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Power and Poetry

The President, the Poet and
the American Cultural Mission

By L. Wolfe

January 2014

Originally written on October 25, 2013.

Introduction: The President as Preacher

What is the relationship of poetry, and classical culture generally, to the life of our republic? In a short, and beautiful speech fifty years ago, President John F. Kennedy provided his answer to that question—a passionate plea for poetry to inform and temper political power, and for the nation to see poets, and all artists, as truth-seekers, whose role is provide citizens access to those profound and passionate ideas, which constitute the foundation of all human progress.

Listening to a recording of these remarks, delivered at the groundbreaking for the Robert Frost Library at Amherst College on October 26, 1963, you can hear the poetry of Kennedy’s words, conveying his own passionate commitment to that which he preached. And preached, is the proper term here. This was not political bombast, or the clever turn of phrases for effect, but was instead akin to the powerful and poetic presentation of simple truth that one finds in Lincoln’s remarks at Gettysburg, for example. As any great preacher does speaking with passion, Kennedy bid people recognize the need to promote access to arts and artists and to partake of great ideas, while recognizing the special role the artist must play in the life of the nation. The path to the future requires a commitment to truth, and poets, like Robert Frost, must help us find the path to our destiny by saying what is not popular, but is truthful. Kennedy reminds us that political leaders like himself, must also listen to these voices of truth, echoing the famous words of another poet, Percy Shelley, that poets are “the true legislators of mankind.”

Kennedy’s remarks were heartfelt, and the care with which he crafted them—from the draft, first worked over by his friend and speechwriter, Ted Sorensen, and then handed to another of his writers, the historian Arthur Schlesinger—reflected his desire to address the mission that he shared with the man who was called “America’s poet.”

The Poet’s Responsibility

Robert Frost in 1941, age 67.

For the last two decades of his long, productive life, Robert Frost, the cantankerous and outspoken New Englander, devoted much of his time and energy to what was at times a lonely mission of promoting poetry and arts to a central position in the lifeblood of the nation. In every forum where his celebrity offered him entrance, the poet would remind people of what the arts meant to them; when the opportunity afforded, he addressed poets and others on their responsibility and purpose. He attacked the propensity to see poetry or great classical art as mere things, or worse, entertainments, and also decried what he saw as a growing trend among poets to succumb to the desire to become famous and wealthy, seeking book sales over truth, and producing emotional tripe.

Speaking to an audience of young writers gathered in the mountains of Vermont, Frost once stated, “Every artist must have two fears—the fear of God and the fear of man—fear of God that his creation will ultimately be found unworthy, and the fear of man that he will be misunderstood by his fellows.”

Poets who seek popularity or commercial success can never really be successful, because they compromise their commitment to the truth. It is a lonely life, one that requires taking risks, going to unknown places, as he did in his own life, as described in his famous verse:

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

A poet, he said in one of his many lectures, “has a lover’s quarrel with the world,” words which Kennedy recalled in his Amherst eulogy. In an interview in The New York Times Book Review, Frost observed the following:

“If poetry isn’t understanding all, the whole world, then it isn’t worth anything. Young poets forget that poetry must include the mind as well as the emotions. Too many poets delude themselves by thinking the mind is dangerous and must be left out. Well, the mind is dangerous and must be left in.”

Frost worried that the crass commercialism of modern culture and especially the mass media, threatened to destroy, not merely the population’s connection to the great culture of civilization, but the ability to carry that culture forward into the future. For classical culture, (which he and others often refer to as “the Arts,” using the Greek term), was not something from a dead past, but must be alive in the soul of a nation, if we are to achieve the glorious future intended for man, one worthy of the gifts the Creator has given us.

The Cultural Bridge to the Future

The poet realized that such ideas needed a champion, one who could address the ancient truths with passion from the vantage point of youth, for America was not part of what he saw as the encrusted “Old World,” but was of the vigorous New World, one that was always changing, renewing itself, alive with excitement and discovery.

In young Jack Kennedy, he saw such a leader, such a champion, a man who spoke and thought poetically, who quoted from the Bard and American poets in his speeches, and who, like Frost, found cause in the fight to create a new National Cultural Center in the culturally barren Nation’s Capital. And also like himself, Kennedy was a New Englander, possessing both a wisdom and toughness beyond his age. He had read and praised the young man’s prize winning book, Profiles in Courage, and gauged Kennedy’s mind as up to the task of both political and cultural leadership.

Kennedy’s commitment to the arts and culture, which initially developed from his educational background, in schools of privilege, with teachers of whom he spoke as inspiring, was deepened as a leader by his studies of the presidencies of two admired predecessors—John Quincy Adams and Franklin D. Roosevelt. Both characteristically linked national progress to an understanding of great ideas, and the making available of those great ideas and principles to the largest number of citizens. Those ideas and principles are transmitted by “culture.”

John Quincy Adams

Adams, to whom Kennedy devotes the second chapter in his prize-winning Profiles in Culture, spent much of his presidency advocating the creation of institutions to promote the arts and science, which he believed were the key to a future American greatness. A true universal genius, he understood that the intended effects of the many public improvements that he proposed, as the leading public proponent of the Hamiltonian system, that was later to become known as the “American System,” could not fully be realized without a fundamental improvement in the minds and culture of the American people. This required universal public education, as advocated by Franklin among others, but also a commitment to “reach for the stars,” to know, what is not yet known and is not physical. This lay behind his advocacy of the building of “lighthouses of the sky”—astronomical observatories to be constructed not only in Washington (the Naval Observatory), but in towns and cities throughout the land—for the future comes from the imagination stirred by “looking upward.”

“…the great object of civil government is the improvement of the condition of those who are parties to the social compact,” Adams said in his first annual address to the people and Congress on December 6, 1825. “Road and canals …are among the most important means of improvement. But moral, political and intellectual improvement are duties assigned by the Author of our existence. Among the first instruments for the improvement of the condition of men is knowledge and the acquisition of much of the knowledge adapted to wants, the comforts and enjoyments of human life [make] public institutions and seminaries of learning essential.”

Congress, said President Adams, must act and decisively to promote, “the improvement of agriculture, commerce and manufactures, the cultivation and encouragement of the mechanic and of the elegant arts, and the advancement of literature and the progress of the sciences.” Calling for a commitment to his “lighthouses of the sky,” Adams then warned the failure to act to uplift and promote human progress through cultural and scientific improvement “would be a treachery to the most sacred of trusts.”

