On August 29, 2014, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray (b. 1955) presents the 12th annual Mayor's Arts Awards in a ceremony at the Seattle Center's Fisher Green Stage. Painter and poet Alan Chong Lau (b. 1948) receives the Cultural Ambassador Award; Seattle's Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI) and its executive director Leonard Garfield receive the City of Creativity Award; musician and conductor Stephen Stubbs (b. 1951) receives the Raising the Bar Award; Path with Art, an organization that provides a wide array of opportunities in multiple art forms for the homeless and disabled, receives the Social Justice Award; the Puget Sound-area Snoqualmie Indian Tribe receives the Cultural Investment Award; and TeenTix, a program that provides teenagers access to discounted arts tickets, receives the Future Focus Award.
Annual Arts Awards
Since 2003, the presentation of the Seattle Mayor's Arts Awards has become part of the opening festivities for Bumbershoot, the large arts festival held every Labor Day weekend at the Seattle Center. The awards recognize local artists and arts and cultural organizations that have made significant contributions to Seattle's creative reputation. Each year hundreds of contenders are nominated for the awards. In 2014 there were more than 650 nominations for the six awards given that year, eclipsing the record for nominees set just a year earlier.
The Seattle Arts Commission voted on the choices, and the mayor announced the six winners on June 25. At 4 p.m. on August 29, the winners were recognized in a ceremony at the Seattle Center's Fisher Green Stage. Seattle Arts Commission member Vivian Phillips emceed the event, and she was joined on stage by other members of the arts commission, Mayor Murray, and Office of Arts & Culture Director Randy Engstrom. Together they took turns handing out the awards to the six recipients. A celebration followed afterward on Fisher Green.
Alan Chong Lau
Alan Chong Lau received the Cultural Ambassador Award. Lau is a painter, poet, and writer whose work in Seattle stretches back to the late 1970s. Beginning in 1980 he exhibited visual art at Francine Seders's art gallery in the Greenwood neighborhood (which he continued to do until the gallery closed in 2013), and about the same time he began working as a bimonthly art columnist for the International Examiner, an Asian American community newspaper based in Seattle. By the time of his 2014 award he had logged more than 30 years at the paper. His poetry has been published in several books, including his first book -- which he read from at Bumbershoot in 1978 -- The Buddha Bandits Down Highway 99.
Lau has also become known as a freelance coordinator and curator of arts events around Seattle, creating pop-up events at venues such as the Elliott Bay Book Company, Kobo at Higo, and the Wing Luke Asian Museum.
MOHAI and Leonard Garfield
Seattle's Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI) and its executive director Leonard Garfield received the City of Creativity Award. MOHAI opened in 1952 to display materials the Seattle Historical Society had been collecting since early in the twentieth century, but its first 25 or so years were less than auspicious. This began to change in the 1980s with the gradual expansion and updating of the museum and its exhibits.
Garfield was hired as MOHAI's executive director in 1999. He saw the museum's potential, and its growth and expansion accelerated under his leadership. In 2012 the museum moved from its original Montlake location -- which was in the path of a new span for the State Route 520 bridge across Lake Washington -- to the historic former Naval Reserve Armory at South Lake Union, where it became a centerpiece of the new Lake Union Park. In its new building, MOHAI added more interactive exhibits that not only showcased Seattle's history but also let visitors feel as though they were part of it. Garfield explained when he was interviewed prior to receiving the award:
"Each display isn't just something that's on a dusty shelf that visitors are looking at: It's something that they're a part of. It's not just the story of Seattle, it's the story of us" (Kay).
Stephens Stubbs, a respected lutenist and conductor, received the Raising the Bar Award. Stubbs discovered his love for the lute, a long-necked plucked instrument with a flat front resembling a halved egg, when he was at Seattle's Nathan Hale High School in the 1960s. As a young man he researched the history of the use of plucked instruments in early music, and this led to a professorship at the University of Bremen in Germany, beginning in 1980. Over the next 25 years Stubbs became known worldwide for his expertise in the lute and also as an orchestra conductor and a baroque opera specialist.
