Press Release

New Commission on the Arts: John Lithgow, Deborah Rutter, and Natasha Trethewey to Chair at the American Academy of Arts & Sciences


CAMBRIDGE, MA | August 6, 2018 — The American Academy of Arts and Sciences is launching a multi-year Commission on the Arts with distinguished cochairs, more than $1 million of support from foundations and individuals, and a commitment to exploring the role of the arts in American life.

The American Academy, founded in 1780, is an independent, nonpartisan organization that honors excellence and achievement in all fields of academia and public life and engages its members in efforts to develop new knowledge, uphold democratic ideals, and advance the common good. Its programmatic work spans the arts, democratic institutions, education, global affairs, and science and technology.

Jonathan F. Fanton, President of the American Academy, stated that "the Commission will conduct research that will contribute to a better understanding of the role of the arts in a diverse democracy, and will ask how the arts can help build empathy among individuals and strengthen connections between communities."

The leaders of this multi-year initiative, all members of the Academy, welcome the opportunity to contribute their diversity of expertise and experience to this effort. The three cochairs of the Commission are John Lithgow, Deborah F. Rutter, and Natasha Trethewey:

  • Actor and author John Lithgow has received two Tony Awards, six Emmy Awards, two Golden Globe Awards, three Screen Actors Guild Awards, an American Comedy Award, four Drama Desk Awards, and has been nominated for two Academy Awards and four Grammy Awards. Lithgow was elected to the American Academy in 2010 and is a member of the Academy's Board of Directors.
  • As the president of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Deborah F. Rutter is the artistic and administrative director of the world's busiest performing arts center, with offerings that include theater, contemporary dance, ballet, chamber music, and jazz as well as the affiliated National Symphony Orchestra and Washington National Opera in addition to offerings in hip hop, contemporary music, and comedy. She was elected to the American Academy in 2018.
  • Poet Natasha Trethewey, Board of Trustees Professor of English at Northwestern University, served two terms as the 19th Poet Laureate of the United States (2012–2014). She is the author of five collections of poetry, including Native Guard (2006)—for which she was awarded the 2007 Pulitzer Prize—and Monument, forthcoming November 2018. She has also published a book of non-fiction. She was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2013 and is a member of the Academy’s Board of Directors.

Funding for the initiative exceeds $1 million and has been provided by the Ford Foundation, The Getty Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, and The Kresge Foundation, as well as a generous contribution from Roger W. and Victoria P. Sant. The support of these foundations and individuals makes it possible for the Commission to undertake several years of work, including hosting meetings and public events as well as producing publications that will offer new, interdisciplinary perspectives on the nation’s cultural life.

In the twenty-first century, the American Academy is embracing new initiatives and challenges while remaining true to its original mission – set forth by founders including John Adams, James Bowdoin, and John Hancock – "to cultivate every art and science which may tend to advance the interest, honor, dignity, and happiness of a free, independent, and virtuous people."




Commission on the Arts

John A. Lithgow, Deborah F. Rutter, and Natasha D. Trethewey