The National Medal of Arts was established by Congress in 1984, upon the recommendation of President Ronald Reagan and the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities for the purpose of honoring artists and patrons of the arts. The Congress authorized the President to award no more than 12 medals each year
"to individuals or groups who, in the President's judgment, 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."
The National Council on the Arts, the Arts Endowment's advisory council, led by the Chairman, is responsible for making recommendations to the President of worthy individuals and organizations to receive the medal.
Unlike other arts awards, the National Medal of Arts is not limited to a single field or area of artistic endeavor. It is designed to honor exemplary individuals and organizations that have encouraged the arts in America and offered inspiration to others through their distinguished achievement, support, or patronage.
Recipients of the National Medal of Arts are selected by the President of the United States. Each year the National Endowment for the Arts initiates the selection process by soliciting nominations for the Medal from the public and various arts fields. Nominations are reviewed by the National Council on the Arts, composed of Presidentially-appointed, Senate-confirmed individuals. The National Council's list of nominees is then forwarded to the President for consideration with candidates of the President's own choosing.
The National Medal of Arts was designed by the late Robert Graham, an internationally renowned sculptor whose design was chosen by a special committee of the National Council on the Arts from among 31 designs submitted in a national competition. Mr. Graham is known for creating the Gateway for the XXIII Olympiad in Los Angeles.