The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release
June 6, 1995
First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton
at the 125th Anniversary Celebration of the
Metropolitan Museum of Art
New York, New York
MRS. CLINTON: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you, very much.
It is such a great honor and pleasure for me to join you this
evening. I am someone who is a great fan of this Museum and a
great fan of the Cantors.
And to have an occasion such as this where we celebrate both
is special. I want to add my word of thanks to this Museum and
to all of you who have supported it, nurtured it, loved it,
brought it to where it is today. I have just had an opportunity
to view the proposed new galleries, for the exhibition of the
collection of Greek and Roman art, as I was told, the finest
collection in the Western hemisphere.
And it is very exciting to see the plans for this and to
know what a contribution it will make to the continuing greatness
of the Museum. None of this would be possible without all of you
who have been patrons and supporters of this Museum. And
tonight, we honor two people who have been especially important.
Iris and Bernie have over the years stood behind so many
important causes in health care and education. And tonight, we
celebrate their contribution to the arts. What they have done by
their generosity has not only meant that literally millions of
people have been enhanced by their eye, their passion, their
commitment. But it has also, I believe, served to spur others to
be similarly generous with their own love of art.
For all we celebrate tonight, I must say, though, it is
something of a bittersweet moment, for those of us who care
deeply about the arts in our country. Because, there is, as you
know well, a movement underway to undermine the cultural
traditions that all of you in this room are upholding by your
It is sad, that there are those among us who do not
appreciate what this Museum represents - what it stands for. And
who more than that, do not understand that our democracy depends
upon culture. We are witnessing a full-scale assault on public
support of the arts which in many ways is misguided and
misinformed. One of the great accomplishments of the arts in
America, is that it truly has become part of the public domain.
Accessible to all, firing the imaginations of all. I was
told that Bernie saw his first Rodin here in 1945 and look where
it has led. There is a proud tradition in our country of both
private and public support - a unique partnership unlike what
exists in many other countries not only in modern times but going
back through history. Where art was either the domain of the
public or of the private. But instead, in America there has been
And that is thanks, in large part, to far-sighted people,
like yourselves in both the public and the private sector. The
NEA has helped to bring art to millions of Americans who would
not have otherwise enjoyed it.
It has supported artists and teachers, students, men, women
and children, whose daily lives have been transformed by their
exposure to great art. And I would like to thank Bill Lures and
the trustees, and the members of the business committee and all
of you who have raised your voices in the last months on behalf
of public support for the arts. I hope you will continue to do
so because we cannot afford to retreat from that commitment.
I would argue strongly, that, contrary to what some say,
"Public support for the arts is a luxury we can no longer
afford," that it is, instead, a necessity for the continuing
strength and vitality of our community of culture in this
It is particularly ironic that those who bemoan the loss of
civility and character and the loss of values in America are the
first to recommend obliterating the federal agencies, in many
ways cutting back on state and local support, responsible for
promoting our cultural traditions.
For example, the Greek and Roman exhibition that is being
worked on now, for those who at one hand, claim they support our
Western traditions and Western civilization but who on the other
hand would not support the kind of exhibition that would bring to
life those very traditions and roots; are living, in my view, a
very ironic way of demanding we do what they say, without
recognizing how important it is to give other people the chance
to have the same experience that they have had.
They fail to appreciate what every generation of Americans
have intuitively known, that our artistic imagination is critical
to our civilization and our democracy. So I hope that, as we
think about this Museum tonight and the contribution of the
Cantors, we will think about ways that each of us can try to
continue the traditions represented. And we will think, too,
about all of the children, two hundred to three hundred thousand
a year, who come to this Museum. The potential artists and
teachers and lovers and patrons of the arts of the future.
To make sure that their potential for appreciating what we
have today, thanks to the partnership between public and private
lovers of the art; will always be there. Yes, we have hard
decisions to make in America; yes, they are challenging. But let
us remember what really lies at the root of greatness as a people
-investing in our future, caring about the best of our
traditions. And let's not turn our back on that kind of legacy.
With your help, your generosity, your energy and your
commitment, I don't think we will, but I know this is a
challenging time. I personally wanted to be here this evening to
thank the Cantors, to thank the Museum and to thank all of you
for standing up on behalf of the arts in America. Thank you all.