President Obama yesterday presented Tisch alumnus Tony Kushner with the National Medal of Arts and Professor Anna Deavere Smith with the National Humanities Medal in recognition for their contributions to the arts and humanities and for creating works that “make a lasting contribution to American life.”
Deavere Smith and Kushner were among 24 singers, dancers, poets, producers, playwrights, scholars and organizations honored at the White House ceremony, during which he praised the medal recipients for using their talents "to open up minds and nourish souls, and help us understand what it means to be human, and what it means to be an American."
The National Medal of Arts is the highest award given to artists and arts patrons by the United States Government. It is awarded by the President of the United States to individuals or groups who “are deserving of special recognition by reason of their outstanding contributions to the excellence, growth, support and availability of the arts in the United States.” Hundreds of nominations are submitted by citizens across the country for consideration by the National Council on the Arts every year. During the past 27 years, nearly 300 patrons and artists in the fields of visual, performing, and literary arts have been honored.
The National Humanities Medal, inaugurated in 1997, honors individuals or groups whose work has deepened the nation's understanding of the humanities, broadened our citizens' engagement with the humanities, or helped preserve and expand Americans' access to important resources in the humanities. Up to 12 medals can be awarded each year.
In addition to Kushner, others receiving a National Medal of Arts included Herb Alpert, the musician behind the Tijuana Brass phenomenon and co-founder of A&M records; filmmaker George Lucas; and the Washington Performing Arts Society, of Washington, D.C. Additional recipients of the National Humanities Medal include author Joan Didion; sportswriter Frank Deford; and Robert B. Silvers, editor and co-founder of The New York Review of Books.
Anna Deavere Smith is a University Professor of Performance Studies at NYU Tisch, an accomplished actress and recipient of the prestigious MacArthur award for her work, which has been described as “a blend of theatrical art, social commentary, journalism and intimate reverie.” Her television roles include Gloria Akalitus on the Showtime series “Nurse Jackie,” and Nancy McNally, national security advisor on "The West Wing." She has received two Tony nominations, an Obie, Drama Desk Award, a Special Citation from the New York Drama Critics Circle, and numerous other honors.
Tony Kushner (MFA, ’84) is an award-winning American playwright and screenwriter, most famous for “Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes,” for which he received the Pulitzer Prize in 1993. He is also author of the screenplays for the 2005 film “Munich,” and for the 2012 film “Lincoln,” both of which earned him Academy Award nominations.