Progress, Adams believed, was marked by the increase in the productive powers of human labor as seen over successive generations. The power and wealth of the nation was not counted or measured in its output of objects or an accumulation of gold, but in its production of increasingly more capable and productive human beings. Culture is what nurtures progress as the means by which great ideas and discoveries are transmitted from the past and present to the future by firing up the imagination. Classical culture or ``the arts’’ are not entertainments, but are the essential bridge to our future, whose greatness they both celebrate and define.

In Adams, we have a visionary, but who, as President, is denied support, both of the people and the Congress, by acts of a treacherous populist majority, headed by a traitor to the American System, Andrew Jackson, who frustrated Adams’ every initiative and heaped ridicule upon his ideas. Adams recognized this negative impact of wrongly-informed popular opinion in prescient and often misunderstood remarks at the end of the above address, where he speaks of those who “stymie progress” by falsely “proclaiming to the world that we are palsied by the will of our constituents,” whose will these misleaders are manipulating against the people’s own self interest, the which is identical to the true will of nation.

In studying Adams as he recuperated from serious back surgery in 1955, Kennedy saw a President who was visionary, yet ineffectual against a poisonous and treasonous opposition which he refused to adequately fight. Yet this same man was is as if reborn, Kennedy writes in his “Profiles,’’ to become one of the greatest leaders in the Congress in our history, fighting for principle with every ounce of his strength and with a courage and conviction that inspired the nation, and Kennedy himself. As President, Kennedy would show skill that Adams lacked in that office, especially in his ability to mobilize the American people, when necessary, against reactionaries in the Congress, to bring the people along with his vision.

Congressman Adams turned his talents to the protection and creation of the one of the greatest of American cultural and scientific institutions, the Smithsonian. Created by a grant from a wealthy Englishmen, Adams was put in charge of the Congressional oversight committee that would implement the bequest. He argued eloquently against those of who claimed that the Federal government could have no role in the promotion of culture and science and that the bequest should be turned over to private interests. On the contrary, it was the duty of the government and Congress under the General Welfare clause of the Constitution to promote science and culture, since it were impossible to protect and improve the general welfare without such action. Adams’ arguments won the day, and the Smithsonian stands even more as a tribute to this great American, as it does to the little-known person whose name it bears.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

FDR never lacked the ability to mobilize the American people behind his goals and high ideals, and the development of cultural opportunities for all citizens was one very close to his heart. His message, repeated on many occasions, is that, while we should rightfully acknowledge and learn from great masters of the past, the arts and culture were not something dead, but must be alive in the soul of the nation. He took on the personal mission, along with his wife Eleanor, of making sure that arts were not something for only the rich and their caste, but for all persons, especially children, and thus he encouraged and funded programs for teachers of the arts and their students.

FDR believed that the elite class, mostly of the wealthy financiers of Wall Street, and similar environs, sought to possess art for themselves, and then to allow, usually after they died, others to partake in what they really would never be allowed to understand anyway. For Roosevelt, works of great art were the possession of all mankind, Americans included. He would hear none of the commonly held view among the elites that most Americans could never comprehend the “meaning” of great art, and he ridiculed both privately, and occasionally, publicly, those Americans who foolishly aspired to imitate the European oligarchy. And, most importantly, he took action to make real his vision of an America that would not only celebrate past cultural achievements but would make new ones of its own.

The New Deal spawned several programs which promoted the arts, the training of artists, musicians, composers and sculptures, and the funding their work, including placing works of art in America’s public spaces created as part of New Deal public infrastructures. All this drew ire from the self-appointed “keepers of culture,” to which FDR paid no heed.

Kennedy, as a student of the New Deal, no doubt knew the true story of perhaps FDR’s greatest triumph in this fight—the creation of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. The background for accepting what FDR repeatedly referred to as the “generous gift” of Andrew Mellon which helped fund the gallery and his donation of his great vast art collection, was that FDR brokered a deal in which he agreed not to throw Mellon, the former Treasury Secretary under Hoover, in jail for tax fraud, in exchange for that donation! How wonderful Roosevelt must have felt, “praising” Mellon for his generosity, as the latter sat squirming at the opening of the Gallery in March 1941, and praising Mellon’s “humility” for not requesting that the Gallery be named for him, or any other plutocrat.

I present below an abridged version of that short speech, for it defines FDR’s view of the importance of art and culture in American life, and mirrors the views of Kennedy, who cited the remarks in his fundraising meetings for the new National Cultural center, the which he would demand be named for Roosevelt as a pioneer in government support for the arts and culture, to the chagrin of many its would-be patrons.

Remarks by FDR at the Opening of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC

March 17, 1941

The West Building of the National Gallery of Art, south facade.

It is with a very real sense of satisfaction that I accept for the people of the United States and on their behalf this National Gallery and the collections it contains. The giver of this building has matched the richness of his gift with the modesty of his spirit, stipulating that the Gallery shall be known not by his name but by the Nation's….

There have been, in the past, many gifts of great paintings and of famous works of art to the American people. Most of the wealthy men of the last century who bought, for their own satisfaction, the masterpieces of European collections, ended by presenting their purchases to their cities or to their towns. And so great works of art have a way of breaking out of private ownership into public use. They belong so obviously to all who love them—they are so clearly the property not of their single owners but of all men everywhere—that the private rooms and houses where they have lovingly hung in the past become in time too narrow for their presence. The true collectors are the collectors who understand this—the collectors of great paintings who feel that they can never truly own, but only gather and preserve for all who love them, the treasures that they have found.

But though there have been many public gifts of art in the past, the gift of this National Gallery, dedicated to the entire Nation, containing a considerable part of the most important work brought to this country from the continent of Europe, has necessarily a new significance. I think it signifies a relation—a new relation here made visible in paint and in stone—between the whole people of this country, and the old inherited tradition of the arts....

In accepting this building and the paintings and other art that it contains, the people of the United States accept a part in that inheritance for themselves. They accept it for themselves not because this Gallery is given to them—though they are thankful for the gift. They accept it for themselves because, in the past few years, they have come to understand that the inheritance is theirs and that, like other inheritors of other things of great value, they have a duty toward it.

