Theater News

Audra McDonald, Mel Brooks, and More to Receive National Medal of Arts

President Obama will present theater icons with the nation’s highest artistic honor.

Six-time Tony winner Audra McDonald will receive a National Medal of Arts at a White House ceremony on September 22.
Six-time Tony winner Audra McDonald will receive a National Medal of Arts at a White House ceremony on September 22.
(© David Gordon)

The National Endowment for the Arts has announced the 2015 recipients of the National Medals of Arts, the nation's highest honor for achievement in the arts. President Obama will present the awards in conjunction with the National Humanities Medals on Thursday, September 22, in the morning in an East Room ceremony at the White House. The event will be livestreamed at

This year's recipients are as follows:

Mel Brooks for a lifetime of making the world laugh. As a writer, director, actor, and musician, he pioneered the art of musical comedy, and his hilarious, thought-provoking work on film and in theater has earned him the rare distinction of winning Oscar, Emmy, Tony, and Grammy awards. (New York)

Sandra Cisneros for enriching the American narrative. Through her novels, short stories, and poetry, she explores issues of race, class, and gender through the lives of ordinary people straddling multiple cultures. As an educator, she has deepened our understanding of American identity. (San Antonio, Texas)

Eugene O’Neill Theater Center for its unwavering support of American theater. For over 50 years, the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center has nurtured award-winning playwrights, directors, and actors, enriched the craft of stage production, and delighted audiences with exceptional programs. (Waterford, Connecticut)

Morgan Freeman for his outstanding work as an actor, director, and narrator. His iconic stage and screen performances have brought to life characters from the whole spectrum of the human experience, moving audiences around the world, and influencing countless young artists. (Charleston, Mississippi)

Philip Glass for his groundbreaking contributions to music and composition. One of the most prolific, inventive, and influential artists of our time, he has expanded musical possibility with his operas, symphonies, film scores, and wide-ranging collaborations. (New York)

Berry Gordy for helping to create a trailblazing new sound in American music. As a record producer and songwriter, he helped build Motown, launching the music careers of countless legendary artists. His unique sound helped shape our Nation’s story. (Los Angeles)

Santiago Jiménez Jr. for expanding the horizon of American music. He has helped spread traditional conjunto music, blending the sounds and cultures of south Texas and Mexico. His lively melodies performed on the two-button accordion have captivated audiences around the world. (San Antonio, Texas)

Moisés Kaufman for his powerful contributions to American theater. His work sensitively probes questions of culture and sexuality. His award-winning Tectonic Theater Project continues to move audiences with its bold portrayals of contemporary social issues. (New York)

Ralph Lemon for his contribution to dance and the visual arts. As a self-proclaimed conceptualist, he uses dance as a source of physical communication, and his complex works withstand examination from all angles, revealing intimate truths about human nature and offering broader insights into the American experience. (Brooklyn, New York)

Audra McDonald for lighting up Broadway as one of its brightest stars. An unforgettable performer, she has won six Tony awards. In musicals, concerts, operas, and the recording studio, her rich, soulful voice continues to take her audiences to new heights. (Croton-on-Hudson/New York, NY)

Luis Valdez for bringing Chicano culture to American drama. As a playwright, actor, writer, and director, he illuminates the human spirit in the face of social injustice through award-winning stage, film, and television productions. (San Juan Bautista, California)

Jack Whitten for remaking the American canvas. As an abstract artist, he uses "casting," acrylic paints, and compounds to create new surfaces and textures, challenging our perceptions of shape and color. His powerful works of art put the American story in a new light. (New York)

The National Medal of Arts, the highest award given to artists and arts patrons by the United States government, is awarded by the President of the United States to individuals or groups who "are deserving of special recognition by reason of their outstanding contributions to the excellence, growth, support and availability of the arts in the United States."

Past recipients include Sally Field, Ann Hamilton, Stephen King, George Shirley, the University Musical Society, Tobias Wolff, John Baldessari, Ping Chong, the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation as well as O’Neill alumni Lloyd Richards, Edward Albee, Robert Redford, Harold Prince, Tommy Tune, and Meryl Streep.