And I want to thank Beth for her tireless efforts and her unwavering commitment to expanding the role of art in American diplomacy. I am delighted that she’s had such an extraordinary time working to tell the story of what Art in Embassies means here at home and around the world. And I’m very grateful that she has served in this position on behalf of my tenure here at the State Department and our country. And of course, I want to thank Virginia Shore, who, as Beth said, has over the past 20 years made Art in Embassies an internationally recognized leader in cultural diplomacy. These two extraordinary leaders have really left their mark.
We have so many distinguished guests that I will give you a general thank you. Beth was able to recognize some of you who are here with us. I also notice a number of ambassadors from other countries who have joined us today. We are so fortunate to be here to honor five extraordinary artists who have given of themselves and their gifts to this program.
For over half a century, Art in Embassies has been working to place American art in our embassies and consulates around the world. And today, there are more than 10,000 works hanging or standing or being exhibited in some way, depending upon the medium, in more than 200 overseas missions. (Applause.) Yes, let’s give that a round of applause. That obviously could not happen without an enormous amount of support. And in fact, over the last 50 years, more than 20,000 individual and institutional partners have contributed to this effort.
One of the great characteristics of our country are our public-private partnerships. They are really at the core of how we do everything. De Tocqueville noticed that, but we’ve continued to perfect and increase our extraordinary partnerships between government and business, between civil society and academia. Our partnerships are really at the core of who we are and what we do. And this program could not exist without those partners. So on behalf of the Obama Administration, and especially everyone who works in our Diplomatic Corps around the world, we have been blessed by your generosity.
Let me just take a minute to explain why this is such an important cause for me personally and for our country. Starting when I was First Lady, working with Joe Carroll and others, I saw the importance of conveying who we were as Americans in as many different venues and using as many different approaches as we could muster. And I have seen the results from my extensive travels now for more than 20 years.
And during the past four years, being privileged to serve in this position, I’ve spoken frequently about what different kinds of diplomacy we can use to advance our nation’s values and interests. Sometimes that obviously means old-fashioned diplomacy, fly to a capital, meet with presidents, prime ministers, foreign ministers, other officials. Sometimes it’s using new technology to connect people, to give them a voice. Sometimes it’s doing a town hall with hundreds of young people to hear what’s on their minds. And we do all of that and more.
But art is also a tool of diplomacy. It is one that reaches beyond governments, past all of the official conference rooms and the presidential palaces, to connect with people all over the world. And that’s the art we are celebrating this afternoon, along with the luminous talents of our honorees and their contributions to the artistic landscape of our nation and to our diplomacy.
Each of them has delighted imaginations for decades. And they truly are living testaments to the timeless and unending human urge to create and connect. So they provide us with another language of diplomacy, one that evokes our universal aspirations as human beings, our common challenges, and our responsibilities for thinking through and addressing the problems that we face together.
From Beijing to Monrovia, even here in Washington, these five artists have contributed works of art that are the building blocks of this shared language. And that is why we are honoring them with this first-ever Department of State Medal of the Arts Award, for their contributions to the advancement of understanding and diplomacy.
Just think of what each of these artists means for people yearning to express themselves, that young artist living under a repressive regime, that budding painter who’s not quite sure where he or she fits in. Now, not all of these people will ever meet any of these artists, but they will learn about them and themselves, maybe even know something of their spirit and tap into a deeper level of inspiration, because they will encounter their works.
I feel it every time I walk into an American embassy or consulate in any part of the world. And I hear so many people who visit our missions comment on the art. And, of course, the Americans who live and work there are the most grateful of all.
So none of this would be possible without all of you, and I want to thank you. You help us connect and you help us be better understood and you help us explain who we are as Americans and what we stand for.
So we are delighted to be hosting this special celebration. And now I want Beth to come back to the podium and tell you more about each of these accomplished artists as we present the awards. Thank you. (Applause.)
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