There was a time when the people of this country would not have thought that the inheritance of art belonged to them or that they had responsibilities to guard it. A few generations ago, the people of this country were often taught by their writers and by their critics and by their teachers to believe that art was something foreign to America and to themselves—something imported from another continent, something from an age which was not theirs—something they had no part in, save to go to see it in some guarded room on holidays or Sundays.

But recently, within the last few years—yes, in our lifetime—they have discovered that they have a part. They have seen in their own towns, in their own villages, in schoolhouses, in post offices, in the back rooms of shops and stores, pictures painted by their sons, their neighbors—people they have known and lived beside and talked to. They have seen, across these last few years, rooms full of painting and sculpture by Americans, walls covered with painting by Americans- some of it good, some of it not so good, but all of it native, human, eager, and alive- all of it painted by their own kind in their own country, and painted about things that they know and look at often and have touched and loved.

The people of this country know now, whatever they were taught or thought they knew before, that art is not something just to be owned but something to be made: that it is the act of making and not the act of owning that is art. And knowing this they know also that art is not a treasure in the past or an importation from another land, but part of the present life of all the living and creating peoples—all who make and build; and, most of all, the young and vigorous peoples who have made and built our present wide country.

It is for this reason that the people of America accept the inheritance of these ancient arts. Whatever these paintings may have been to men who looked at them generations back—today they are not only works of art. Today they are the symbols of the human spirit, symbols of the world the freedom of the human spirit has made—and, incidentally, a world against which armies now are raised and countries overrun and men imprisoned and their work destroyed....

To accept this work today is to assert the purpose of the people of America that the freedom of the human spirit and human mind—which has produced the world's great art and all its science shall not be utterly destroyed….

The dedication of this Gallery to a living past, and to a greater and more richly living future, is the measure of the earnestness of our intention that the freedom of the human spirit shall go on, too.


The Poet Chooses His Champion

Before Jack Kennedy had even declared himself as running, Robert Frost announced that the young man from Boston would be the next President. On March 26, 1959, prior to a gala to celebrate his 85th birthday, Frost gave a press conference at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York City. Among the questions was one concerning the alleged decline of New England, to which Frost responded: "The next President of the United States will be from Boston. Does that sound as if New England is decaying?" Pressed to name who he meant, Frost replied: "He's a Puritan named Kennedy. The only Puritans left these days are the Roman Catholics. There. I guess I wear my politics on my sleeve."

Frost’s spontaneous, yet calculated remarks, caused a sensation, and were picked up by the national media. The poet kept repeating his endorsement, elaborating that all real artists should back his candidacy, as a harbinger of a new age of national creativity.

Kennedy, at first honored and amused by what was happening, came to realize that there was more going on. A month after the first endorsement, he wrote a handwritten personal message to the poet:

"I just want to send you a note to let you know how gratifying it was to be remembered by you on the occasion of your 85th birthday. I only regret that the intrusion of my name, probably in ways which you did not entirely intend, took away some of the attention from the man who really deserved it—Robert Frost."

Entering the campaign in earnest, Kennedy was soon ending his speeches at his many stops, with a reference to “that great American poet,” quoting the last lines from his “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening:” “But I have promises to keep/ And miles to go before I sleep.”

By May 1960, it was certain that Kennedy would be nominated, but far from certain that this New England Catholic would be elected in November. Frost, however, remained optimistic. Poetry and destiny were coming together in this young man who seemed keenly aware of them both. “I am old and have been disappointed before,” Frost told some young people in a college audience. “I believe we are at the dawning of new age, where guided by this man, we will as a nation and individuals, do great things.”

The National Cultural Center

Tom at Wikipedia.  Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license
The National Cultural Center, later renamed The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, seen from the Potomac River.

One of those great things that both Frost and Kennedy thought could now finally be accomplished was the creation of a National Cultural Center in Washington, D.C. Frost strongly endorsed this idea, and lent what weight his status as a revered poet could give to the project, the which had been the dream of both Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, only to suffer in indifference without a true political champion after FDR’s death. Legislation had languished in the Congress for a decade, before in the mid -1950s. Kennedy, among others, pushed it through. With help of President Eisenhower, who now endorsed the effort, legislation was passed and signed into law in 1958.

Frost and others were irked that, in order to appease Republicans, Ike had agreed that the Federal government would only fund part of the endeavor, and that its scope was cut back. From being a true national academy, with the purpose of promoting and aiding the development of generations of artists, with branches around the nation, it became a mere venue for performances and for the maintenance of national opera, symphony and theater companies. With only half the construction financing paid for by the Federal government, supporters had to beg big money patrons in business and finance, whom, Frost thought, cared mostly for a place where they could hob knob with each other, and be seen imbibing classical culture.

The National Cultural Center seen from an airplane.

Kennedy, coming from a family of parvenu wealth, the which was never accepted by the self-styled oligarchy of Wall Street, despite his father’s lick spittle service to these types, shared a similar distrust of the circumscribed mission of the new center. But, like Frost, he was determined, were he to become President, to champion the Center’s cause, and move to expand its mission through Presidential leadership. He believed he could make the wealthy ante up, so to speak, by making his discussions with them a matter of public record.

The future President was no doubt amused when the outspoken Frost appeared in 1960 before a Senate Education subcommittee to argue for a greater government commitment to the Center, taking the occasion to make the point that poets and artists should be treated by the government as equal, if not superior, to big business: Why should big business and Wall Street receive tax and other breaks from our government, while those who make our culture, must come begging, hat in hand, for help, and that help is either denied or dispensed with an eyedropper.

“I have long thought something like this,” he told the committee which should not have been shocked by his famous directness. “Everyone comes down to Washington to get equal with someone else. I want our poets to be declared equal to—what shall I say?—our scientists. No, to big business!” As he stared at the silent committee members, the galleries, packed to hear the remarks of the venerated old man, erupted into a loud, standing ovation.

Frost was elated over the results of the November election, calling Kennedy’s narrow victory over Nixon, a triumph of light against the darkness. He cabled Kennedy his pleasure, quipping that the victory marked “the triumph of Protestantism—over itself.” He offered himself at the ready to assist the young President in any way possible.

The Poet at the Center of Power

Stewart Lee Udall, U.S. Secretary of the Interior from 1961-1969.

