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Michael Cerveris, Citizen Artist Award Winner, Receives Standing Ovation for Acceptance Speech

Posted on: Jan 26, 2018

Today at the U.S. Conference of Mayors Winter Meeting, Americans for the Arts and The United States Conference of Mayors presented the 2018 Public Leadership in the Arts Awards. The awards recognize individuals, three elected officials and one artist, who have supported and promoted arts and culture in their communities. The full press release is available on the Americans for the Arts website.


Michael Cerveris, two-time Tony Award-winning stage and screen actor and musician, is the recipient of this year's Citizen Artist Award. The award is presented to nationally renowned artists who have achieved both outstanding success in their creative professional fields, and have made significant charitable contributions of their time and resources to advance humanitarian and educational causes. 


Cerveris's acceptance speech at the U.S. Conference of Mayors Winter Meeting today received a standing ovation. The full text is below:


First, thank you to Americans for The Arts and to Mayor Landrieu and the Conference of Mayors for this great honor. I have to tell you, I was honored enough just being invited to breakfast—you know actors and free food. But following the principled statements and actions of many at this Conference on Wednesday, this honor is all the more meaningful to me.


It’s especially gratifying to be presented this award by Mayor Landrieu. I still remember picking up the Times Picayune on the day of his first inauguration and reading an interview in which the man about to take the oath of office let the people of his city know that, while he was humbled and honored to be their chosen new mayor, he’d always grown up wanting to be an actor, and if the people from Les Miz on Broadway happened to call….well, he’d have to do some real soul searching.  Mayor Landrieu has guided the city of New Orleans through an astounding journey of recovery and rediscovery, passionately and personally gathering its wildly diverse communities together to ask hard questions about who we are, who we want to be, and sometimes, why we have to change.   It always has, but America could still learn a lot from New Orleans.


Learning and the arts were at the core of the home where I was raised in Huntington, West Virginia.  My sister, brother and I all ended up with careers and lives in the arts. Now, those of you who are mothers and fathers yourselves are certainly thinking: his poor parents.  How did they go so wrong?


But it was from my parents, artists and educators themselves, that my siblings and I learned that an artist’s life is a good and honorable one, because it is a life of duty and service. A duty to be educated, compassionate, questioning and restless in the pursuit of what is true and what is good. And a service to honor those who came before us, to benefit those all around us, and to provide for those to whom we will one day leave some shape of a world.


But also, because I am the proud grandson of immigrants to this country, we were taught that to be a good and honorable citizen also demands the same life of duty and service. So, while I am very grateful for this acknowledgment today, I am somewhat embarrassed to accept thanks and praise for simply doing what I was taught a person should do. But I accept it on behalf of my grandparents, parents and siblings, and all the teachers, colleagues and artists who have inspired and taught me by their works of imagination and of action in the world.


I am profoundly honored by this recognition, though in my heart, I know there are many, many artists more deserving of this honor.  As a straight, white male, born in this country, I know, and am daily reminded, that there are so many women artists, artists of color, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender artists, citizens, refugees, and dreamers in every sense of the word, who must endure far greater challenges than I have ever faced, just to be able to learn, grow, create and sometimes even simply to live without fear, without being told that they must convert who they are, or that they cannot find sanctuary in our country. Those artists, and all who encourage, teach, support and protect them, deserve the greatest of honors and respect.


I’ll close with a final thought from my artist and educator father who, when I told him I’d be invited to say a few words to this impressive assembly told me: “You can be nice about it, but tell them that in a time when Truth and Facts seem to be suspect, the most decisive Truth can be found in the Arts.”


And, I would add (with his blessing, I think), that to find that Truth, takes dedication, education….and funding.  Just a suggestion…


Thank you all, respectfully and sincerely, for this honor and for your time.



Michael Cerveris


United States Mayors Conference Arts Breakfast

Americans for the Arts

Capital Hilton, Washington DC

26 January 2018