On Friday, September 1, 2006, Mayor Greg Nickels presents the 4th annual Mayor's Arts Awards as part of Bumbershoot's opening ceremonies. The awards ceremony takes place at Seattle Center's Northwest Court and is presented in partnership with the city's Office of Arts & Culture and media sponsors. Although awards in previous years used specific categories (such as "Unsung Hero" or "Innovation in Integrated Arts Education Award") in recognizing individuals and organizations, the 2006 awards do not. Recipients include comedian and musician Reggie Watts (b. 1972); Seattle Symphony Music Director, Gerard Schwarz (b. 1947); a family of Northwest artists -- Michael Spafford (1935-2022), Elizabeth Sandvig (b. 1937), and Spike Mafford (b. 1963); the Seattle Children's Theatre and its artistic director, Linda Hartzell (b. 1948); Northwest Folklife and its executive director, Michael J. Herschensohn (b. 1941); and the Rainier Vista Cambodian Youth Program.
Reggie Watts, a musician and comedian whose early development as an artist took place in Seattle's art schools and music venues, was born Reginald Lucien Frank Roger Watts in Stuttgart, Germany, and raised in Great Falls, Montana. He moved to Seattle in 1990 at the age of 18, briefly attended the Art Institute of Seattle, and later studied jazz at Cornish College of the Arts.
In 1996 Watts formed a soul band with three friends and named it Maktub after stumbling across the word in Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist. Maktub, with Watts as frontman, released its debut album, Subtle Ways, in 1999, followed by Khronos in 2002 and Say What You Mean in 2005. The group garnered praise from critics across the country, drawing comparisons between Watts and Sly Stone, Lenny Kravitz, Prince, and Al Green.
As he was building a career as a musician, Watts was also honing his stand-up style. A Seattle Times critic once wrote: "Calling Reggie Watts a singer is like calling Clark Kent a reporter" (Scanlon, "Reggie Watts ...") -- that is, to vastly underestimate the significance of his side project, which, in Watts' case, is stand-up comedy.
The Stranger theater critic Brendan Kiley described Watts' stand-up, which often interweaves absurdist anecdotes with looping beats he makes himself:
"In comic mode Watts tells bizarre stories -- about pushing his grandfather off a mountaintop or stalking his girlfriend -- with disorienting warmth and sincerity, he improvises hilarious, layered songs with a sequencer and takes his audience down delightfully nonsensical tangents about the history of the curtsy or how he, a young black man from Montana, came to join the Nazi Youth" (Kiley).
By the time he received the Mayor's Award, Watts had moved to New York City, where his career flourished, including a popular TED Talk and regular appearances with Conan O'Brian and James Corden.
Gerard Schwarz, music director of the Seattle Symphony for 21 years, was instrumental in taking the orchestra from a "regional presence to a national ensemble" (Wakin and Ostreich) while making dozens of recordings, receiving a standing ovation at Carnegie Hall, and earning a Grammy nomination along the way.
Schwarz was born in Weehawken, New Jersey, and attended New York Performing Arts High School before matriculating at Juilliard. He was a co-principal at the New York Philharmonic from 1972 until 1977 -- the youngest principal trumpet in the orchestra's history and, in 1977, one of the youngest to resign, at the ripe old age of 29. In that same year, Schwarz founded the New York Chamber Symphony.
Schwarz's tenure with the Seattle Symphony began as an adviser in 1983 while he was also music director for both the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra and the Mostly Mozart Festival in New York. He was hired as music director of the Seattle Symphony in 1985. He would continue to juggle directorships during his long Seattle tenure, continuing in his role with Mostly Mozart through 2001 and with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra in England after that.
The director's impact on Seattle's classical music scene is undeniable. As one critic wrote:
"Schwarz also has taken the Seattle Symphony on a great leap forward, not only in terms of artistic quality but also community standing. This is the orchestra for which Seattle's leaders, financiers, and voters built Benaroya Hall; this is the orchestra that earned a standing ovation in Carnegie Hall last April [of 2003]" (Bargreen, "Conductor Gerard Schwarz ...").