That opportunity came quickly and in a unique way. Stuart Udall, a mutual friend of Kennedy and Frost, whom the new President had tapped to be his Secretary of the Interior, suggested that Frost be invited to read one of his poems at the inauguration. It would be the first such invitation in the nation’s history, and would demonstrate Kennedy’s strong commitment to bring the arts and culture to the center of American life. Kennedy loved the idea, as did his wife Jacqueline, who was a fan of both Frost the man and the poet, having read and loved his poetry. The only trouble, said Kennedy, only half joking, was, “… that Robert Frost always steals any show he is part of.”

The invitation was sent immediately by telegram, from the President-elect, to which the poet quickly replied, also by telegram, the following day:


There ensued a discussion of what exactly Frost would read and it was originally mutually decided that he would recite “The Gift Outright,” his paean to the American revolutionary spirit and greatness, written during the depths of the Great Depression, when Frost was inspired by the vigor and commitment of Franklin Roosevelt. At Kennedy’s request, Frost agreed to change the last line of the poem, which he called “a history of the United States in 12 [actually 16] lines of blank verse,” so that instead of reading “As she would become,” it would read, reflecting the optimism of the Kennedy Presidency, “As she WILL become.”

In that bitter cold January, Frost found a snowbound Washington teeming with people from all over the country, braving the winter weather to be part of an exciting new chapter in the nation’s history. An electric energy was flowing through the city. People were alive with an infectious optimism about the future. Not since FDR’s first inauguration had the city and the country so enthusiastically anticipated a political event. He was especially moved by the large numbers of young people, some coming alone, others with parents and grandparents, to cheer on the hope and spirit of a new age symbolized by their young President, the first born in the 20th Century.

Frost went to his room, grabbed a hotel pad, and started to compose. He penned some 42 lines (a year later expanding these to 73) in one sitting, working and reworking. Here was an ode to renewed spirit of the nation, a revival in which poetry and the arts were to play a major role—an homage from the man considered our national poet, to his new leader and champion.

Tentatively titled “Dedication,” he then proceeded to type out the draft on a portable typewriter loaned him by the hotel, so that it might be read, along with the planned recitation of “The Gift Outright.” He planned this as a surprise and special gift to Kennedy—the performance of a work of art, especially composed for him and given its first reading before a national audience.

The poem begins with his thanks to Kennedy for allowing an artist to participate in this august event, a dream of Frost’s—the combination of art and statecraft:

Summoning artists to participate
In the august occasions of the state
Seems something artists ought to celebrate.
Today is for my cause a day of days,
And his be poetry’s old fashioned praise
Who was the first to think of such a thing.

Pouring forth in Frost’s characteristic verse, the message is one of unbridled optimism for the future, for a truly new age of high culture, a shared hope with the young President. Its concluding section reads:

Some poor fool has been saying in his heart
Glory is out of date in life and art.
Our venture in revolution and outlawry
Has justified itself in freedom’s story
Right down to now in glory upon glory.
Come fresh from an election like the last,
The greatest vote a people ever cast,
So close yet sure to be abided by,
It is no miracle our mood is high.
Courage is in the air in bracing whiffs
Better than all the stalemate an’s and ifs.
There was the book of profile tales declaring
For the emboldened politicians daring
To break with followers when in the wrong,
A healthy independence of the throng,
A democratic form of right divine
To rule first answerable to high design.
There is a call to life a little sterner,
And braver for the earner, learner, yearner.
Less criticism of the field and court
And more preoccupation with the sport.
It makes the prophet in us all presage
The glory of a next Augustan age
Of a power leading from its strength and pride,
Of young ambition eager to be tried,
Firm in our free beliefs without dismay,
In any game the nations want to play.
A golden age of poetry and power
Of which this noonday’s the beginning hour.

Frost was immensely pleased with what he had composed and was eager to read it for Kennedy and the nation. He should, he told people as he prepared to leave for the Capitol the morning of the inauguration, provide the exclamation point to a great event. But as he was being driven, the poet became worried that he might have trouble reading the text, as it was typed so faintly.

At the podium on the steps of the Capitol, it was not the type, but the glare of the noonday sun, reflected off the glistening frozen snow, that foiled him—an effect he had described so many times before in his poetry of the New England winter. He borrowed a wide brimmed hat from Vice President Lyndon Johnson to shield the page, but after a few agonizing moments of false starts, the 86 year old Frost smiled, as if to ease the angst felt for him, as seen in the faces of the First Lady and Vice President (a news photo of which won the Pulitzer Prize that year, 1961), and proceeded seamlessly into a recitation of “The Gift Outright,” from memory, complete with the amended last line, as his President had requested.

Frost was neither embarrassed nor upset. “We are all getting older,” he joked, “but the sun, gets stronger.” Three days later, he presented the original of the poem to the President and the First Lady in an audience at the White House. It was inscribed by the hand of the poet, “To John F. Kennedy. At his inauguration to be President of this country, January 20th, 1961. With the Heart of the world. Amended copy, now let’s mend our ways.”

The ebullient Frost, pulled the President aside, and whispered in his ear, “Be more Irish than Harvard. Poetry and power is the formula for another Augustan Age. Don't be afraid of power."

(When the manuscript finally made it to the JFK Library in 2007, on the brown paper backing of its frame, was discovered a handwritten note by the First Lady: “For Jack, January 23rd, 1961. First thing I had framed to put in your office. First thing to be hung there.”)

Kennedy had a thank-you letter sent to the poet. At the bottom, in the bold stroke of his own handwriting, is written: "It's poetry and power all the way!"

The poet offered his services to the young President, telling him that he would respond to any summons, for any purpose.

The Poet and the Premier

A year later, on March 26, 1962, Frost was again summoned to the White House, this time to be presented with a Congressional Gold Medal honoring his contribution to American culture. For the occasion, he had reworked his poem “Dedication,” presenting it with added lines, in a bound autographed volume, where it was married with “The Gift Outright,” and signed in four copies by the author, as a gift to the Kennedy family. Along with this, he presented the President with an autographed volume of his latest book of poems.

In his brief remarks, Kennedy quipped that, while Frost would have probably preferred otherwise, the Congress had unanimously passed the proclamation for his medal, saying that it was about the only thing that Congress could agree upon. Frost thanked the President, especially for his continued work in promoting the arts, stating that he would accept the award as an old man, on behalf others working in the arts. When asked by the media, whether at 88, he thought that his latest book would be his last, he said he hoped not, and that he still had all his faculties, but that he might in the future lose them and say something foolish.

