Ronald Reagan gave it to Martha Graham. George W. Bush gave it to Dolly Parton. Barack Obama gave it to Sonny Rollins and Meryl Streep. President Trump became the first president not to give it away at all for two years.
If you guessed, what is the National Medal of the Arts? you go to the bonus round.
On Wednesday, while becoming the first US president to be twice impeached, Trump awarded the National Medal of the Arts to Toby Keith and Ricky Skaggs. The prices, not officially announced but reported in a Bloomberg News Tweet, quickly turned the honor into a political statement. It has also prompted some to ask: what is the National Medal of the Arts? And why is this important?
Congress established the award in 1984 and it is considered the highest honor the government can bestow on artists, arts groups and advocates of the arts. Nominations are given to an advisory committee of the National Endowment for the Arts, which then submits recommendations to the White House. The president ultimately designates the winners and presents the prize.
The medal is typically awarded to a dozen people per year, representing a wide range of practices including music, visual arts, film, theater, theater, dance, and philosophy. Laureates have generally had long and distinguished careers and are universally recognized as leaders in their chosen fields.
On its website, the NEA describes the winners as individuals who, through their creativity, inspiration and hard work, have significantly enriched the cultural life of our nation.
Reagan was the first president to award the medal, which went to Graham, Georgia OKeefe, Frank Capra and John Updike. He also donated it to Hallmark Cards for his artistic patronage. George HW Bush honored Ray Charles and Arthur Miller, among others, as well as Texaco for his artistic patronage. Bill Clinton chose Edward Albee, the Boys Choir of Harlem and Aretha Franklin.
President Trump did not deign to hand out the award for his first two years in office before handing out just four medals in 2019. They went to actor Jon Voight, a staunch and outspoken Trump supporter, as well as the singer Alison Krauss, arts advocate Sharon Percy Rockefeller and US Army musicians.
This year, Trump reportedly chose two political supporters: Keith, who performed at a Make America Great Again celebration at the Lincoln Memorial in 2017, and Skaggs, who voiced his support for Trump during the election.
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