at the end of our lives, and in the most important moments in between, we know that our own enduring worth and the enduring worth of our Nation lies in our shared values and our soaring spirit.

Lewis Mumford once wrote, "Love, poetry, disinterested thought, the free use of the imagination—here are the sustaining values of a living culture." Through the work you do and the lives you lead, you are sustaining our living culture and swelling the chorus of American voices.

I have to note, sadly, as many of you must doubtless know now, that we lost one of those great voices today when Roy Lichtenstein passed away. Two years ago I had the great privilege of giving him the award that I was able to bestow on several of you today. He was especially valuable and treasured by us here in the White House because of his support for our Arts in Embassies program.

The point I think he would like me to make tonight is that every one of us, each in our own time, has just a little time, whether we live a short or a long life by conventional standards. Therefore, it falls to every one of us to make sure that there is a next generation of artists and scholars who have the opportunity to learn and to create, so that the next generation of ideas can take root and grow.

So tonight, as we celebrate the remarkable accomplishments of the men and women we honor here, let us also rededicate ourselves to that future mission.

Now, I ask you all to join me in raising our glasses in a toast to the 1997 National Medal of Arts and National Humanities Medal recipients.

Thank you.

NOTE: The President spoke at 8:43 p.m. on the State Floor at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to artist Roy Lichtenstein, 1995 National Medal of Arts recipient.

William J. Clinton, Remarks at the National Arts and Humanities Medals Dinner Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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