Kennedy had one more mission in mind for his friend. At the urging of Udall, he agreed to ask Frost to undertake a good will mission to the Soviet Union, where he could address a Russian public eager to hear his works. In a letter typed by Frost to the President, dated July 24, 1962, the poet reminds the President that he is a man who will speak his mind and will not be content to just read poems. Frost tells Kennedy that he sees, over time, “the great Russian people” and the American people drawing closer, as they once had been, and will be again:

“I like to tell the story of the mere sailor boy from upstate New York, who by favor of his captain and the American consul in St. Petersburg got to see the Czar with the gift in his hand of an acorn that fell from a tree that stood by the house of George Washington. That was in the 1830s, when proud young Americans were equal to anything. He said to the Czar, ‘Washington was a great ruler and you’re a great ruler and I thought you might like to plant the acorn with me by your palace.’ And so he did.”

The poet told the young President that he thought that he embodied that same spirit of young vigorous America, one that inspires confidence in change. He concluded by stating, “…we are all one world, as you put it, of independent nations, interdependent.—The separateness of the parts as important as the connection of the parts. Great times to be alive, aren’t they?”

Frost arrived in the Soviet Union on August 30, and immediately plunged into a schedule of readings, lectures, and meetings that would have been grueling for a man half his age. He read and he spoke, through translators, and was everywhere greeted enthusiastically. Despite the problems with translations (Poetry, he had once said, is “what is lost in translation”), the audiences showed the same kind of respect that they would for any great Russian artist or poet. He is “the American Pushkin,” said one commentator—a remark Frost thought himself unworthy.

“I believe that we, Americans and Russians,” he said at one venue, “share a great common, almost universal culture. Our affinity for great works of art, not that mine are so great, are what binds us together.”

In Moscow, at an event attended by many officials of the government, Frost read his famous poem, “Mending Walls,” which contains the simple verse, “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.” Word spread that Frost’s choice of the poem was not unrelated to his dislike of the wall that partitioned Berlin that the Russians had erected. Walls cannot ever stop the flow of ideas, since ideas operate on a different non-physical plane, he had said. “Ideas can scale any wall.”

Frost had longed to meet with Nikita Khrushchev, to take the measure of the man and his thought. For a while, it did not appear that this would be possible. But then, as the tour was winding up, Frost was summoned to meet with the Soviet leader at his dacha in the Crimea. It was Premier Khrushchev who came to see the American poet as he recovered from his arduous journey in the bedroom of the guest cottage. They spoke for nearly an hour and half with only a translator present, talking of the differences between their two nations, but also of their similarities. Russia, like America, has produced great poets. “A great nation makes great poetry and great poetry makes a nation,” said Frost. Khrushchev agreed.

The Soviet leader praised Frost’s oeuvre, with a remarkable familiarity. Winter is apparently the same in New England and Russia, only differing in degree. At one point Frost boldly urged Khrushchev order the Berlin Wall be taken down, only to receive a lecture why this was impossible at this time. They ended the discussion agreeing to disagree, but with the Soviet leader calling Frost a great man whom his nation was honored to receive.

The Russia trip left the 88-year old Frost exhausted, physically and mentally burned out. On his return, he was peppered by the press for his assessment of the Soviet leader, who had granted him a rare lengthy, personal audience. He was no “fathead,” as some in this country might think, Frost replied. He was smart and no coward. “He is not afraid of us and we are not afraid of him,” he said. Then, with the press badgering to explain what the Soviet leader had said, he blurted out that Khrushchev “believed us too liberal to fight,” which he said was clearly wrong. The media made this the headline of his entire tour: “America Too Liberal to Fight: Soviet Leader” or “America Won’t Fight: Khrushchev.”

Kennedy was furious. He worried about a person he was so close to, implying that his “liberalism” might cause the Soviets to miscalculate. Frost should not meddle in things of which he has no idea of the consequences, Kennedy told aides. An estrangement ensued between Kennedy and Frost that, unfortunately, continued until the poet’s death in January 1963.

(Ironically, what Frost had said about the Soviet leader’s miscalculation of the young President and the American people who elected him, something Frost had apparently tried to dissuade Soviet leader of, played itself out in what became the Cuban Missile Crisis that October.)

Frost remained friendly to Kennedy to the end, seeing in him, the visionary spirit of the new Augustan age of culture that he so hoped would ensue. He welcomed Kennedy’s championing of the National Cultural Center, urging Udall to have it “lose the word culture” and be dedicated instead to the “arts.” What was important, was that there be a commitment to encourage young people to not treat art as a spectator sport, but to become engaged, and take the opportunity to live a life in the arts.

Kennedy refused the entreaties of Frost family, and the urging of Jackie, to visit Frost in the hospital, perhaps thinking that the tough old guy would make it through. That Frost was still thinking of him is clear; he instructed an aide to send the President and his family a copy of the last poem that he was to write, one inspired apparently by the space program, so vigorously advocated by Kennedy.

Power Tempered by Poetry

Flying with Udall to the groundbreaking ceremony for the Robert Frost Library at Amherst College, all these thoughts were no doubt swirling through Kennedy’s head. Udall had been upset with the President’s failure to see Frost as he lay dying. But, now he saw the President pouring over the text of his speech, muttering and clearly dissatisfied with what was there.

He slashed the laborious passages of clunking prose written by Schlesinger, simplifying the vision, just as Frost had presented the profound with a simple directness, while bringing also a New Englander’s flavor to the remarks.

And he gave it pacing and power, as can be seen from his handwritten markings on the manuscript. For example, the clumsy phrase, “when power intoxicates, poetry restores sobriety” became “when power corrupts, poetry cleanses.”

The President could be seen in the plane’s cabin mouthing the words he was writing. As Kennedy understood, this was a speech, not to be read, but an oration to be recited. The speaker must be true to the presentation of the idea, as well as the thought conveyed, for the two are inseparable. He cut sections, and added a beginning discussion of the responsibility that comes with privilege and wealth, for he was addressing an audience comprised primarily of those who had both. They must be made uncomfortable, just a Frost always made people feel uncomfortable, including the President, so that they could be challenged intellectually.

Following the opening remarks would be first an homage to the poet, something worthy of this great man, something that perhaps he should have said a long time ago. (Kennedy did strike one line that may have hit a bit too close to home: “Too often we do not honor our artists until they are dead and can no longer disturb us.”) With the ground thus prepared, he next presents a vision of what power tempered by poetry must accomplish. This he delivered with a passion that betrayed his own commitment—these were not hollow if well struck words, but an expression of strong personal belief, that he wished others to embrace. They are the words of a leader summoning the nation into the new age of “Poetry and Power”—his shared vision with the poet.

