WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Actor Al Pacino and country singer Mel Tillis were among 17 poets, historians, organizations and others honored at the White House on Monday for their contributions to the arts or to the humanities.
Saying they had "left an indelible mark on American culture," President Barack Obama awarded the honorees the 2011 National Medal of Arts and the National Humanities Medal in a glittering ceremony in the White House's East Room.
"We are told we are divided as a people, then suddenly the arts have the power to bring us together," said the president, who was joined by first lady Michelle Obama.
"You ... bring new possibilities to all of us. That's a special trait," Obama said. He drew applause when he said that the arts and humanities would remain a priority while he was president.
Pacino, the 71-year-old star of such movies as "The Godfather" and "Dog Day Afternoon," was awarded the National Medal of Arts, with Obama citing his "signature intensity as an actor."
Tillis, whose hits include "Coca-Cola Cowboy" and "Good Woman Blues," won the arts award for his contributions to country music. Tillis, 79, overcame a stutter to record more than 60 albums and has written more than 1,000 songs.
The other arts honorees were:
-- painter and printmaker Will Barnet
-- author and former U.S. poet laureate Rita Dove
-- art curator and philanthropist Emily Rauh Pulitzer
-- sculptor Martin Puryear
-- military morale-boosting non-profit United Service Organizations
-- pianist and teacher Andre Watts
The winners of the National Humanities Medal were:
-- Princeton University philosophy professor Kwame Anthony Appiah
-- Pulitzer Prize-winning poet John Ashbery
-- historian Robert Darnton, an expert on 18th century France
-- Andrew Delbanco, a professor of American literature at Columbia University
-- National History Day, a program aimed at increasing U.S. students' interest in history
-- pianist and author Charles Rosen
-- Teofilo Ruiz, a University of California Los Angeles history professor specializing in medieval Spain
-- Stanford University literature professor Ramon Saldívar
-- Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen, who has focused on the causes of poverty and famine.
(Reporting By Ian Simpson; Editing by Greg McCune)