Charleston Mayor Riley Honored with National Medal of Arts
First Mayor to Receive Nation’s Highest Arts Award
By Tom McClimon
March 8, 2010
President Barack Obama bestowed Conference of Mayors Past President Charleston (SC) Mayor Joseph P. Riley, Jr. with the 2009 National Medal of Arts. In a ceremony on February 25 in the East Room of the White House, Riley was honored with the nation’s highest award for the arts for his work in cultivating Charleston’s historic and cultural resources, and for revitalizing cities throughout the nation as founder of the Mayors Institute on City Design. The mayor was one of 12 people or organizations to receive the medal for 2009 alongside eight people who received the National Humanities Medal.
In remarks as the President closed the ceremony, President Obama singled out the mayor as “my great friend Joe Riley and the extraordinary work he’s done in Charleston.” Adding further the President stated, “Each and every one of these individuals in some ways has touched my life.”
“The men and women that we honor today are part of the American tradition of dynamism and diversity. In a cultural moment that too often prizes the sensational over the enduring, the trivial over the profound, it’s worth recalling the contributions of the honorees in this room-contributions that at once reflect and rise above the particular moments in which they’re made,” stated President Obama.
“I am greatly honored to have received the 2009 National Medal of Arts from President Barack Obama,” stated Riley. “This award is a recognition of the city that I am privileged to serve and a recognition of the work of our community to build and maintain a beautiful and livable city that is a national treasure. I am very proud of the recognition of the Mayors Institute on City Design and the role that this institution has had in positively shaping and improving cities across the nation.”
Riley was nominated for the award by The U.S. Conference of Mayors and the American Architectural Foundation, the Conference of Mayors’ partner along with the National Endowment for the Arts in Mayors Institute on City Design program. “We were honored to be a co-nominator with the American Architectural Foundation of Mayor Riley for this nation’s highest award for the arts,” stated Conference of Mayors CEO and Executive Director Tom Cochran. “This is the first time a mayor has been so honored and it is fitting that Joe Riley be the first mayoral honoree. His leadership on the arts and urban design has been the standard for all mayors and will be into the future.” Ron Bogle, President and CEO of the American Architectural Foundation stated, “The American Architectural Foundation highly values our longstanding relationship with The U.S. Conference of Mayors and Mayor Riley. In addition to our powerful institutional alliance around city design, there is a collegial spirit that adds richness to our work together. We are inspired by Mayor Riley’s leadership and gratified that President Obama embraced him as a visionary in the field of urban design and the creation of livable cities.”
“By working with us to found the Mayors Institute on City Design, Mayor Riley has helped some 800 mayors think of themselves as their cities’ chief urban designers. He has been a tireless advocate for the role that smart design and the arts can play in building livable, sustainable communities,” National Endowment for the Arts Chairman Rocco Landesman added. “It was wonderful that the President, and indeed the country, recognizes Mayor Riley for that.”
In addition to Riley, other national arts medal recipients were:
- Bob Dylan, singer and songwriter
- Clint Eastwood, director and actor
- Milton Glaser, graphic designer best known for his “I Love New York” logo
- Maya Lin, architect known for Vietnam Veterans Memorial
- Rita Moreno, singer, dancer, and actress who has won Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony awards
- Jessye Norman, soprano opera singer
- Frank Stella, painter and sculptor
- Michael Tilson Thomas, conductor
- John Williams, composer and conductor known for his music in such films as “Star Wars” and the soundtrack for the Olympics
- The Ohio Oberlin Conservatory of Music, the country’s oldest continuously operating conservatory; and the New York School of American Ballet, the dance program co-founded by George Balanchine based at the Lincoln Center were also honored with national arts medals.
- National Medal of Humanities recipients honored were:
- Robert Caro, two time Pulitzer Prize winner known for his biographies of Robert Moses and President Lyndon B. Johnson
- Annette Gordon-Reed, Pulitzer Prize winner for her work on President Thomas Jefferson’s relationship with his slaves, including Sally Hemings
- David Levering Lewis, Pulitzer Prize winner for his biographies of W.E.B DuBois
- William McNeill, professor and author of such works as The Rise of the West which traces civilizations through 5,000 years of recorded history
- Philippe de Montebello, former director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York
- Albert Small, philanthropist and collector of early American manuscripts
- Ted Sorensen, author and speechwriter for President John F. Kennedy
- Elie Wiesel, author and Holocaust activist
The National Medals of Arts and Humanities, established by Congress in 1984, are awarded by the President and managed by the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Award recipients are selected based on their contributions to the creation, growth, and support of the arts and humanities in the United States.