WNYC interviewed award-winning poet and director of Creativity and Free Expression Elizabeth Alexander on the importance of art to the Obama administration.

Published in WNYC

When outside art became in: Obama’s cultural legacy

By Arun Venugopal

The effort began at Obama’s first inauguration, when poet Elizabeth Alexander stood on the Mall before a crowd of almost two million and recited a poem for the nation’s first black president:

“Say it plain, that many have died for this day.

Sing the names of the dead who brought us here,

who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges, picked the cotton and the lettuce…”

“I think the vision was to say, in the White House, what would be on the walls?” said Alexander during an interview this month at her Manhattan home. “Who would come in and play music? Who would be invited to come in and hear that music? What’s high culture? What’s so-called low culture? And can we think of those on a similar plane in some instance? What is American creative expressive excellence?”

Published inThe New Yorker | January 17, 2017

A poet’s tale from Obama’s first inaugural

By Elizabeth Alexander

This is a story about eight years ago this week. President-elect Barack Obama had asked me to compose and recite a poem for his first Inauguration. It was the fourth time in history that a poet would speak at a Presidential inaugural. I wrote the poem and travelled by train with my family from Cambridge, Massachusetts, to Washington, my home town, to deliver it.

A few days before the inaugural, there was a rehearsal at the Capitol, as there always is. I took my sons, who were then nine and ten years old, with me, walking the few blocks from my parents’ home, on A Street Southeast, on Capitol Hill. When we came to the stage, there were rows of chairs, some of them occupied by young military personnel serving as stand-ins of the approximate size as those who would be seated there during the inaugural. I looked at my uniformed doppelgänger and had my first sense that there were unexpected details to this adventure—though all was utterly unexpected—that I should commit to memory.

The Ford Foundation

The Ford Foundation is an independent organization working to address inequality and build a future grounded in justice. For more than 85 years, it has supported visionaries on the frontlines of social change worldwide, guided by its mission to strengthen democratic values, reduce poverty and injustice, promote international cooperation, and advance human achievement. Today, with an endowment of $16 billion, the foundation has headquarters in New York and 10 regional offices across Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East.

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