An Ohio State arts professor is adding another accomplishment to her resume — a national arts medal that was presented to her at the White House by President Barack Obama.
“You kind of hear the news but it actually takes you a while to absorb it,” Ann Hamilton said. “It wasn’t until we were in Washington and you are with this incredible constellation of colleagues, and then having these conversations with them that you really start to let yourself feel it.”
The National Medal of Arts has been the highest award given to artists and patrons of the arts by the U.S. government since 1982. While the National Endowment for the Arts receives nominations, the president of the U.S. has the final say on the selection of winners, said Victoria Hutter, assistant director for press at the NEA.
“(The medal) is awarded to individuals or groups that are deserving of special recognition because of their outstanding contribution to the growth and support and availability of the arts in the United States,” Hutter said.
Hamilton has been commissioned to work on projects across the country, including prominent projects in Seattle and Columbus, and she is currently working on a mosaic for the Mass Transit Authority in New York City.
“The work I do is not so studio-based,” Hamilton said. “It really grows in response to a situation or an invitation. That might be to make a book, or to make an installation, or to do a public work.”
One such public work that has received international acclaim is Hamilton’s large-scale installation “The Event of A Thread,” a multimedia experience consisting of an expanse of swing sets. Originally created for New York City’s Park Avenue Armory, Hamilton said the piece was conceived as a space to bring people from all walks of life together.
People have also come together to celebrate Hamilton’s achievement.
“Everyone was thrilled,” said Rebecca Harvey, the chair of OSU’s art department. “This award was of such a scope, with her winning alongside some really incredibly cultural icons, this is an award that benefits of course not only Ann, but the art department and university as a whole.”
Jami Goldstein, vice president of marketing, communications and events at the Greater Columbus Art Council, said the council “was delighted for (Hamilton) and the exposure for Columbus and all of the talents we have here.”
Hamilton takes the recognition and praise seriously.
“It is one of those kinds of awards that makes you sit up straight and think about how I have a broader platform for the role of arts in our culture,” she said. “What poetry and music and the arts do for us is not something that you can measure and say, ‘it does this in some quantifiable way.’”
When asked what was next, Hamilton said, “It comes with the responsibility for taking on a role of a spokesperson for the arts and to continue to really be thinking about what kind of projects and what kind of questions we need to be asking right now.”
Editor’s note: This article was updated on Sept. 17 to include Hamilton’s first name on first reference.