Remarks on Receiving a Report From the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities


November 17, 1988


Well, good afternoon to all of you. And you probably think I was invited to talk to you today because I have a little pull with the Honorary Chairman. [Laughter] Seriously, I'm delighted to be with you today to receive the report of the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities. And it comes at a time of reflection for me, a time to look back and see what we've done and how we did it. And I don't mind telling all of you how very proud I am of the work that you all have done and how proud I am that this administration has lived by the philosophy that when it comes to the arts and humanities the Nation is best when government intrudes the least.


At the beginning of this administration, there were many who believed we were antagonistic to the arts because in our search for ways to cut the Federal budget we looked at arts funding as critically as we looked at everything else. But that idea was nonsense. In fact, what opposition there was to government funding for the arts was rooted in a deeply held conviction that it is not the place, and should not be the place, for government officials to determine what is good art and what is bad art. That path is a dangerous one for a democratic society -- well, for any society, to take. No, the determination of such things should be left to women and men of taste and education, and indeed, finally, to history itself.


And yet we faced a very real dilemma. If not the Government, then who? How could the arts, the lively arts and the visual arts, spread across the country instead of being concentrated in just a few cities where there was enough private support? And that's where you all came in. This Committee, which was created by Executive order in 1982, has been instrumental in expanding arts funding in this country, devising innovative methods of fundraising from private sector sources in tandem with Federal and State resources. And in the process, you've revolutionized the way Americans think about the arts and humanities and have made American business understand that a literate and cultured America is a better America, an America better able to compete internationally. With this system in place, we do not have to fear American artists becoming the handmaidens of government power.


All of you have made concrete, lasting contributions to the arts and humanities, and the Committee couldn't have been more ably served. One special note of thanks to your Chairman, Andrew Heiskell. Andrew, your stewardship as Chairman throughout the 6 years of the Committee's existence has been invaluable. Nancy and I are especially delighted that you are here today.


And one final word: I hope that the national dialog about the central role played by Western culture in the very concept of the humanities will continue. Western culture represents the flowering of the best that has been thought and said by humankind and is every American's birthright. Let us never forget that and let us aim to bring its bounties to every American.


Let me assure you, I'm going to read this and share it with George. So, I thank you all again, and God bless you. And now Nancy and I are going over there in front of the fireplace and hope we'll have a chance to shake hands and have our picture taken with each one of you.


Note: The President spoke at 1:30 p.m. in the Roosevelt Room at the White House. A tape was not available for verification of the contents of the remarks.