Udall, who saw Kennedy emotional on the plane, then compose himself as he composed, then deliver this remarkable speech, has called the eulogy to Frost and his paean to the power of the poet in society “the most majestic speech of his [Kennedy’s] public career…[he] spoke of the poet with an uncommon eloquence, in words that conveyed a profound sympathy for the principle and truths that Robert Frost lived by…”

I present below the peroration of Kennedy’s remarks. I also offer a link to an audio file, for this speech must not only be read, but should be heard, for it speaks from the past to our present and to our future, offering us wisdom and leadership, conveyed poetically from a great one taken from us some 50 years ago:

This day devoted to the memory of Robert Frost offers an opportunity for reflection which is prized by politicians as well as by others, and even by poets, for Robert Frost was one of the granite figures of our time in America. He was supremely two things: an artist and an American. A nation reveals itself not only by the men it produces but also by the men it honors, the men it remembers.

In America, our heroes have customarily run to men of large accomplishments. But today this college and country honors a man whose contribution was not to our size but to our spirit, not to our political beliefs but to our insight, not to our self-esteem, but to our self-comprehension. In honoring Robert Frost, we therefore can pay honor to the deepest sources of our national strength. That strength takes many forms, and the most obvious forms are not always the most significant. The men who create power make an indispensable contribution to the Nation’s greatness, but the men who question power make a contribution just as indispensable, especially when that questioning is disinterested, for they determine whether we use power or power uses us.

Our national strength matters, but the spirit which informs and controls our strength matters just as much. This was the special significance of Robert Frost. He brought an unsparing instinct for reality to bear on the platitudes and pieties of society. His sense of the human tragedy fortified him against self-deception and easy consolation. “I have been,” he wrote, “one acquainted with the night.” And because he knew the midnight as well as the high noon, because he understood the ordeal as well as the triumph of the human spirit, he gave his age strength with which to overcome despair. At bottom, he held a deep faith in the spirit of man, and it is hardly an accident that Robert Frost coupled poetry and power, for he saw poetry as the means of saving power from itself. When power leads man towards arrogance, poetry reminds him of his limitations. When power narrows the areas of man’s concern, poetry reminds him of the richness and diversity of his existence. When power corrupts, poetry cleanses. For art establishes the basic human truth which must serve as the touchstone of our judgment.

The chorus and audience listen to an excerpt of the speech by John F. Kennedy on Robert Frost, during the Schiller Institute's presentation of Mozart's Requiem in Memory of JFK, November 22, 2013.

The artist, however faithful to his personal vision of reality, becomes the last champion of the individual mind and sensibility against an intrusive society and an officious state. The great artist is thus a solitary figure. He has, as Frost said, a lover’s quarrel with the world. In pursuing his perceptions of reality, he must often sail against the currents of his time. This is not a popular role. If Robert Frost was much honored during his lifetime, it was because a good many preferred to ignore his darker truths. Yet in retrospect, we see how the artist’s fidelity has strengthened the fiber of our national life.

If sometimes our great artists have been the most critical of our society, it is because their sensitivity and their concern for justice, which must motivate any true artist, makes him aware that our Nation fails short of its highest potential. I see little of more importance to the future of our country and our civilization than full recognition of the place of the artist.

If art is to nourish the roots of our culture, society must set the artist free to follow his vision wherever it takes him. We must never forget that art is not a form of propaganda; it is a form of truth. And as Mr. MacLeish once remarked of poets, there is nothing worse for our trade than to be in style. In free society art is not a weapon and it does not belong to the sphere of polemics and ideology. Artists are not engineers of the soul. It may be different elsewhere. But democratic society–in it, the highest duty of the writer, the composer, the artist is to remain true to himself and to let the chips fall where they may. In serving his vision of the truth, the artist best serves his nation. And the nation which disdains the mission of art invites the fate of Robert Frost’s hired man, the fate of having “nothing to look backward to with pride, and nothing to look forward to with hope.”

I look forward to a great future for America, a future in which our country will match its military strength with our moral restraint, its wealth with our wisdom, its power with our purpose. I look forward to an America which will not be afraid of grace and beauty, which will protect the beauty of our natural environment, which will preserve the great old American houses and squares and parks of our national past, and which will build handsome and balanced cities for our future.

I look forward to an America which will reward achievement in the arts as we reward achievement in business or statecraft. I look forward to an America which will steadily raise the standards of artistic accomplishment and which will steadily enlarge cultural opportunities for all of our citizens. And I look forward to an America which commands respect throughout the world not only for its strength but for its civilization as well. And I look forward to a world which will be safe not only for democracy and diversity but also for personal distinction.

Robert Frost was often skeptical about projects for human improvement, yet I do not think he would disdain this hope. As he wrote during the uncertain days of the Second War:

Take human nature altogether since time began…
And it must be a little more in favor of man,
Say a fraction of one percent at the very least…
Our hold on the planet wouldn’t have so increased.

Because of Mr. Frost’s life and work, because of the life and work of this college, our hold on this planet has increased.

When asked by the press why he had requested that Frost speak at his inauguration, President Kennedy replied that he had “courage, towering skill, and daring,” qualities which he admired and hoped to aspire to.

“There is a story that some years ago an interested mother wrote to the principal of a school, `Don’t teach my boy poetry, he is going to run for Congress,’” Kennedy quipped. “I’ve never taken the view that the world of politics and the world of poetry are so far apart. I think politicians and poets share at least one thing, and that is their greatness depends upon the courage with which they face the challenges of life.”

Afterword: Kennedy and the Arts in America

By way telling of the relationship between these two great figures of our recent past, we have caught a glimpse of their mutual devotion to the idea of promoting access and involvement in the arts for all Americans, and the importance they placed in that mission.

Kennedy’s personal commitment to the promotion of the arts and culture to a central position in American life, was far deeper than most commentators and historians understand, because by looking at history as merely a series of events, they have failed to take the measure of the man. Look however to the reporting when he was still alive, and you will see a President who spared no opportunity the tackle the subject, especially when it came to the project to actually open a National Cultural Center. He was supremely devoted to the idea that no great nation could lack such a center, as we did, and that the time had come not merely to talk about it, but to get the job done.