Still, Schwarz's reign had its share of controversy, ranging from music critics who claimed that his long run at the Seattle Symphony made him complacent and repetitive, to orchestra musicians who went public with complaints about a dysfunctional workplace. A New York Times article cited the Seattle Symphony as "a cautionary tale of how the relationship between performers and a long-term leader can go awry and how, in an artistic hothouse, a tangle of emotion and politics can veer out of control and take on a life of its own" (Wakin and Oestreich).
After receiving the 2006 Mayor's Arts Award, Schwarz stayed on with Seattle Symphony until stepping down in 2011.
Michael Spafford, Elizabeth Sandvig, and Spike Mafford
Michael Spafford, Elizabeth Sandvig, and Spike Mafford have been widely recognized for their family's collective contributions to Seattle's arts community.
Michael Spafford was born in Palm Springs, California, on November 6, 1935, and Elizabeth Anne Sandvig was born in Seattle on March 15, 1937. The couple met while studying at Pomona College in California in the mid-1950s, married in 1959, and moved to Mexico City in 1960. After their son was born there in 1963, the family came to Seattle when Michael was offered a teaching job at the University of Washington. It was here that the couple established their distinguished artistic careers, and their son, under the name Spike Mafford, became a noted photographer.
Michael Spafford taught at the University of Washington School of Art from 1963 until 1994. In his personal work, he has focused primarily on one subject area -- painting various iterations of Greek and Roman myths, creations that sometimes brought controversy. His Twelve Labors of Hercules, installed in the House chambers in the State Capitol Building in Olympia in 1981, was almost immediately covered with draperies and later removed because some legislators found it offensive. A painting that he considers one of his best pieces of public art is Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird, inspired by the poem of that title by Wallace Stevens, on permanent display at Seattle's McCaw Hall.
Elizabeth Sandvig has carved her own path in the art world. Her childhood was much less settled than her husband's, and she spent much of her first 20 years in Washington, D.C. and Mexico City. Sandvig's art is more eclectic than Spafford's. She has experimented freely with varying styles and forms, including sculpture, and with different media, including polyester resin, wire mesh, acrylic gels, oil stick, monotypes, and traditional oil on canvas. Unlike her husband's myth-based work, Sandvig's art is often personal. "Most of the things I paint have to do with my life in some way," she says (Tate). Her paintings also differ from those of her husband (and from such "Northwest School" painters as Mark Tobey and Guy Anderson) by reveling in bright colors.
Not surprisingly, the couple's son, Spike Mafford (born Michael Spafford), has also made visual art his life's work, building a successful career in photography, both artistic and commercial. In 1986 he opened Galleria Potatohead in Seattle, which for the next 10 years worked to bring lesser-known artists to public attention. Much of Mafford's work is travel related, and in 2000 he, with his wife and children, toured Greece, where he created a body of photographic work based, like his father's rejected Olympia murals, on the Twelve Labors of Hercules. A few years later, in a show at the Francine Seders Gallery, poems were embossed in Braille directly onto his photographs, making the presentation accessible to the sight-impaired.
Seattle Children's Theatre and Artistic Director Linda Hartzell
The 2006 Mayor's Awards also recognized the Seattle Children's Theatre (SCT), which has become a national model, and its long-time artistic director, Linda Hartzell.
Before the Seattle Children's Theatre was the Seattle Children's Theatre, it was the Poncho Theatre, named for the arts-funding organization that in 1971 financed a 280-seat venue in the Children's Zoo at Woodland Park. In 1975, "the nonprofit Poncho Theatre Advisory Council was established to work with the City's parks department in operating the Children's Zoo venue. For the next several years, the children's theater, with its own acting troupe and production staff, mounted an average of five plays a year for younger audiences" ("History").
At the forefront since 1984 was Linda Hartzell, who joined SCT as interim artistic director that year and quickly was selected to fill the post permanently. Hartzell graduated with a BA in Drama from the University of Washington and by 1984 had been acting for a decade, including performing with SCT.
Under Hartzell's leadership, the children's theater broke ground for a new facility in 1992. The 482-seat building, named the Charlotte Martin Theatre, was the first new construction at Seattle Center since the Bagley Wright Theatre in 1983. It provided SCT with nearly twice the seating capacity it had at Woodland Park, along with state-of-the-art technical facilities and ample storage for sets, costumes, and equipment.
