Since 2003, the Seattle Mayor’s Office has honored the great creative contributors to our arts ecosystem with the Mayor’s Arts Awards. On Friday, Sept. 2, the 14th-annual Awards were handed out to some of our city’s creative leaders, the winners chosen from among a select group of finalists which were in turn selected form an overwhelmingly talented pool of 350 nominees.
This year, to give the event a little awards-y razzle dazzle, the ceremony included the announcements of the winners, which were in previous years announced ahead of time—drumrolls, envelopes, the works. The event started inside the Seattle Center Armory, after surprise thundershowers prompted a quick move indoors from the Mural Amphitheater. Photographer Kelly O was there to capture the whole inspiring event for City Arts, from opening song to outdoor dance party.
High school songwriter Angel Rodriguez got the event with an original song. Rodriguez is the winner of the first ever NEA National Musical Theatre Songwriter Challenge, and “arts education, confidence and creativity personified,” according to Seattle Office of Arts & Culture director Randy Engstrom.
Members of the Seattle Arts Commission Priya Frank, Gian-Carlo Scandiuzzi, Terri Hiroshima and Sharon Nyree Williams were on hand to present this year’s Mayor’s Arts Awards to four talented winners.
Randy Engstrom and Arts Commission chair Vivian Phillips spoke boldly about the past year in arts—and the years to come. Engstrom highlighted the creation of cultural districts in Capitol Hill and the Central District, the growth of the City’s arts education initiative Creative Advantage and the Office of Arts & Culture’s upcoming move into the previously vacant third floor of King Street Station. Phillips reminded the audience of the legacy surrounding them. “Seattle Center is the result of the 1962 World’s Fair, a concept that was brewed by a few men who dined together at the then-segregated Rainier Club,” Phillips said. “Today we’re encouraging the hatching of new ideas by a much broader group of people, bringing us their courage, being fearless, creative and bold. The Commission hasn’t wavered from our duty to bring equity, agency and place to the grasp of all hands.”
“As a kid who grew up in this city somewhat poor, arts was one of the things that showed me how much bigger the world could be,” said Mayor Ed Murray. “Today we are pleased to recognize some of the most innovative and impactful work in the arts today. [These artists] are diverse, passionate, visionary, from all disciplines, and they’ve made an invaluable contribution to the culture of this city.”
Seattle civic poet laureate Claudia Castro Luna read her poem, written for the occasion, “Emerald City Blues.”
Sharon Nyree Williams presented the Arts & Innovation award to Hedgebrook, the writer’s colony on Whidbey Island that has been nurturing and incubating female writers for 30 years. The Arts & Innovation recognizes originality, ingenuity and resourcefulness in the creative sector, and executive director Amy Wheeler accepted the award on Hedgebrook’s behalf. Native artist/entrepreneur Louie Gong and education organization Seattle Music Partners were also nominated.
Hedgebook counts Pulitzer winners, MacArthur fellows and Pen Faulkner awardees among its illustrious alumnae. “There’s a quiet revolution happening on Whidbey island,” said Wheeler. “It starts with writers in cottages who face the blank page. It expands when they join the other writers in residence with them. It grows as their stories go out into the world as poems, screenplays, songs, graphic novels, and go on to reach millions of people. It’s revolutionary because those writers are women.”
Seattle arts commissioner Terri Hiroshima joined Mayor Murray to present the award for Philanthropy. The nominees were Ellen Ferguson and Huong Vu, and Vu was the awardee for her decades-long career in curation and philanthropy management. She’s currently board president for Seattle Parks Foundation and the community investor for arts, culture and civic engagement in the Pacific Northwest region for the Boeing Company’s global corporate citizenship wing. “I feel enormously lucky that I get to live and work in a city like Seattle,” Vu said, “and to be a part of this community and support the work that you [artists] do because you do the heavy lifting each day, and you’re the reason that Seattle is this incredibly dynamic, complex, weird, beautiful city.”
After a small glitch in the proceedings (“We’ll get it right by next year,” the Mayor joked), Seattle arts commissioner and ACT Theatre executive director Gian-Carlo Scandiuzzi came to the podium to present the Legacy award. Artist Alfredo Arreguin, Annex Theatre and Fantagraphics were the nominees. Annex, which is celebrating 30 years of growing Seattle theatre, took home the award, which was accepted by outgoing artistic director Pamela Mijatov. “We have always been run by, for and about the artists, we’ve never had a separate administrative staff, so literally thousands of people have made this possible, some for a few weeks or months and some for decades,” Mijatov said. “It’s incredible to see that kind of grassroots work recognized. It’s easy to recognize the people who are at the top of the professional game, but nobody gets their tenth production until they get their first one, and that’s something that we do for the people of Seattle.”
This year’s awards were created by artist Ali VandeGrift, using intricate glass beads and inspired by the forms of the Pacific Northwest. This is the second in a five-year partnership between the Mayor’s Art Awards and Chilhuly Garden and Glass, to commission awards made by local, emerging glass artists.
Priya Frank stepped up to present the Cultural Ambassador Award, so called for the contribution to raising the visibility of the creative community. Gallerist Diana Adams and musician and Royal Room honcho Wayne Horvitz were among the nominees, but it was a visibly emotional choreographer and educator Kabby Mitchell who took home the award. “I’m so happy, he said. “Without this community there would be no Kabby Mitchell III.”
Mayor Murray chimed in about Mitchell’s accomplishments, reminding the audience that he was the first African-American to dance with Pacific Northwest Ballet. “He is someone who understands that when we talk about racism we also have to talk about the intersection of LGBTQ and racism,” said Mayor Murray, before cracking the room up with a personal anecdote. “I first saw Kabby dance at the then-Broadway Performance Hall in college. The other performer was Ernestine Anderson, and I was quite taken with the performance—maybe because Kabby had his shirt off.”
With the awards all handed out, the Lieu Quan Lion Dance Team led the enthusiastic crowd from the Armory out to party near the Pacific Science Center.
Congratulations to all this year’s winners and thanks to every member of this vibrant, tireless creative community who came out to support them!