President Obama bestowed the to 24 honorees during a White House ceremony on Wednesday. Award recipients included director George Lucas, musician Herb Alpert and playwright Tony Kushner.
Mr. Obama thanked the artisans, whom he called "teachers," for their contributions that "made us better." The president highlighted how the honorees, who stem from several arts and humanities trades, are united by their work that doesn't "discriminate" or "prejudge."
"They speak to all of us equally if we're open to it," Mr. Obama said to the honorees in the East Room.
With first lady Michelle Obama in attendance, Mr. Obama emphasized the impact of honorees' work, highlighting how Lucas' "Star Wars" transformed special effects in movies. The president also discussed his personal interactions with these individuals' creations - like reading honoree Joan Didion's political writings - and his hope that his daughters will enjoy them as he and his wife have.
"We celebrate people like our honorees today not just because they're talented but because they create something new," Mr. Obama said. "They create new space, and that becomes a lasting contribution to America."
The Arts medalists, seen with the purple ribbon, are Herb Alpert, Lin Arison, Joan Myers Brown, Renee Fleming, Ernest Gaines, Ellsworth Kelly, Tony Kushner, George Lucas, Elaine May, Laurie Olin, Allen Toussaint and the Washington Performing Arts Society.
Red ribbon Humanities medalists are Edward Ayers, William Bowen, Jill Ker Conway, Natalie Zemon Davis, Frank Deford, Joan Didion, Robert Putnam, Marilynne Robinson, Kay Ryan, Robert Silbers, Anna Deavere Smith, Camilo Jose Vergara.