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First Lady

First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton
"Coming Up Taller" Awards Ceremony

October 7, 1998

Welcome to the White House and welcome to the East Room. This is an event I have been looking forward to ever since we talked about the scheduling here at the White House.

When the White House was first built, the President and first families used to do wash in here. But since the East Room was finished in 1829, it has become one of the most important places in our country to celebrate artistic expression in all of its forms. Today we continue that proud tradition.

We meet here today to celebrate the power of the arts to transport and transform young lives. We are here to honor those who are using the arts to give young people the chance both to take vows and to come up taller.

Before we begin, I would like to thank Attorney General Reno, Secretary Shalala, Secretary Riley, Administrator Alvarez, Director Duffey and the other people in the cabinet agencies who made this first annual Coming Up Taller Awards possible.

I also owe a great thanks to Bill Ivey, Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, Dr. John Brademas, Harriet Fulbright, the Chair and Executive Director and a coordinator of the President's Committee on Arts and the Humanities and the playwright David Henry Wong who first proposed the idea for these awards. And thanks to the many generous foundations and corporations who have supported this awards program.

Several years ago, the President's Committee on Arts and the Humanities, under the leadership of John Brademas, released a landmark report that profiled more than 200 programs that offered children, especially children at risk, a chance to have exposure to the arts. It was different from most official studies because it was filled with pages and pages of good news about how we can reach children all over our country.

The successful programs highlighted in that report are as diverse and imaginative as the children they serve. As children right here in Washington are learning to make cellos sing, others in Mississippi are learning how to reach deep into their souls for the Delta Blues. As children in New York are rising on point with lessons in classical ballet, others in Los Angeles are soaring though modern dance.

In communities across America, poets and actors, dancers and musicians, painters and museum curators and other caring adults are helping children discover their creative potential in the arts and humanities. They are offering children safe, stable environments in which to learn and providing them the opportunity to develop their skills and aspirations. That is what Coming Up Taller is all about.

Shortly after the President's Committee report was released, I went to see one of these programs in action for myself. I went to Pittsburgh to visit the Manchester Craftsman Guild, which is also one of today's honorees. As I watched children who did everything from molding clay to developing their own photographs, I saw tangible results.

More than three quarters of the students in that program went on to college, compared to only 20% of those in the community from which they came. Recent national research shows that the Manchester Craftsman Guild is not an isolated case. It documents precisely what the President's Committee observed. Quality after school and summer school arts programs can make a tremendous difference in young people's lives.

Those who participate in such programs are more likely to win academic honors, more likely to graduate from high school, more likely to go on to college. It is not hard to figure out why. The Attorney General and I have discussed many times that the juvenile crime rates are highest in the unsupervised after school hours. We know that many children have nothing to do and have nowhere to go when they are not in school. Sometimes they find trouble, or trouble finds them. More often, they are simply bored to tears.

Arts and music programs like the ones we honor here today give children something to say yes to. They help them find their voices and help them discover their dreams. So as we celebrate these outstanding programs in ten communities, I hope we can send a powerful signal to every community and that is that arts and humanities for children are not luxuries. It is an opportunity for every community to build stronger citizens, to have safer streets, to create more productive young people. We have to stand firm in making the argument that every child deserves to have something positive and positive role models in their lives.

I want to introduce now a remarkable artist and a remarkable human being, Jesse Trevino. Last week, I attended the First Ladies annual summit in Santiago, Chile where all women married to heads of state and prime ministers throughout our entire hemisphere. And there was a special program at this meeting in Santiago where artists from every country in the hemisphere were invited to come and work with little Chilean children -- four, five and six years old -- to make paintings that would then be unveiled at the end of the summit.

So we had both the enviable and unenviable task of trying to pick only one artist from all of America to go to Santiago, Chile. The NEA and others helped us identify Mr. Trevino. This project was nothing new to him. For more than 20 years, Jesse Trevino has shared his love of art with at risk children in San Antonio, giving young people to express their pride and pain in some of the most impressive murals you will ever see.

