Public Papers

Remarks at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts Musicale Reception


Maestro, you and Sara can see how we all felt about that. But to Chairman Wolfensohn and Elaine; Chairman of the Corporate Fund William Schreyer; and to Dina -- Dina Merrill Hartley of the Trustee Development Committee; and to the Congressional Trustees, we welcome them, the members of the Trustees Circle and the new Hundred Club of the Corporate Fund.

It is a pleasure -- sheer heaven -- for us to be here tonight sharing in a dream, Ted, of President Kennedy's. JFK yearned to see an America that valued the art as much as business or science or politics. And he once said, ``Roosevelt and Lincoln understood that the life of the arts is very close to the center of a nation's purpose and is a test of the quality of a nation's civilization.''

Tonight, in a sense, we pay tribute to that vision. And to all of yours. You're here because you care deeply about this country's need to nourish its spirit. You're here because you believe in the Kennedy Center's vital and exciting and enjoyable work. And you've given of yourselves to endow its future and the Nation's.

And this is important work, and it's great work, and it's essential work because art strikes a chord within our hearts. The Kennedy Center brings that extraordinary experience in all its wonderful diversity to millions of people. But it does something else remarkable, too. It has charged into a leadership position in our society by broadening and deepening its education program, for its directors understand that nothing is more important than teaching our youth.

And as we equip kids with the skills to compete in the 21st century, we must also help them develop as complete human beings. One way to do this is through the arts. And without knowledge of the beauty and depth of the human spirit, our lives and successes can become dull and joyless.

As our national center for the arts, the Kennedy Center reaches across America and into the future. Last year its -- your -- education and public service programs reached over six million people, many of them kids, many of them children. Think of it. Think of how your gifts today are ensuring the future of the arts for the audiences of tomorrow. But the Kennedy Center clearly will not rest on such laurels. You've begun exploring new ways to bring art to even more people, making full use of television and radio, technologies that can turn homes into theaters.

Your gifts are part of a unique private-public partnership, begun last year by the Congressional Trustees who are with us here tonight. They encouraged Congress, which answered my call for the funding needed to rescue the Center. And they helped inspire you, the donors that we salute this evening.

And of course, tonight, we also salute two dazzling performers. Maestro Rostropovich, you honor us with your presence. We're moved not only by your artistry but also by your compassion as an inexhaustible defender of human rights.

And Jim Wolfensohn has given many gifts to the artistic heart of this country. Sara, however, may be the most remarkable. [Laughter] So, thank you for showing us the importance of passing on the legacy, Jim, of your cultural heritage.

You remind us of William Blake's words: ``Nations are destroyed or flourish in proportion as their poetry, painting, and music are destroyed or flourish.''

And so, through the Kennedy Center, we resolve that our arts and our nation will, indeed, flourish forever.

Thank you all. And God bless you in this important work.

Note: The President spoke at 5:51 p.m. in the East Room at the White House, following a performance by cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, the National Symphony Orchestra's music director, and pianist Sara Wolfensohn. In his remarks, the President referred to James D. Wolfensohn, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Kennedy Center and father of Sara Wolfensohn; Mr. Wolfensohn's wife, Elaine; William A. Schreyer, chairman and chief executive officer of Merrill Lynch and Co., Inc., and Chairman of the Kennedy Center Corporate Fund; Dina Merrill Hartley, Trustee of the Center and Chairperson of the Trustee Development Committee; and Senator Edward M. Kennedy.