The National Medal of Arts and National Humanities Medal recipients for 2012 have been announced, and among the recipients are playwright Tony Kushner, filmmaker George Lucas, writer Joan Didion, actor and playwright Anna Deavere Smith, former poet laureate Kay Ryan, and the Washington Performing Arts Society.
WPAS, which has been bringing artists and performers to Washington for over four decades, was cited by the White House for “bringing world-class performances to our Nation’s capital. From concert-hall premieres to in-school workshops, WPAS has drawn renowned artists to the Washington community and inspired generations of young performers to follow their passions.”
With previous honorees including Bob Dylan, Georgia O’Keefe, Stephen Sondheim, and Aretha Franklin, the National Medal of Arts is one of the most prestigious in the country, and has been awarded to twelve artists each year since 1984. The National Humanities Medal, which was originally established as the Charles Frankel Prize in the Humanities in 1988, recognizes achievement in deepening “our nation’s understanding of the humanities.”
A full list of this year’s recipients and their citations is below.
National Medal of Arts
Herb Alpert for his varied 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.
Lin Arison for her contributions as a philanthropist and arts education advocate. Co-Founder of the National YoungArts Foundation and the New World Symphony, Ms. Arison’s work celebrates, showcases, and supports the next generation of great American artists.
Joan Myers Brown for her contributions as a dancer, choreographer, and artistic director. Founder of the Philadelphia Dance Company, Ms. Brown carved out an artistic haven for African-American dancers and choreographers to innovate, create, and share their unique visions with the national and global dance communities.
Renée Fleming for her contributions to American music. Known to many as “the people’s diva,” Ms. Fleming has captivated audiences around the world with an adventurous repertoire spanning opera and the classical tradition to jazz and contemporary pop.
Ernest Gaines for his contributions as an author and teacher. Drawing deeply from his childhood in the rural South, his works have shed new light on the African-American experience and given voice to those who have endured injustice.
Ellsworth Kelly for his contributions as a painter, sculptor, and printmaker. A careful observer of form, color, and the natural world, Mr. Kelly has shaped more than half a century of abstraction and remains a vital influence in American art.
Tony Kushner for his contributions to American theater and film. Whether for the stage or the silver screen, his scripts have moved audiences worldwide, marrying humor to fury, history to fantasy, and the philosophical to the personal.
George Lucas for his contributions to American cinema. By combining the art of storytelling with boundless imagination and cutting-edge techniques, Mr. Lucas has transported us to new worlds and created some of the most beloved and iconic films of all time.
Elaine May 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.
Laurie Olin for his contributions as a preeminent landscape architect. Renowned for his acute sense of harmony and balance between nature and design, Mr. Olin has dedicated his energy to shaping many iconic spaces around the world and to educating new leaders in his art.
Allen Toussaint for his contributions as a composer, producer, and performer. Born and raised in New Orleans, Mr. Toussaint has built a legendary career alongside America’s finest musicians, sustaining his city’s rich tradition of rhythm and blues and lifting it to the national stage.
Washington Performing Arts Society for bringing world-class performances to our Nation’s
capital. From concert-hall premieres to in-school workshops, WPAS has drawn renowned
artists to the Washington community and inspired generations of young performers to
follow their passions.
National Humanities Medal
Edward L. Ayers for his commitment to making our history as widely available and accessible as possible. Dr. Ayers’s innovations in digital humanities extend higher learning beyond campus boundaries and allow broad audiences to discover the past in new ways.
William G. Bowen for his contributions to the study of economics and his probing research on higher education in America. While his widely discussed publications have scrutinized the effects of policy, Dr. Bowen has used his leadership to put theories into practice and strive for new heights of academic excellence.
Jill Ker Conway for her contributions as a historian and trailblazing academic leader. Dr. Conway has inspired generations of scholars, and her studies of exceptional and empowered women have revealed a common drive that unites women across the globe—to create, to lead, and to excel.
Natalie Zemon Davis for her insights into the study of history and her exacting eloquence in bringing the past into focus. With vivid description and exhaustive research, her works allow us to experience life through our ancestors’ eyes and to engage truly with our history.
Frank Deford for transforming how we think about sports. A dedicated writer and storyteller, Mr. Deford has offered a consistent, compelling voice in print and on radio, reaching beyond scores and statistics to reveal the humanity woven into the games we love.
Joan Didion 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.
Robert Putnam for deepening our understanding of community in America. Examining how patterns of engagement divide and unite, Dr. Putnam’s writing and research inspire us to improve institutions that make society worth living in, and his insights challenge us to be better citizens.
Marilynne Robinson for her grace and intelligence in writing. With moral strength and lyrical clarity, Dr. Robinson’s novels and nonfiction have traced our ethical connections to people in our lives, explored the world we inhabit, and defined universal truths about what it means to be human.
Kay Ryan for her contributions as a poet and educator. A former Poet Laureate of the United States, her witty and compact verse infused with subtle wordplay, reminds us of the power of language to evoke wisdom from the ordinary.
Robert B. Silvers for offering critical perspectives on writing. As the editor and co-founder of The New York Review of Books, he has invigorated our literature with cultural and political commentary and elevated the book review to a literary art form.
Anna Deavere Smith for her portrayal of authentic American voices. Through profound performances and plays that blend theater and journalism, she has informed our understanding of social issues and conveyed a range of disparate characters.
Camilo José Vergara for his stark visual representation of American cities. By capturing images of urban settings over time, his sequences reflect the vibrant culture of our changing communities and document the enduring spirit that shines through decay.