Robin Wright, Akio Takamori, Daniel Brown, Densho, and Seattle JazzED receive Seattle Mayor's Arts Awards on September 4, 2015.

  • By Peter Blecha and HistoryLink Staff
  • Posted 12/23/2015
  • Essay 11166
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On Friday, September 4, 2015, the 13th annual Seattle Mayor's Arts Awards are presented in a ceremony at the Seattle Center's Mural Amphitheatre in conjunction with the opening of the Bumbershoot festival. Northwest Native arts expert Robin K. Wright (b. 1949) receives the Cultural Ambassador Award; ceramics artist Akio Takamori (1950-2017) receives the Arts & Innovation Award; best-selling author Daniel James Brown (b. 1951) is recognized for Creative Industries; Densho, a public-history organization working to preserve the stories of Japanese Americans incarcerated during World War II, receives the Cultural Preservation Award; and jazz-oriented music-education organization Seattle JazzED is honored in the Future Focus category.

Arts Awards

Each year since 2003 the Seattle Arts Commission has generated a list of nominees worthy of being honored with the Mayor's Arts Awards that "recognize the contributions of artists, creative industries and cultural organizations who contribute to Seattle's reputation as a hub of creativity and innovation" ("Mayor Announces ..."). In 2015 the contenders were winnowed from an initial pool of 400 nominations submitted by the general public. The awards that year were presented in partnership with Bumbershoot, Seattle's Labor Day-weekend arts festival then celebrating its 45th anniversary, along with sponsors City Arts magazine, The Boeing Company, and Chihuly Garden and Glass.

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray (b. 1955) announced the five 2015 recipients on July 21. The awards were formally presented at a public ceremony held at the Mural Amphitheatre in Seattle Center on Friday afternoon, September 4, 2015 -- to coincide with the opening of Bumbershoot. Following remarks by Murray, Seattle Arts Commission Chair Vivian Phillips, and Seattle Office of Arts & Culture Director Randy Engstrom, and following the mayor's proclamation of September 5, 6, and 7 as Bumbershoot Weekend in the city of Seattle, members of the Arts Commission introduced each recipient in turn as the mayor presented the awards.

Individual Recipients

Commissioner Tracy Rector, a filmmaker and executive director of Longhouse Media, introduced Dr. Robin K. Wright, recipient of the Cultural Ambassador Award. Wright, "an expert on the Native arts of the Pacific Northwest," became the Burke Museum's Curator of Native American Art in 1985 and, while continuing to hold that post, the director of the Bill Holm Center for the Study of Northwest Native Art in 2003 ("Mayor Announces..."). In both positions, Wright worked to open up the museum's collections to tribal members and scholars for study, maintain strong relationships with Northwest tribes, and help educate non-Native people in historical and contemporary Native American art and culture.

Jerry L. Garcia, a designer and curator, announced the Arts & Innovation Award presented to Akio Takamori. An internationally renowned ceramics artist, Takamori was born in Japan and studied ceramics both there and in the United States. He moved to King County in 1988 and joined the University of Washington School of Art faculty in 1993. His work has been exhibited in galleries and museums across the United States and around the world. Takamori retired from UW in 2015 but continued his work in ceramic art.

Priya Frank, an official at the University of Washington Bothell, announced Daniel James Brown's award in the Creative Industries category. Brown's 2013 bestseller The Boys in the Boat told the story of the University of Washington eight-oar rowing team's gold medal at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. The author of two other award-winning books, Brown taught writing at universities in California, then moved to Washington to work as a technical editor and writer at Microsoft before beginning a fulltime career writing narrative nonfiction books.

Organizational Awards

Sharon Williams, Managing Director of the Central District Forum for Arts & Ideas, introduced the Cultural Preservation Award presented to Densho. A digital public-history project, Densho described its mission as being "to preserve the testimonies of Japanese Americans who were unjustly incarcerated during World War II before their memories are extinguished" ("About Densho"). The organization recorded firsthand accounts on digital video, digitized historical images and documents, and developed classroom materials, making all of it freely available on its website "as a means of exploring issues of democracy, intolerance, wartime hysteria, [and] civil rights" ("About Densho").

Outgoing Arts Commissioner Amy Pinon, an audio engineer, teacher, and musician, announced Seattle JazzED's award in the Future Focus category, which she described as "all about making a difference in arts education and youth work" (2015 Mayor's Arts Awards video). The music-education organization was founded in 2010 to provide an exceptional music education to Seattle-area students regardless of their ability to pay. JazzED offered big-band ensembles, master classes, workshops, summer camps, and more, but its goals extended beyond music education: "Our goal is to instill a set of values in every child that makes them not only a successful musician but a successful human being" ("Mayor Announces...").


"Mayor Announces 2015 Mayor's Arts Awards Recipients," Seattle Office of Arts and Culture website accessed December 21, 2015 (; "Mayor's Arts Awards," Seattle Office of Arts and Culture website accessed December 21, 2015 (; "About Us," Seattle Arts Commission website accessed December 21, 2015 (; "2015 Mayor's Arts Awards," video, Seattle Channel website accessed December 21, 2015 (; "About Densho," Densho website accessed December 22, 2015 (; Andie Waterman, "Mayor's Arts Awards Winners Include 'Boys in the Boat' Author," The Seattle Times, July 23, 2015 (; Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, "The exhibit A Time of Gathering: Native Heritage in Washington State opens at Seattle's Burke Museum on March 30, 1989" (by Jennifer Ott), "The exhibit Between Clouds of Memory: Akio Takamori, A Mid-Career Survey opens at Tacoma Art Museum on May 27, 2006" (by Jennifer Ott), "Daniel James Brown's The Boys in the Boat is published on June 4, 2013" (by Antonia Rath), "Densho: The Japanese American Legacy Project" (by Antonia Rath), and "Seattle JazzED: A Seattle Music Education Organization" (by Peter Blecha), (accessed December 23, 2015); Rich Smith, "Seattle Artist Akio Takamori Has Died," The Stranger, January 12, 2017 (
Note: This essay was updated on January 13, 2017.

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