Going through various Kennedy archives, one finds numerous notes and references to meetings about the Center which he had wanted named for FDR but which now bears his name. We also see notes that reflect his own frustration at the lack of a passion matching his own on the parts of others, including some of his aides, for this effort, and for the promotion of culture generally.

Charles de Gaulle (center), John F. Kennedy (right).

Another example: Kennedy was personally involved in negotiations with French President Charles de Gaulle on a plan to loan for one year da Vinci’s Mona Lisa to the National Gallery. He took the occasion of its arrival in January 1963 to declare the gift on a par with the gift of “another lady,” the Statue of Liberty. Speaking to an assemblage at the National Gallery, Kennedy referred to the ability of art and artists to speak to us across time, to inspire us to a new greatness:

“At the same time that the creator of this painting was opening up such a wide new world to western civilization, his fellow countryman from Italy, Columbus, was opening up a new world to a new civilization. The life of this painting, here before us tonight spans the entire life of that new world. We citizens of nations yet unborn at the time of its creation are among the inheritors and protectors of the ideals that gave it birth. For this painting is not only one of the towering achievements of the skill and vision of art, but its creator embodied the central purpose of our civilization.

Mona Lisa, by Leonardo da Vinci.

“…For we do not believe that societies are organized as an end in themselves, or that their success can be measured by the wealth they accumulate or the power they wield. The purpose of our society is to liberate individual men to pursue their passions and visions, its success is measured in the ability of all men, Leonardo and those less gifted, to explore the farthest possibilities of their minds and hearts. A great work of art, like the Mona Lisa, represents both the proudest moments of the past and our deepest hopes for the future…

“Leonardo da Vinci, that universal man, symbolized in his own life, the bond between man’s activities and the growth of the human spirit. His world was like ours in its variety and range of interests, in its sense of new vistas of space and knowledge. But for Leonardo, no line separated what today we call science from what we call art. His world was one, and he penetrated into all parts of it.”

Kennedy’s remarks were carried on national television, and the Mona Lisa became the most viewed work of art in American history to that point.

An audio recording of these remarks can be found in the JFK Library archives:

Statue of Liberty.

You hear a similar poetic passion in listening to a recording of the President organizing funds from “big buck people” at a private White House fundraiser for the Cultural Center. He literally tells his rich audience that they should be embarrassed that small nations pride themselves in having such a public space, while we have none. How are you rich, if your soul is not nourished, he asked?

Finally, I offer below the text of a December 1962 Look magazine article by President Kennedy. He worked on this piece in the days immediately following the Cuban Missile Crisis, yet it overflows with optimism for our future, to be enhanced by our connection to great art. As if to answer questions from the unpoetic as to why a President would concern himself with such “esoteric” matters in a time of world crisis, he recounts stories of both FDR and Lincoln, who were so concerned and engaged on matters of culture. Our connection with classical culture is indeed at the very center of who we are.

As we approach the 50th anniversary of his murder by the forces of darkness represented by the British Empire and it agents in this country, we honor not only his achievements in statecraft and political economy that threatened his murderers, but also his vision of America as a champion of the great works of culture of civilization, capable of moving that civilization forward. The ideals for which he stood, and bade our nation to stand, must not be allowed to pass away. Let us reach across time now, and be energized anew by his leadership.


The Arts in America

by President John F. Kennedy

Look magazine December 18, 1962

ONE AFTERNOON in the fateful year 1940, the President of the United States had two callers. The first was Lord Lothian, the British Ambassador, who had just flown in from London to give Franklin D. Roosevelt an eyewitness account of the bombing of London. The second was Francis H. Taylor, museum director and authority on the history of art.

Taylor waited for 2 hours while the President and Lothian talked. When he finally entered, he found the President "white as a sheet." Yet the President, we are told, kept Taylor in his office that afternoon for another hour and a half. Turning from a grim preoccupation with the war, Franklin Roosevelt talked about the arts in American life. He spoke of plans for broadening the appreciation of art and looked forward to a day when "every schoolhouse would have contemporary American paintings hanging on its walls."

George Biddle, the distinguished American artist who records this meeting, adds on his own: "Roosevelt had little discrimination in his taste in painting and sculpture. [But] he had a more clear understanding of what art could mean in the life of a community-for the soul of a nation--than any man I have known."

In the year of 1941, Roosevelt himself recalled another President who also found time in the midst of great national trials to concern himself with artistic endeavors. It was in the third year of the Civil War, as Roosevelt told the story in a speech dedicating the National Gallery in Washington, D.C., and men and women had gathered to see the Capitol dome completed and the bronze goddess of liberty set upon the top. "It had been an expensive, a laborious business," Roosevelt said, "Diverting labor and money from the prosecution of the war and certain critics... Found much to criticize. There were new marble pillars in the Senate wing of the Capitol; there was a bronze door for the central portal and other such expenditures and embellishments. But the President of the United States, whose name was Lincoln, when he heard these criticisms, answered: 'If people see the Capitol going on, it is a sign that we intend this Union shall go on.'"

Both Roosevelt and Lincoln understood that the life of the arts, far from being an interruption, a distraction, in the life of a nation, is very close to the center of a nation's purpose--and is a test of the quality of a nation's civilization. That is why we should be glad today that the interest of the American people in the arts seems at a new high.

Looking at the American scene, I am impressed by its diversity and vitality--by the myriad ways in which Americans find enlightenment, exercise, entertainment, and fulfillment. Everyone, young and old, seems to be busy. Our roads and seashores are crowded; the great parks draw visitors in unprecedented numbers. Sports thrive, and even such formerly humdrum activities as buying groceries for the family take on a holiday aspect in the new shopping centers. In the midst of all this activity, it is only natural that people should be more active in pursuit of the arts.

The statistics are gratifying: books have become a billion-dollar business; more money is spent each year in going to concerts than to baseball games; our galleries and museums are crowded; community theaters and community symphony orchestras have spread across the land; there are an estimated 33 million Americans who play musical instruments. And all this expresses, I believe, something more than merely the avidity with which goods of all kinds are being acquired in our exuberant society. A need within contemporary civilization, a hunger for certain values and satisfactions, appears to be urging us all to explore and appreciate areas of life which, in the past, we have sometimes neglected in the United States.

