The White House announced Wednesday that President Barack Obama will present this year’s National Medals of Arts and Humanities to a glittering constellation of cultural and entertainment industry figures, including Joan Didion, George Lucas, Elaine May and Herb Alpert.
The list of those to be honored at the July 10 East Room ceremonies includes an unusually diverse roster of honorees with Arts Medals going to Lucas, May, Alpert, beloved African American writer Ernest Gaines, playwright Tony Kushner, philanthropist Lin Arison, dancer/choreographer Joan Myers Brown, opera diva Renee Fleming, painter Ellsworth Kelly, landscape architect Laurie Olin, composer Allen Toussaint and the Washington Performing Arts Society.
Recipients of the Humanities Medal include, Didion, Robert Silvers — founder and editor of the New York Review of Books — historian Edward L. Ayers, economist William G. Bowen, historians Jill Ker Conway and Natalie Zemon Davis, sports writer Frank Deford, sociologist Robert Putnam, novelist Marilynne Robinson, poet Kay Ryan, performance artist Anna Deavere Smith and visual artist Camilo Jose Vergara.
Didion was singled out “for her mastery of style in writing. Exploring the culture around us and exposing the depths of sorrow, Ms. Didion has produced works of startling honesty and fierce intellect, rendered personal stories universal, and illuminated the seemingly peripheral details that are central to our lives.”
Lucas was cited “for his contributions to American cinema. By combining the art of storytelling with boundless imagination and cutting-edge techniques, Lucas has transported us to new worlds and created some of the most beloved and iconic films of all time.”
May’s honor comes for her “contributions to American comedy. With groundbreaking wit and a keen understanding of how humor can illuminate our lives, Ms. May has evoked untold joy, challenged expectations, and elevated spirits across our nation.”
Alpert, meanwhile, is being honored for his contributions to music and the fine arts. “The musician behind the Tijuana Brass phenomenon and co-founder of A&M Records, which launched several storied careers, Mr. Alpert is also a philanthropist who shares the power of arts education with young people across our country.”
President Obama will amplify on the citations in his personal remarks during the ceremony Wednesday.