He returned to Seattle in 2006 and the following year established Pacific MusicWorks (PMW), a production company that reflected his interest in both early and contemporary music. He's also a long-time Boston Early Music Festival (BEMF) artistic co-director, and he and his co-director Paul O'Dette are the musical directors for all BEMF operas. Recordings of these operas have been nominated for three Grammy awards, and one of them won a Grammy for Best Opera Recording in 2015.
The year before receiving the Raising the Bar Award, Stubbs was appointed Senior Artist in Residence at the University of Washington's School of Music. The position allowed him to integrate music students into PMW's professional opera productions, where they could work alongside, and learn from, experienced professionals. Said Stubbs, "This is a way of recreating the original apprenticeship atmosphere that was always the case for music" (May).
Path with Art
The arts organization Path with Art received the Social Justice Award. Founded in 2007, Path with Art has helped those struggling with homelessness, mental issues, and other disabilities find their path through art. Classes span more than a dozen artistic mediums, including canvas art, ceramics, and theater, and are generally held over eight-week sessions in locations as varied as the Frye Art Museum, the Hugo House, and the Seattle Symphony's Soundbridge.
Path with Art also hosts events around Seattle that give students a chance to show their work. These "exhibitions and showcases invite the broader community to engage with students through their art and individual stories, fostering a dialogue about the issues surrounding homelessness and recovery, seeing individuals beyond the lens of statistics" ("Mayor's Arts Awards ...").
In 2014 Path with Art offered 30 classes spread over five class terms, and more than 580 people attended its classes, the largest yearly enrollment for the organization up to that time. Path with Art also provides frequent opportunities for its participants to attend free art, theater, and opera events in Seattle at venues such as the Seattle Art Museum, the Seattle Opera, and the Chihuly Garden and Glass museum at Seattle Center.
Snoqualmie Indian Tribe
The Snoqualmie Indian Tribe received the Cultural Investment Award. The Puget Sound-area tribe, known as the People of the Moon, historically inhabited the valleys east of Lake Washington stretching east to the Cascade Range. The Tribe was a significant presence when non-Indian settlers began arriving in the area in the 1850s, and a number of its members signed the Treaty of Point Elliott in 1855.
The Snoqualmie Tribe continues to play a significant role in regional history. Between 2010 and 2014 the Tribe donated more than $4 million (most of it from revenues generated by its casino) to more than 100 arts nonprofits operating in the Seattle area, including the Experience Music Project, the Seattle Symphony, the Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF), the Vera Project (a youth music-arts center in Seattle), and many more. And its generosity wasn't limited to arts organizations -- the Tribe also gave to communities in need. For instance, the Tribe donated $275,000 to relief efforts following the 2014 Oso mudslide that killed more than 40 people.
The Snoqualmie Tribe was the first tribal government to receive a Seattle Mayor's Arts Award. Seattle Arts Commission member Tracy Rector, who nominated the Tribe for the award (each commission member can make two personal nominations), said:
"As a tribal nation, they're very committed to all forms of art -- cultural, traditional and contemporary ... I felt that a deciding factor (for awarding them) was how they view art as essentially healing and that everyone should have equal access to self expression. That's amazing" (Duff).
TeenTix, a program that provides teenagers access to $5 tickets for shows and exhibits at more than 50 arts organizations around the Puget Sound, received the Future Focus Award. In its first decade the program proved to be enormously successful: TeenTix reported that more than 55,000 teens signed up for the program between its 2004 founding and 2014, and more than 45,000 tickets were purchased for area art events.
But TeenTix's mission has been broader than just providing cheap arts tickets to teens. In an interview shortly before the awards ceremony, TeenTix Executive Director Holly Arsenault explained, "Our goal is to nurture future citizens who have a passion for the arts, and to leverage arts participation as the critical form of civic engagement we think it is" (Gallaher). Since receiving the Future Focus Award in 2014, TeenTix has continued toward that goal. In the summer of 2017 the organization offered arts and leadership opportunities in more than 20 programs as varied as access to classes at Cornish College of the Arts, writing camps, and opportunities to serve as a youth advisor at fellow 2014 Mayor's Arts Award recipient MOHAI.