Entertainment & Arts

George Lucas receives National Medal of Arts

George Lucas receives National Medal of Arts
Image caption Lucas sold his production company to Disney last year for $4.05bn

Star Wars director George Lucas has received the National Medal of Arts from President Barack Obama in a ceremony at the White House.

Lincoln screenwriter Tony Kushner and soprano Renee Fleming were also among the 23 recipients honoured for their cultural contributions to the US.

The president praised their ability "`to open up minds and nourish souls".

"[To] help us understand what it means to be human, and what it means to be an American".

"The work that we honour today, the lifetime achievement of these artists and these scholars, reminds us that the human imagination is still the most powerful tool that we have as a people," Mr Obama told the medallists.

"Frankly, this is just fun for me because I feel like I know you all because I've enjoyed your performances."

He hailed 69-year-old filmmaker Lucas for "transforming" movies.

"I remember when I first saw Star Wars," said Mr Obama, who was a teenager when the first film was released in 1977.

"There's a whole generation that thinks special effects always looked like they do today. But it used to be you'd see the string on the little model spaceships."

Image caption President Obama told author Marilynne Robinson her novels "fundamentally changed" him

He cited the courage shown by Ernest Gaines, who writes about the lives of African Americans, and blues and jazz musician Allen Toussaint, who helped revive his native New Orleans with music after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.

Mr Obama told him: "After his hometown was battered by Katrina and Allen was forced to evacuate, he did something even more important for his city - he went back. And since then, Allen has devoted his musical talent to lifting up and building up a city."

Other medal winners included musician Herb Alpert, the co-founder of A&M Records; comedian Elaine May and Home author Marilynne Robinson, who received a National Humanities Medal.

"Your writings have fundamentally changed me - I think for the better, Marilynne. I believe that," the president said.

Past recipients of the medal include writer Harper Lee and the late pianist Van Cliburn.

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