1. National Medal of Arts

    September 3, 2015


    I am delighted to share the news that Professor Emeritus George Shirley and the University Musical Society of the University of Michigan (UMS) have been recognized at the highest level.

    The White House has announced that Shirley and UMS will each receive a 2014 National Medal of Arts.

    The National Medal is our nation’s premier honor bestowed upon artists and arts patrons. It is awarded by the President of the United States to those who “are deserving of special recognition by reason of their outstanding contributions to the excellence, growth, support and availability of the arts in the United States.”

    The medals recognize the University of Michigan’s immense contributions to cultural appreciation, as well as our spectacular legacy in performing arts education and presentation.

    We take great pride in the arts and cultural opportunities we cultivate at the University. These opportunities are interwoven into all of the qualities that make our university great: leading research and creative work, the finest teaching and learning, and transformative public impact.

    This work crosses multiple disciplines and reaches around the globe. It is a major component of the Michigan educational experience. Learning to appreciate the arts at their best helps us live better, more fulfilling lives. It is also an indelible part of our public impact, through those we inspire with our performances and the communities we enrich.

    Shirley began at U-M in 1987 and was named the Joseph Edgar Maddy Distinguished University Emeritus Professor of Music in the School of Music, Theatre & Dance in 2007. His amazing career has been punctuated by a number of firsts: He was the first African-American music teacher at the high school level in Detroit, the first African American member of the United States Army Chorus and the first African-American tenor to perform a leading role at the New York Metropolitan Opera. He has performed all over the world, including on the UMS series stage five times.

    UMS’ medal is unprecedented as well. This is the first time in history that a university-related arts presenter has received the honor.

    Established in 1880, the U-M affiliated organization has brought the world’s top performers to our campus and the region. Its mission “is to inspire individuals and enrich communities by connecting audiences and artists in uncommon and engaging experiences.”

    Those experiences have included recitalists, orchestras, dance and chamber ensembles, jazz and world music performers, and opera and theatre. UMS’ work has allowed our community to enjoy renowned performers such as Leonard Bernstein, Vladimir Horowitz, the Royal Shakespeare Company, and the New York and Vienna Philharmonics.

    UMS estimates that it hosts 75 performances and more than 100 educational events each season.

    President Obama will present Shirley and UMS President Ken Fischer with their National Medals at a White House ceremony at 3 p.m., Sept. 10. A live stream will of the presentation will be available at whitehouse.gov.

    Please join me in congratulating Prof. Shirley, Ken Fischer, and everyone at UMS.