The Seattle Children's Theatre's first season at its new venue saw 3,200 subscribers, 36,000 tickets sold, and a $500,000 budget. By the time of the 2006 Mayor's Arts Award, the theater's subscribers numbered 15,000, with 250,000 tickets sold and a $6.6 million budget ("Mayor's Arts Awards 2006: Linda Hartzell ..."). Hartzell directed 40 plays for the theater, including 33 original scripts, and oversaw the creation of SCT's drama school. After a laudable career, she retired from SCT in 2016.
Northwest Folklife and Executive Director Michael J. Herschensohn
Mayor Nickels recognized both Northwest Folklife, a long-running Seattle institution, and the festival's second executive director, Michael Herschensohn, who salvaged the organization from financial ruin and steadied its course.
The Northwest Folklife Festival debuted in May 1972 when Seattle Center offered the 6-year-old Seattle Folklore Society its entire campus for free on Memorial Day weekend. That first festival, which featured 300 musicians across six stages, cost $6,000 to put on. (de Barros, "Folklife at 30")
The festival had no full-time executive director until 1982, when Scott Nagel, who had performed at the first Folklife 10 years earlier, was hired for the post. During his 17-year tenure, the festival expanded from its original emphasis on Northwest lumberjacks and bluegrass to showcasing global folk traditions with musical and dance performances, participatory activities, vendor booths, and food stands.
But the festival's financial position was precarious. Folklife had always been free to attend, but Seattle Center tried to demand an admission fee from festival-goers in 1992. Public pressure ultimately forced it to back down, but, according to The Seattle Times, "the organization had grown too much, too fast. By 1998, a year when heavy rains diminished attendance (and therefore vendor receipts), Northwest Folklife found itself saddled with a $450,000 debt" (de Barros, "Folklife at 30"). Folklife had to mail IOU's to vendors who participated in that year's festival, and Nagel resigned.
Michael Herschensohn joined Folklife as its second executive director from his previous position as director of the Museum of History and Industry. In an effort to financially stabilize the festival, he cut year-round programming and focused on fundraising. In Herschensohn's first year at the helm, Redmond National Bank agreed to finance a $450,000 loan and extend a $150,000 line of credit to Northwest Folklife. That financing, along with a $200,000 grant from E. W. Littlefield Jr., gave the festival a new lease on life.
A Seattle Times writer described the scene at the 2004 festival, several years into Herschensohn's leadership:
"Folklife is total immersion in world culture. You see it in the crowds strolling the grounds, with folks in ethnic costumes everywhere, many carrying instrument cases. Music surrounds you, coming from the 21 stages and the countless street performers. Exotic aromas waft from a wide selection of food booths. Artisans and merchants hawk their wares at two international marketplaces" (MacDonald).
Over the course of Herschensohn's tenure, the annual Memorial Day festival grew dramatically in size and became financially stable. In 2006, the year of the mayor's award and the year Herschensohn announced his retirement, the Northwest Folklife Festival was organized by 2,000 volunteers and 13 full-time staff members, presented more than 5,000 performers, and drew 250,000 attendees during its four-day run.
Rainier Vista Cambodian Youth Program
Founded in 1996 by Sambath Suong, the Rainier Vista Cambodian Youth Program explores Cambodian heritage through dance and theater.
The program, which is based in the Rainier Vista housing project, began when Soung's children were part of a theater group at their elementary school. "The bilingual aide asked, 'Can I borrow your house to do rehearsal?' so I moved my sofa,' she recalls. 'Finally, I threw my sofa away.'" ("Take This")
Through collaborations with the Wing Luke Museum, Jack Straw Productions, Seattle Theater Group's "Dance This" program, and other area arts organizations, the Rainier Vista Cambodian Youth Project served as a bridge between first-generation Cambodian American youth and their parents, many of whom arrived in Seattle as refugees fleeing Pol Pot's killing fields. In addition to staging plays and learning Cambodian dance styles, young people who grew up speaking English could study the Khmer language, giving them additional access to their parents' stories.