Jeffrey Wright Delivers the Americans for the Arts’ 35th Nancy Hanks Lecture on Arts and Public Policy 

Award-winning actor, producer, and Academy Award nominee Jeffrey Wright delivered the Americans for the Arts 35th Nancy Hanks Lecture on Arts and Public Policy on Tuesday night at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

Nolen Bivens, President and CEO of Americans for the Arts, said at the start of the evening, “The arts are the most important asset that we have in our nation—they are necessary for our economy, our education, and our cultural identity.”

Moderated by MSNBC’s Symone Sanders-Townsend, the conversation with Wright covered his recent film, American Fiction, and his Academy Award nomination; discourse about racial equity in the U.S.; his start in acting at Arena Stage in D.C.; and discussion about his production We Are Not Done Yet, which tells the stories of veterans who discover the power of the arts and healing as they unite and find resilience in the face of post-traumatic stress through arts workshops at Walter Reed National Military Hospital. During the conversation, Wright said, I think the scarcest resource, not just here but in many places, is vision of the way forward. Artists can provide that because everything is born of the imagination.”

Congressman James. E Clyburn (SC) was honored with the 2024 Congressional Arts Leadership Award, from Americans for the Arts and the United States Conference of Mayors, presented by  Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, House Minority Leader and Leader of the House Democratic Caucus. The award recognizes an elected official who has consistently advocated for expanding federal support for the arts and culture and/or arts education. In his remarks, Clyburn said, “We’ve got to figure out how to make this great country’s greatness accessible and affordable for all of its citizens, and one of the best ways I know to do that is to recognize the artistic nature of the cultures that exist in this country.”

The capacity in-person audience of more than 450 invited guests included Americans for the Arts (AFTA) President and CEO Nolen Bivens; 14 members of Congress, including Suzanne Bonamici (Oregon) and Michael Brenner (Colorado); AFTA Board members and its newly appointed chair Edgar Smith; and musician and arts advocate Ben Folds, who performed to kick off the event. An online audience of nearly 3,000 watched the livestream. The evening included introductory remarks by Tanya Lombard, Vice President of Global Public and External Affairs at AT&T. 

Jeffrey Wright won a Tony Award for Best Featured Actor in a Play for his role in the 1993 Broadway production of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America. He reprised his role in the 2003 miniseries on HBO, earning the Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or Movie. He went on to star in a number of films and appeared in several more series for HBO, including Boardwalk Empire and Westworld, which earned him three more Emmy nominations. He continues to work on the large and small screens. Wright is nominated for the 2024 Academy Award for Best Actor for his work on American Fiction. He grew up in Washington, DC.

Congressman Clyburn has led efforts to preserve and restore historic buildings on Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) campuses in the last three decades.  He sponsored legislation creating the South Carolina National Heritage Corridor, the Gullah/Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor, the Congaree National Park, the Reconstruction Era National Historical Park, and expanding the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site to South Carolina, Virginia, Delaware, and Washington, DC.

The Nancy Hanks Lecture has featured the nation’s most preeminent voices in and outside the arts. Prior distinguished speakers have included Maya Angelou, Darren Walker, Billy Taylor, Norman Lear, Yo-Yo Ma, Rita Moreno, and Robert Redford, among others.

Established by Americans for the Arts in 1988, the Nancy Hanks Lecture on Arts and Public Policy is the leading national forum for arts policy intended to stimulate dialogue on policy and social issues affecting the arts.

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