Ronald Reagan picture

Remarks at a White House Luncheon for Members of the Presidential Task Force on the Arts and Humanities

October 14, 1981

The President. Ladies and gentlemen, I've just received notification here—if suddenly in the midst of my remarks or anything else that's going on here, you see some individuals getting up and leaving, don't think that they're against the arts and humanities. [Laughter] They are Congressmen going to the House, because there is a vote up there coming shortly. All those who are against my side in the vote stay here. [Laughter]

Well, I want to welcome all of you here today to the White House on behalf of the American people, and I want to thank you for the important work that you've undertaken in these past few months. You're here because of your love for art, culture, and learning. You care deeply about things of the mind and spirit. Indeed, many of you are cultural leaders and you have proven what I have just said already, in the activities that you have undertaken on your own.

When Nancy inaugurated the Young Artists in Performance at the White House program here in this room, she quoted a line from Henry James: "It is art that makes life, makes interest, makes importance .... and I know of no substitute whatever for the force and beauty of its process." Well, those words can truly be applied to art, to the humanities, and their scholarly pursuit. As you know, our tradition of arts and scholarship in America is like most of our traditions—a pluralistic one. There are many wellsprings of support here for works of creativity and culture. I like to believe that's why artists and scholars continue to flock to our shores from other countries. Today we're seen as a great center of Western culture, a place where the artist and the scholar can find enrichment and excitement.

And I would like now to call on Dr. Hanna Gray, president of the University of Chicago, to present a report on your work.

Dr. Gray.

Dr. Gray. Thank you. Mr. President, Mrs. Reagan, members of the Task Force, distinguished guests:

It is with a very deep sense of appreciation that we are presenting to you, Mr. President, the report of your Task Force on the Arts and Humanities. We are, above all, grateful for the concern you have shown for the health and the vigor of our nation's cultural life.

You provided us with a stimulating occasion to consider the opportunities and the obligations which all of us share to sustain and to strengthen this country's commitment to the arts and to the humanities. The hallmark of that commitment lies in a devotion to the essential freedoms of thought and expression.

A society that recognizes the enduring significance of the arts and the humanities to the quality and to the future of our civilization will set high value also on diversity and on independence of initiative. This conviction asserts a confidence in the power and possibilities of scholarship and of education at their best, a dedication to the values and to the varieties of the creative and performing arts at their most vital. It rests on a regard for the cultivation of inherited tradition and also for encouraging the risk-taking that gives rise to new forms of learning and artistic accomplishment.

It is a difficult task, the task of leadership, to balance so many pressing needs and complex goals, to assess the claims of the future against those of the present, to stimulate the distinctive and cooperative roles of the public and the private sectors. In that context, we know that you will give consideration to those activities which over the generations will shape the capacities and the potential of an educated and creative people. We hope very much that the work of our task force will be of some use as you direct that process.

And in saying that, I know that I speak not only for the members of the Task Force, for the staff which has served the Task Force so ably, but also for the two Cochairmen who were not able to be present today—for Ambassador Terra who had to be absent today, and for Chuck Heston who has, however, written a statement.

And perhaps I could close with that. His statement says, "I regret that the film I'm shooting in British Columbia keeps me from joining you to second the convictions I know Hanna will express. I've been preaching the independence and perseverance of the artist all summer. Now I'm trying to practice it." [Laughter] "My thoughts are very much with you. I am grateful for your trust in us." Signed, Chuck Heston.

Mr. President, we thank you again. This is our report.

[At this point, Dr. Gray presented the President with the report of the Task Force.]

The President. Well thank you, Dr. Gray, very much. And now I think I'd like to conclude by pointing out that we hope your work will be very much a part of that era of national renewal I spoke of last January, an era we hope to make a reality in the next few years.

The challenge before us is to find ways once again to unleash the independent spirit of the people in their communities. And that energy will accomplish far, far more than just government programs alone ever could. It was in this context that I asked William (Bill) Verity, the chairman of Armco Steel, to chair a new Task Force on Private Sector Initiatives. Bill, since you so graciously accepted—I caught him in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean on a boat; I'd never done that before—won't you stand please and— [applause] . But then he told me he'd never been called on a boat before— [laughter] —so it was a first for both of us.

But the Task Force is going to be comprised of 35 leaders from corporations, foundations, and voluntary and religious organizations. And I'm delighted that he's here with us today, for the thrust of our new efforts in the arts and humanities is very much in the spirit of our overall private sector initiative. We hope in this area, as in others, to assure pump priming and seed money in partnership with private giving.

Now, we've done some talking recently about how our economic problems are the result of too much government intrusion into the economy. The danger of too much government was very much on the mind of the men who framed our Constitution, constructed our government, and built this public housing— [laughter] —and if you think about it, their fear of government has a special meaning for our century. It's important for us to continue to resist the intrusions of government. As John Updike has said so well, "I would rather chance my personal vision of truth striking home here and there in the chaos of publication, than attempt to filter it through a few sets of official, honorably public-spirited scruples." [Laughter]

Fostering arts and scholarship, not stifling it, not filtering it, has been the goal of the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities. It has also been the goal of your work on the Task Force to act as a catalyst, to encourage the arts and humanities, to find for them new outlets and more generous sources of support. Unlike many other countries, American support for the arts and humanities comes primarily from the private sector—$3 billion in 1980. The Endowments, which began in 1965, account for only 10 percent of the donations to art and scholarship. Nonetheless, they have served an important role in catalyzing additional private support, assisting excellence in arts and letters, and helping to assure the availability of art and scholarship.

Our primary goal in the arts and humanities is to strengthen that public and private partnership. We hope to encourage a variety of private support and involvement and to ensure responsiveness of Federal programs to the real needs. To assure an effective dialog between government and the private sector, we will explore with the Congress the expansion of our Federal Council on the Arts and Humanities to include private membership.

I would like to announce now my nomination of Frank Hodsoll as our proposed Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts. Frank, as many of you know, is now Deputy to Jim Baker on our White House staff. He's worked with you on the Task Force, and I've charged him to encourage additional private support for the arts in States and communities across the land, to assure that Federal programs are responsive to needs. Frank, why don't you stand up so they can see you?

He ran out a little while ago and I thought he was running out on the job, but it turns out he just had a telephone call and he's back. [Laughter] Telephone calls take on a new meaning since we've been in this job back here. [Laughter] I got one, as you all know—it was widely heralded in the press—at 4:30 in the morning. [Laughter] And everyone hailed it as that they were reluctant to wake me up. What did they think they were doing at 4:30 in the morning? [Laughter]

The arts and humanities have always been something of great personal importance to Nancy and to me. Nations are more often than not remembered for their art and thought. As I stated at the time of establishing the Task Force, our cultural institutions are an essential national resource. They must be kept strong.

So, I thank you all once again for being here, and I thank you all for this report. And I will read it. Thank you all.

Note: The President spoke at 1:10 p.m. in the East Room at the White House. The three Cochairmen of the Task Force are Dr. Hanna H. Gray (Chairman for the Humanities), Charlton Heston (Chairman for the Arts), and Ambassador at Large for Cultural Affairs Daniel J. Terra (Chairman for the Federal Government).

Ronald Reagan, Remarks at a White House Luncheon for Members of the Presidential Task Force on the Arts and Humanities Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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