Too often in the past, we have thought of the artist as an idler and dilettante and of the lover of arts as somehow sissy or effete. We have done both an injustice. The life of the artist is, in relation to his work, stern and lonely. He has labored hard, often amid deprivation, to perfect his skill. He has turned aside from quick success in order to strip his vision of everything secondary or cheapening. His working life is marked by intense application and intense discipline. As for the lover of arts, it is he who, by subjecting himself to the sometimes disturbing experience of art, sustains the artist--and seeks only the reward that his life will, in consequence, be the more fully lived.

Today, we recognize increasingly the essentially of artistic achievement. This is part, I think, of a nationwide movement toward excellence--a movement which had its start in the admiration of expertness and skill in our technical society, but which now demands quality in all realms of human achievement. It is part, too, of a feeling that art is the great unifying and humanizing experience. We know that science, for example, is indispensable--but we also know that science, if divorced from a knowledge of man and of man's ways, can stunt a civilization. And so the educated man--and very often the man who has had the best scientific education--reaches out for the experience which the arts alone provide. He wants to explore the side of life which expresses the emotions and embodies values and ideals of beauty.

Above all, we are coming to understand that the arts incarnate the creativity of a free society. We know that a totalitarian society can promote the arts in its own way--that it can arrange for splendid productions of opera and ballet, as it can arrange for the restoration of ancient and historic buildings. But art means more than the resuscitation of the past: it means the free and unconfined search for new ways of expressing the experience of the present and the vision of the future. When the creative impulse cannot flourish freely, when it cannot freely select its methods and objects, when it is deprived of spontaneity, then society severs the root of art.

Yet this fact surely imposes an obligation on those who acclaim the freedom of their own society--an obligation to accord the arts attention and respect and status, so that what freedom makes possible, a free society will make necessary.

I have called for a higher degree of physical fitness in our nation. It is only natural that I should call, as well, for the kind of intellectual and spiritual fitness which underlies the flowering of the arts.

A nation's government can expect to play only an indirect and marginal role in the arts. Government's essential job--the organization and administration of great affairs-is too gross and unwieldy for the management of individual genius. But this does not mean that government is not, or should not be, concerned with the arts. A free government is the reflection of a people's will and desire--and ultimately of their taste. It is also, at its best, a leading force, an example and teacher. I would like to see everything government does in the course of its activities marked by high quality. I would like to see the works of government represent the best our artists, designers and builders can achieve. I want to make sure that policies of government do not indirectly or unnecessarily put barriers in the way of the full expression of America's creative genius.

The arts in the United States are, like so many other of our activities, varied and decentralized to a high degree. Private benefactors, foundations, schools and colleges, business corporations, the local community, the city and the State combine in widely differing proportions to organize and support the institutions of culture. I would hope that in the years ahead, as our cultural life develops and takes on new forms, the Federal Government would be prepared to play its proper role in encouraging cultural activities throughout the Nation.

In the Nation's Capital, the Federal Government, of course, has special obligations. There is, first, the fact that the District of Columbia lies directly within Federal jurisdiction. Beyond this, there is the fact that, as the Capital of our Nation, Washington inevitably becomes to a degree a showcase of our culture. In other countries, capitals have been located in great cities with an historic identity and cultural life of their own. But Washington, it has been remarked, is a single-industry town, and that industry is politics and statecraft. Such an environment, some have said, provides barren soil for the arts. Yet, despite this, the community of Washington has done much to welcome and encourage cultural activity.

Still, our vision must look beyond the pleasure of the community to the leadership of the nation. In this vision, the National Cultural Center will play a vital role. The Center, which Congress has chartered and for which it has given land, aims to be part of a broad effort to stimulate the performing arts. It was not conceived as a group of halls and theaters to benefit Washington audiences alone. Here, visitors and tourists will come throughout the year, bringing back to their communities a sense of what the performance of great works can mean in their lives--and a proud realization that their Nation's Capital is a focus of creative activities. In many other ways, the National Cultural Center will interact with the cultural life of communities across the country. The finest of our symphony orchestras will play here; local repertory theaters and opera and ballet groups, increasing in numbers and professional status, should find their appearance in the Nation's Capital a distinction eagerly sought. The Center will, I hope, become in the broadest sense an educational as well as a cultural institution, helping to stimulate the formation of similar groups in other cities.

Other countries have their national theater and opera, permanently situated in the capital and singled out for their government's special concern. Better fitted to the needs of the United States is the idea of the Cultural Center, a great stage hospitable to the best coming from this country and abroad, an institution encouraging the development of the performing arts in all their diversity of origin and variety of form. I earnestly hope that the backing of citizens across the country will make possible the fulfillment of these plans.

To work for the progress of the arts in America is exciting and fruitful because what we are dealing with touches virtually all the citizens.

There will always be of necessity, in any society, a mere handful of genuinely creative individuals, the men and women who shape in words or images the enduring work of art. Among us, even this group tends to be enlarged. "I hear America singing," said Walt Whitman. He would certainly hear it singing with many voices if he were alive today.

Outside the group of active participants stands the great audience. Perhaps no country has ever had so many people so eager to share a delight in the arts. Individuals of all trades and professions, of all ages, in all parts of the country, wait for the curtain to rise--wait for the door to open to new enjoyments.

This wonderful equality in the cultural world is an old American phenomenon. De Tocqueville, in the 1830's, described how on the remotest frontier, in a wilderness that seemed "the asylum of all miseries," Americans preserved an interest in cultural and intellectual matters. "You penetrate paths scarcely cleared," said de Tocqueville; "you perceive, finally, a cleared field, a cabin . . . with a tiny window." You might think, he continues, that you have come at last to the home of an American peasant. But you would be wrong. "The man wears the same clothes as you; he speaks the language of the cities. On his rude table are books and newspapers."

The cabin with its tiny window has vanished. Yet we might expect to find its counterparts today in homes which would seem quite as remote from the arts. The suburban housewife harassed by the care of her children, the husband weary after the day's work, young people bent on a good time--these might not appear in a mood to enjoy intellectual or artistic pursuit. Still on the table lie paper-bound reprints of the best books of the ages. By the phonograph is a shelf of recordings of the classics of music. On the wall hang reproductions of the masterpieces of art.

To further the appreciation of culture among all the people, to increase respect for the creative individual, to widen participation by all the processes and fulfillments of art--this is one of the fascinating challenges of these days. -- JOHN F. KENNEDY

Read more at the American Presidency Project: John F. Kennedy: Magazine Article "The Arts in America."