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George Lucas, Tony Kushner, Ellsworth Kelly Awarded the National Medal of Arts

Soprano Renee Fleming, author Ernest Gaines, and the Washington Performing Arts Society were also honored.

George Lucas. Photograph by s_bukley /

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.