by David Low
Jo Reed: I’m Josephine Reed from the National Endowment for the Arts with The Chairman’s Corner, a weekly podcast with Mary Anne Carter, Chairman of the Arts Endowment. This is where we’ll discuss issues of importance to the arts community and a whole lot more. The National Medal of Arts is the highest award given to artists and art patrons by the United States government and it’s administered by the National Endowment for the Arts. And I know you thought, Mary Anne, that the holiday season is a perfect time to talk about a few of the recipients and some of the great work they’re doing. But, first, maybe we can have a little background on the National Medal of Arts.
Mary Anne Carter: Sure, Jo. The National Medal of Arts is awarded by the president to individuals or groups who– and I’ll quote here– “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.” And the National Medal of Arts began in 1982 and, since that time, hundreds of artists, arts advocates, philanthropists, and arts organizations have been honored with this prestigious medal by the president. And our listeners can see a list of all the medalists on our website and I’m sure they will agree it is a diverse and illustrious list. Many of these men, women, and organizations have not only added immeasurably to our artistic landscape through past accomplishments, but continue today to make our world a better place.
Jo Reed: So, let’s begin with some of the folks you want to highlight.
Mary Anne Carter: Well, Jo, there are so many I would love to talk about. But, today, I’m going to focus on three. The first is Dolly Parton. I mean, who doesn’t love Dolly Parton?
Jo Reed: No one.
Mary Anne Carter: Right! A country music star like none other. She’s a singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist. She’s also a marvelous actress. Of course, I loved watching her in “Nine to Five” and “Steel Magnolias”. She’s also a very successful businesswoman with such ventures including Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. But there’s also Dolly’s extraordinary humanitarian work. Many of our listeners will know about the Dolly Parton Imagination Library, a program that sends free books to children in sixteen hundred communities around the world, from birth to age five.
Jo Reed: But, with Dolly, it doesn’t end there, does it?
Mary Anne Carter: No, we’re just scratching the surface. Recently, Dolly was in the news, you may have seen, for her contributions to fighting the Covid-19 virus. She donated one million dollars to Vanderbilt University Medical Center to support research towards development of a vaccine. That research was used, along with others, by biotechnology corporation Moderna in creating their potential vaccine that has been reported to be ninety-four percent effective and, in fact, this week, Moderna has asked the FDA to greenlight its vaccine. So, thank you, Dolly Parton.
Jo Reed: Well, I think the next recipient you want to mention might be the only person who could actually follow Dolly Parton.
Mary Anne Carter: That’s right. Staying in the field of music, the next medalist spotlight is for Yo-Yo Ma, cellist extraordinaire, who has recorded more than ninety albums and has received eighteen Grammy awards. He is an artist that some have called omniferous, demonstrating a keen interest in all styles of music from all over the globe. And, like Dolly, Yo-Yo responded to our current crisis, specifically the sense of loss and isolation that so many of us have and are– continue to experience due to the Covid-19 lockdowns. In the early days of the pandemic, Yo-Yo shared many performances online that he recorded from his home. He invited other artists to submit their own videos of music making from home using the #SongsofComfort. That online community grew and grew, reaching more than eighteen million people. The communal connection forged by #SongsofComfort inspired an album of the same name featuring Yo-Yo and pianist Kathryn Stott. That is due out on December 11th. And here’s a quote from Yo-Yo and Kathryn, “Songs bring a sense of community, identity, and purpose, crossing boundaries, and binding us together in thanks, consolation, and encouragement. It had long been our wish to explore this medium further. But we would never have imagined that the catalyst would be a pandemic that fundamentally re-arranged our ways of living.”
Jo Reed: I am a big fan of Songs of Comfort. It’s beautiful on so many levels. I mean, the music itself is beautiful and the diversity of the artists and the music that’s being played and that creative way people have of reaching around the globe to connect. It’s just inspiring.
Mary Anne Carter: I agree, Jo. And, speaking of inspiring, I want to raise up a National Medal of Arts recipient that has suffered a huge loss in the last few weeks and that is Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival. Since 1933, Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival or, as it is fondly called and known, “The Pillow,” has been an annual summer retreat and nexus of dance creativity and discovery located in the beautiful wooded hills of Becket, Massachusetts. It has offered artists a place to develop and present their work for students to study with renowned teachers and for audiences to see world-class dance from all over the world. But, on Tuesday, November 17th, a fire consumed one of only two indoor theatres on the Pillow campus: the two hundred and thirty-seat Doris Duke Theatre. Fortunately, the fire was contained to just that one building and no one was injured. But, still, it was devastating and the building was destroyed. As a National Medal of Arts recipient and a long-time Arts Endowment grantee and, most importantly, a beloved member of the national and international dance community, I extended sincere condolences to the Pillow on behalf of the National Endowment for the Arts and I really look forward to visiting a re-vitalized campus next year. And, in a letter to Pillow supporters acknowledging the fire, the executive director noted that “We will rebuild.” That is a powerful declaration of fortitude and belief in the resilience of the creative spirit that applies to all in the arts community across our country, especially during this time. Because, through the arts, we will get through this pandemic together.
Jo Reed: Mary Anne, thank you.
Mary Anne Carter: Thank you, Jo.
Jo Reed: That was Mary Anne Carter Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts. Keep up with the arts endowment by visiting the website arts.gov or follow us on twitter @neaarts.
For the National Endowment for the Arts, I’m Josephine Reed. Stay safe and thanks for listening.
Music Credit: “Renewal” composed and performed by Doug Smith from the cd The Collection.
Thu, 12/03/2020 – 15:10
December 3, 2020 at 10:10 am