Pop Culture dictionary

National Medal of Arts

[ nash-uh-nl med-l uhv ahrt ]

What is the National Medal of Arts?

The National Medal of Arts is an award presented by the president of the United States to honorees who have made exceptional contributions to the arts in the US. The award and nominations are organized by the National Endowment of the Arts (NEA), critiqued by the National Council on the Arts (NCA), and decided on by the president.

The National Medal of Arts is the highest award for the arts in the United States. It can be given to an individual, a group of individuals, or an organization and the award isn’t limited to any specific field of art. Up to 12 individuals a year can be chosen to receive an award.

The National Medal of Arts was designed by sculptor Robert Graham and approved by the NCA. The medal features abstract human figures posing and dancing and the words National Medal of Arts and usually hangs on a purple ribbon.

🗓 When is the National Medal of Arts given out?

The National Medal of Arts can be given out 12 times a year, but there is no set schedule for when or how many are given out at a certain time.

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Where does the National Medal of Arts come from?

National Medal of Arts, filtered yellow on light yellow background.

The NEA was established by the United States Congress in 1965 under President Lyndon B. Johnson as an independent government organization. The NEA assigns funding toward promoting American art and encouraging experimentation in several artistic fields. In 1985, President Ronald Reagan recommended that the NEA organize a national medal to honor artists, especially those who contribute to America’s artistic culture in some way.

The NEA takes nominations for the award from the American public and sends them to the NCA, which narrows the list of nominees for the president to choose from. The NCA is made up of officials, critics, and other artists who are presidentially appointed and confirmed by the United States Senate.

Examples of National Medal of Arts

I guess I'm going to be awarded the National Medal of Arts next week. I'm amazed and grateful. Congratulations to all my fellow honorees!
@StephenKing, September 2015
#DYK that @DollyParton received the National Medal of Arts in 2005? Awarded by the President, the Medal of Arts is the highest award given to artists and arts patrons by the United States government.
@NEAarts, January 2022
Col. Don Schofield, commander and conductor of the United States Air Force Band, accepted the National Medal of Arts on behalf of all Air Force band members, past and present, from both active duty and the Air National Guard at a ceremony at the Pentagon, Dec. 2.
Capt. Christina Muncey, Air University, December 18, 2020

More information and context on the National Medal of Arts

Did you know … ?

  • The first 11 National Medals of Arts were given out at the same time. Winners included composer Elliott Carter, “The Invisible Man” author Ralph Ellison, dancer Martha Graham, and painter Georgia O’Keeffe.
  • Although there is no set date for the National Medals of Arts, the medal is awarded almost every year. However, no one received medals in 2016, 2017, and 2018.
  • Organizations can also win the award. Hallmark Cards Inc. won one in 1985, and  the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and the University Musical Society both won in 2014.

What are other words used in discussion of the National Medal of Arts?

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