First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton
Remarks at Bill Ivey's Swearing-In Ceremony

June 17, 1998

Thank you and, please, be seated, and welcome to the White House. It is a great honor and pleasure for me to join the Vice-President on behalf of the President and myself to be here for this very special occasion. I want to be sure that all of you in the audience know that we're joined by two very strong supporters of the arts. Former Senator Pell, we're very pleased to see you again, and welcome back to the White House. This is the second time, today, that I've had the pleasure today to be with Senator Jeffords from Vermont. He was here earlier this morning to join with the President in announcing some very important after-school grants to communities and schools around the country, because he has been a champion of our strong belief that children deserve a safe, and secure learning environment after school and that includes learning with the arts, as well, as some of the programs demonstrate. So Senator Jeffords, welcome again to the White House.

We are so pleased to have this occasion to honor and make official the new Chair of the National Endowment for the Arts, Bill Ivey. I'm pleased that he could be joined by members of his family including his mother Grace, his sister, a nephew who's there, and other members of his family and friends, all.

You know, when I was fortunate enough, and dumbfounded, to win a Grammy for the recorded version of my book, It Takes A Village, there were all sorts of people giving me advice about the awards ceremony. The most common advice I received was the same advice I've been receiving all my life, particularly from my high school drama teacher, and that was don't sing -- as if there were any real chance of that. (Laughter) But I was so fortunate to have a real pro by my side, and that was Bill Ivey.

Today all Americans are lucky to have him out front and on their side as he carries the torch of leadership so confidently held over the last four years by Jane Alexander, and helps to bring the NEA into the 21st century. No one has a greater depth of experience or breadth of vision. He really understands and appreciates all forms of culture and art. He's a tough manager with experience in the private, and public, sectors. A long time friend of the NEA, he knows what makes the agency work and how to make it work better. He certainly has been an effective member of the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities, chaired by John Brademas, and I've been privileged to work with him in that role. As one of the principle contributors to the committee's report, "Creative America," he helped draw up a blue print for what we need to do to improve public support of the arts in America, to reach young people, in particular. To use the turn of the century, and the turn of the millennium, to really celebrate our artistic and cultural heritage. He's also a pilot, I understand, who has learned to fly through extraordinary turbulence. That probably is the talent he brings to Washington that he will rely on the most in years to come. (Laughter)

You know, the annual attacks on the NEA have a predictability to them now, I'm very sorry to say. But, what we've seen in these debates, if we're looking about ways to make lemonade out of lemons, is that they've given us an opportunity to tell the real story of the NEA. Not the distorted, half truth, misinformed story of the NEA, but the story of the NEA in it's role in countless lives and communities across our country. Whether it's the Vietnam Veterans' Memorial, or the play, "Driving Miss Daisy", or contemporary dance performances in Lewiston, Maine, Americans support public funding for the arts. They understand that art is not just for the elites, but for all Americans, and must be supported by all Americans. Right now, each one of us as Americans contributes 36 cents a year to the NEA, less than we spend on a candy bar, for example. But, it is one of the best investments that we all make together. It certainly lifts our spirits, it provides opportunities for children and adults alike, to exper ience live theater, or to meet a real live poet, or to have a chance to attend a performance that would otherwise be out of their reach. It also lifts up our economies, and drives our tourism, and I think that's an important argument to make to those who wonder whether the arts are just a frivolous, marginal activity. It also helps express our dreams and differences and defines us as human beings and as Americans. The arts are not a luxury, they're a necessity we have to afford.

On behalf of the President, I want to promise you that the President, and the Vice President, and this administration will continue to fight all attempts to destroy this agency. We will never back down on our nation's bi-partisan commitment to the arts in America. We will work to ensure that the arts always have a seat in classrooms because they improve learning, stimulate creativity, pass down our heritage, and literally transform children's lives, particularly the lives of children at risk. I see Robert Pinsky in the audience, you know he's our current poet laureate. He, and I, and Robert Haas, and Rita Dove went to see a poetry slam at a DC junior high school that serves mostly children from a housing project across the street. I wish every one could have been there with us. We saw students, all of them from poor homes, reciting poems they had written themselves, that just made my heart leap. Some of those poems were about their own names, or the plight of a homeless man, or the contributions of Duke E llington. They also talked about how writing poetry had helped them put their anger on paper instead of acting it out. How poetry, and the process of writing poetry, had given them confidence. One boy recited a poem with this wonderful line, "I'm so musical that when I write songs, you sing them for the rest of your life."

Now, that's a program that is funded by the NEA that, through the Writers Corps, sends poets into some of the schools in some of the toughest neighborhoods in our country. I can attest first hand, as can Robert Pinsky and those who were with me, that it is making a difference in the lives of those children. May every child have that opportunity to have the arts touch his or her life. With Bill Ivey leading the way, I know that our children will. Again, I thank all of you who are supporters of the arts as well as artists yourselves. Thank you for what you have done to make America the land that it is, a land of creativity, of hope, of high aspirations, that challenge all of us to be just a little bit more than we might be if it were not for the arts.

Our next speaker is someone who cares very deeply about the arts and has been a strong voice for artistic freedom and an extraordinary leader for our nation. It also doesn't hurt that he happens to be from someplace called Nashville, and has a long time association with Bill. I know how proud he is to be here today. It is my honor to introduce the Vice President, Al Gore. (Applause)

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