Thank you and, please, be seated, and welcome to the White House. Itis a great honor and pleasure for me to join the Vice-President on behalfof the President and myself to be here for this very special occasion. Iwant to be sure that all of you in the audience know that we're joined bytwo very strong supporters of the arts. Former Senator Pell, we're verypleased to see you again, and welcome back to the White House. This is thesecond time, today, that I've had the pleasure today to be with SenatorJeffords from Vermont. He was here earlier this morning to join with thePresident in announcing some very important after-school grants tocommunities and schools around the country, because he has been a championof our strong belief that children deserve a safe, and secure learningenvironment after school and that includes learning with the arts, as well,as some of the programs demonstrate. So Senator Jeffords, welcome again tothe White House.
We are so pleased to have this occasion to honor and make official thenew Chair of the National Endowment for the Arts, Bill Ivey. I'm pleasedthat he could be joined by members of his family including his motherGrace, his sister, a nephew who's there, and other members of his familyand friends, all.
You know, when I was fortunate enough, and dumbfounded, to win aGrammy for the recorded version of my book, It Takes A Village, there wereall sorts of people giving me advice about the awards ceremony. The mostcommon advice I received was the same advice I've been receiving all mylife, particularly from my high school drama teacher, and that was don'tsing -- as if there were any real chance of that. (Laughter) But I was sofortunate to have a real pro by my side, and that was Bill Ivey.
Today all Americans are lucky to have him out front and on their sideas he carries the torch of leadership so confidently held over the lastfour years by Jane Alexander, and helps to bring the NEA into the 21stcentury. No one has a greater depth of experience or breadth of vision. Hereally understands and appreciates all forms of culture and art. He's atough manager with experience in the private, and public, sectors. A longtime friend of the NEA, he knows what makes the agency work and how to makeit work better. He certainly has been an effective member of thePresident's Committee on the Arts and Humanities, chaired by John Brademas,and I've been privileged to work with him in that role. As one of theprinciple contributors to the committee's report, "Creative America," hehelped draw up a blue print for what we need to do to improve publicsupport of the arts in America, to reach young people, in particular. Touse the turn of the century, and the turn of the millennium, to reallycelebrateour artistic and cultural heritage. He's also a pilot, I understand, whohas learned to fly through extraordinary turbulence. That probably is thetalent he brings to Washington that he will rely on the most in years tocome. (Laughter)
You know, the annual attacks on the NEA have a predictability to themnow, I'm very sorry to say. But, what we've seen in these debates, if we'relooking about ways to make lemonade out of lemons, is that they've given usan opportunity to tell the real story of the NEA. Not the distorted, halftruth, misinformed story of the NEA, but the story of the NEA in it's rolein countless lives and communities across our country. Whether it's theVietnam Veterans' Memorial, or the play, "Driving Miss Daisy", orcontemporary dance performances in Lewiston, Maine, Americans supportpublic funding for the arts. They understand that art is not just for theelites, but for all Americans, and must be supported by all Americans.Right now, each one of us as Americans contributes 36 cents a year to theNEA, less than we spend on a candy bar, for example. But, it is one of thebest investments that we all make together. It certainly lifts our spirits,it provides opportunities for children and adults alike, to experience live theater, or to meet a real live poet, or to have a chance toattend a performance that would otherwise be out of their reach. It alsolifts up our economies, and drives our tourism, and I think that's animportant argument to make to those who wonder whether the arts are just afrivolous, marginal activity. It also helps express our dreams anddifferences and defines us as human beings and as Americans. The arts arenot a luxury, they're a necessity we have to afford.
On behalf of the President, I want to promise you that the President,and the Vice President, and this administration will continue to fight allattempts to destroy this agency. We will never back down on our nation'sbi-partisan commitment to the arts in America. We will work to ensure thatthe arts always have a seat in classrooms because they improve learning,stimulate creativity, pass down our heritage, and literally transformchildren's lives, particularly the lives of children at risk. I see RobertPinsky in the audience, you know he's our current poet laureate. He, and I,and Robert Haas, and Rita Dove went to see a poetry slam at a DC juniorhigh school that serves mostly children from a housing project across thestreet. I wish every one could have been there with us. We saw students,all of them from poor homes, reciting poems they had written themselves,that just made my heart leap. Some of those poems were about their ownnames, or the plight of a homeless man, or the contributions of Duke Ellington. They also talked about how writing poetry had helped them puttheir anger on paper instead of acting it out. How poetry, and the processof writing poetry, had given them confidence. One boy recited a poem withthis wonderful line, "I'm so musical that when I write songs, you sing themfor the rest of your life."
Now, that's a program that is funded by the NEA that, through theWriters Corps, sends poets into some of the schools in some of the toughestneighborhoods in our country. I can attest first hand, as can Robert Pinskyand those who were with me, that it is making a difference in the lives ofthose children. May every child have that opportunity to have the artstouch his or her life. With Bill Ivey leading the way, I know that ourchildren will. Again, I thank all of you who are supporters of the arts aswell as artists yourselves. Thank you for what you have done to makeAmerica the land that it is, a land of creativity, of hope, of highaspirations, that challenge all of us to be just a little bit more than wemight be if it were not for the arts.
Our next speaker is someone who cares very deeply about the arts andhas been a strong voice for artistic freedom and an extraordinary leaderfor our nation. It also doesn't hurt that he happens to be from someplacecalled Nashville, and has a long time association with Bill. I know howproud he is to be here today. It is my honor to introduce the VicePresident, Al Gore. (Applause)
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