Dance History

Trump Hasn't Given Out the National Medal of Arts. Here's Why That Matters.

President Obama awarding Bill T. Jones the National Medal of Arts. Photo by Pete Souza via Obama White House Archives

Every year since 1985, the President of the United States has recognized our country's greatest artists with the National Medal of Arts. Many dancers and choreographers—from Martha Graham to Tommy Tune to Edward Villella—have received the award.

But President Trump has yet to award any artists (the deadline for the 2016 medals was last February, and historically the ceremony has been held later the same year). Though the White House says it will "likely" issue awards later in 2018, this is the longest gap between ceremonies since the founding of the award—and it speaks to the current administration's general disinterest in the arts.

Since taking office a year and a half ago, President Trump has held no dance performances at the White House, and aside from the military band, no performances whatsoever. He has frequently disparaged artists, from Meryl Streep to the cast of Hamilton. The fate of the National Endowment for the Arts has also come into question. If the President does indeed continue with the award, we wonder how his attitude toward artists will affect who is chosen—and whether artists will even accept the honor. (Carmen de Lavallade and several other Kennedy Center honorees skipped the White House reception last year to boycott the President.)

None of this will stop us from continuing to celebrate worthy dance artists—or from remembering the many dancers and choreographers who've been honored by past Presidents:


Martha Graham, 1985 (President Ronald Reagan)

Via Wikimedia Commons

Agnes de Mille, 1986 (President Ronald Reagan)

By Semo, Courtesy DM Archives.

Alwin Nikolais, 1987 (President Ronald Reagan)

By Pierre Petitjean, Courtesy DM Archives

Jerome Robbins, 1988 (President Ronald Reagan)

Via Wikimedia Commons

Katherine Dunham, 1989 (President George H.W. Bush)

Courtesy DM Archives

Merce Cunningham, 1990 (President George H.W. Bush)

Via Wikimedia Commons

Pearl Primus, 1991 (President George H.W. Bush)

Via Wikimedia Commons

Paul Taylor, 1993 (President Bill Clinton)

By Jayme Thornton

Gene Kelly, 1994 (President Bill Clinton)

Via DM Archives

Arthur Mitchell, 1995 (President Bill Clinton)

Via Wikimedia Commons

Edward Villella, 1997 (President Bill Clinton)

Via DM Archives

Jacques d'Amboise, 1998 (President Bill Clinton)

Courtesy National Dance Institute

Gwen Verdon, 1998 (President Bill Clinton)

Via Wikimedia Commons

Maria Tallchief, 1999 (President Bill Clinton)

Mikhail Baryshnikov, 2000 (President Bill Clinton)

Via Wikimedia Commons

Judith Jamison, 2001 (President George W. Bush)

Trisha Brown, 2002 (President George W. Bush)

By Johan Elbers, courtesy DM Archives

Suzanne Farrell, 2003 (President George W. Bush)

By Rosalie O'Connor, Courtesy The Kennedy Center

Tommy Tune, 2003 (President George W. Bush)

By Franco Lacosta, courtesy Tune

Twyla Tharp, 2004 (President George W. Bush)

Tina Ramirez, 2005 (President George W. Bush)

Via Wikimedia Commons

Cyd Charisse, 2006 (President George W. Bush)

Via Wikimedia Commons

Joan Myers Brown, 2012 (President Barack Obama)

Bill T. Jones, 2013 (President Barack Obama)

Via Wikimedia Commons

Meredith Monk, 2014 (President Barack Obama)

Via Flickr

Ralph Lemon, 2015 (President Barack Obama)

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