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Text of Michelle Obama’s Speech at Metropolitan Museum’s Ribbon Cutting

Michelle Obama’s official portrait

If, like me, you would have liked to have been present at today’s ribbon cutting by First Lady Michelle Obama at the Metropolitan Museum’s renovated and reimagined American Wing, now you can! (I abandoned my own request to be included, when I learned on Saturday that I would have a more pressing commitment—my aunt’s funeral.)

I’ve posted in full, below, the text of the First Lady’s remarks, as dispatched to me by the White House. I think she hits the target.

A number of commentators have been poo-pooing Mrs. Obama’s ceremonial appearance, but I’m hoping it’s a first step in the right direction—recognition, not only through pomp but also through policy, of the importance of high culture in our national life. A civilization-enhancing federal program wasn’t built in a day. This, one hopes, is just the prologue.

Here’s what the First Lady said. The first part was, evidently, a response to Met president Emily Rafferty‘s allusion to the Obamas’ first date, which began auspiciously at the Art Institute of Chicago (which itself had to settle for Presidential Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel for the ribbon cutting inaugurating its new Modern Wing, which opened to the public on Saturday):


 Office of the First Lady


For Immediate
  May 18, 2009




 Metropolitan Museum of Art

New York, New York

3:16 P.M. EDT

MRS. OBAMA:  Thank you.  (Applause.)  Thank you so much. 
Please, rest.  (Laughter.)  Good afternoon and thank you, Emily, for
that introduction, and thank you for reminding me.  You know, after
20-some-odd years of knowing a guy, you forget that your first date was at a
museum.  (Laughter.)   But it was, and it was obviously
wonderful; it worked. 

So I am delighted to be here with you to celebrate American history through the
arts.  From the beginning of our nation, the inspired works of our artists
and artisans have reflected the ingenuity, creativity, independence and beauty
of this nation.  It is the painter, the potter, the weaver, the silversmith, the architect, the designer whose work continues to create an identity
for America that is respected and recognized around the world as distinctive
and new. 

The American Wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art captures this spirit in
presenting a variety of American art forms and providing a link to history for
us to learn from, appreciate and be inspired by.

Our future as an innovative country depends on ensuring that everyone has
access to the arts and to cultural opportunity.  Nearly 6 million people
make their living in the non-profit arts industry, and arts and cultural
activities contribute more than $160 billion to our economy every year. 
And trust me, I tried to do my part to add to that number.  

The President included an additional $50 million in funding to the NEA in the
stimulus package to preserve jobs in state arts agencies and regional arts
organizations in order to keep them up and running during the economic
downturn.  (Applause.) 

But the intersection of creativity and commerce is about more than economic
stimulus, it’s also about who we are as people.  The President and I want
to ensure that all children have access to great works of art at museums like
the one here.  We want them to have access to great poets and musicians in
theaters around the country, to arts education in their schools and community

We want all children who believe in their talent to see a way to create a
future for themselves in the arts community, be it as a hobby or as a

The arts are not just a nice thing to have or to do if there is free time or if
one can afford it.  Rather, paintings and poetry, music and fashion,
design and dialogue, they all define who we are as a people and provide an
account of our history for the next generation. 

The President recently nominated renowned theater producer Rocco Landesman to
chair the National Endowment for the Arts.  Rocco’s entrepreneurial spirit
and his commitment to being a bridge between the philanthropic, non-profit and
commercial arts community will ensure that all types of art and creative
expression are provided fertile ground to live and to grow.

And that’s what we hope to do at the White House, that’s what we’ve been trying
to do at the White House.  We’ve been trying to break down barriers that
too often exist between major cultural establishments and the people in their
immediate communities; to invite kids who are living inches away from the power
and prestige and fortune and fame, we want to let those kids know that they
belong here, too. 

I want to applaud the Metropolitan Museum of Art for all the outreach that you
do, for having kids like these here today to be involved in this and to
experience this and to share this with us, because this is your place,
too.  So we’re very proud of the Met for the work that they’ve done. 

So we are excited.  Thank you for including me.  And now we can get
to the — we’re going to cut the ribbon now.

an ArtsJournal blog