And Jesse's personal story has given not only kids, but adults as well, a powerful lesson of overcoming obstacles. He lost his right hand during the Vietnam War and had to learn how to paint all over again with his left hand. Today his portrait if Congressman Henry Gonzalez hangs in the Capitol and the Smithsonian National Museum of American Art includes his work in its permanent collection.

Given his remarkable life and talent, it should not surprise us that Jesse was exposed to the wonders of art almost as soon as he learned to walk. When I visited him last week in Santiago after he had spent time with the children, he said one of the reasons he enjoyed it so much was because people had helped him and gave him exposure to the arts when he was about their age. So let me introduce to you a remarkable American, Jesse Trevino.

Jess Trevino makes remarks...

What Jesse just said about how important it is to make a child experience the arts is really what Coming Up Taller is all about. There are so many different ways in the arts and humanities for that. I would like now to introduce Alfred Kahn who lives on a Navajo reservation in Pine Springs, Arizona. He will offer for us a first-hand perspective on what the arts can mean in a young person's life.

Alfred has been a member of the New Mexico Gallup Performing Arts Academy since his inception in 1993. His resume boasts a number of key roles and is currently performing a dance theater piece that promotes drug and alcohol prevention. We are delighted to have Alfred share with us some of his experiences.

Alfred Kahn makes remarks...

Thank you Alfred. You can tell your parents how proud we were to have you here. And now to present the First Annual Coming Up Taller awards I would like to introduce Bill Ivey, Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts and John Brademas, distinguished member of the President's Committee for the Arts and Humanities.

Mr. Ivey, who many of you know has recently become the chairman of the NEA and he is one of the country's leading folklorists and a former director of the Music Foundation. He has long been a staunch activist for arts education for children. I want to congratulate and thank him for his hard work and leadership for securing the Senate's resounding support for the NEA in a very important vote just three weeks ago.

One of the greatest arguments for the NEA is the work that the NEA does in supporting artists and institutions in their work with children. We have already heard two wonderful testimonials about the impact that has made.

Dr. Brademas has been intimately associated with the arts and education for virtually his entire life and has made such a mark in so many ways. As a member of Congress, he helped develop the original legislation creating the NEA. And for that act alone we owe him a tremendous debt of gratitude. And he has done so many other things I could not possibly mention them all, but certainly his work on behalf of the President's Committee and his ground breaking effort on making arts education one of the great possibilities given to children throughout our country. Please join me in welcoming John Brademas.

Awards are presented

I am so glad that when John and Bill read the awards description that they mentioned many of the purposes of school readiness, recreational activity and the like, but they also stressed the way we now know the arts play a role in providing positive alternatives to young people who would otherwise find their gratification on the streets or in a gang where they could find that same sense of belonging and productivity.

Next week here at the White House the Attorney General and the President will be sponsoring a day-long seminar on the root causes of youth violence. And we will be looking at what happens when young people are the perpetrators or the victims of violence. And we will be looking at solutions. And there are so many programs that really make a difference in really giving kids alternatives and decreasing juvenile crime. And we want people to know about these programs because they are the way we should be pursuing crime prevention among our young people.

So next Thursday we will actually be highlighting some of the programs who have been given awards today. We will be talking about the recreational and mentoring programs because we now know what we have to do to give kids a chance to make good decisions for themselves.

A few minutes ago you heard about the inspiring 52nd Street Project. We are going to have a particular treat now because we are going to get to see a performance -- a mini-performance -- by the people who are participating in the 52nd Street Project. So let us welcome James McDaniel, Mayleen Cancel and Candy Godoy and Rusty Magee of the 52nd Street Project

52nd Street Project performs

I just want to thank again all of you who made this first annual -- and I hope that it happens next year and the year after that and the year after that -- Coming Up Taller Awards Ceremony possible. I hope you share our excitement -- those of us who latched on to this idea two years ago and worked together to bring it to fruition -- really see ourselves as shining a light on the good work that is being done throughout our country. And there is so much that is happening in the interest of children. It is an exciting time for those of us who have worked for years on behalf of children because we know so much more about what works. And helping any child come up taller really works. So thank you for being a part of that.

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