Clarence Acox Jr., Earshot Jazz and John Gilbreath, Jean Griffith, the Seattle Art Museum and Mimi Gardner Gates, the Longhouse Media Native Lens program, Massive Monkees, and Richard Hugo House receive Seattle Mayor's Arts Awards on August 31, 2007.

  • By Kit Oldham
  • Posted 9/10/2017
  • Essay 20439

On August 31, 2007, the fifth annual Seattle Mayor's Arts Awards presentation takes place at Seattle Center in conjunction with the opening of Bumbershoot, Seattle's music and arts festival. A crowd of more than 350 people joins Mayor Greg Nickels (b. 1955) at the ceremony honoring the award recipients: Clarence Acox Jr. (b. 1947), longtime director of Garfield High School's nationally acclaimed jazz-band program; Earshot Jazz and its executive director John Gilbreath; Jean Griffith (b. 1921), a founding member of Pottery Northwest and its director for more than 30 years; the Seattle Art Museum and its director Mimi Gardner Gates (b. 1942); Longhouse Media's Native Lens program, which teaches filmmaking to Native youth; Massive Monkees, a Seattle break-dancing crew; and Richard Hugo House, a literary-arts center located in Seattle's Capitol Hill neighborhood.

Clarence Acox Jr.

Born and raised in New Orleans, Clarence Acox Jr. moved to Seattle in 1971 right after graduating from Southern University. He quickly became a fixture in the city's music scene, both as a talented and in-demand jazz drummer and especially as a revered music teacher and band director. He "was recruited by Garfield High School to revive its moribund music program" ("Mayor's Arts Awards: 2007 Recipients"), and far more than accomplished that goal.

Under Acox's leadership, the school's jazz program, which he established in 1979, became one of the most acclaimed in the country. The Garfield Jazz Ensemble is a perennial powerhouse at high-school jazz competitions, taking first place four times in the Essentially Ellington National Jazz Band Competition and Festival at Lincoln Center in New York City and sweeping competitions up and down the West Coast. Acox continued to lead the ensemble as of 2017, and more than a few of the students he taught at Garfield have gone on to win acclaim as professional musicians.

Acox has not confined his educational efforts to Garfield. From 2005 through 2010 he directed the jazz ensemble at Seattle University, and as of 2017 he also taught at Centrum Jazz in Port Townsend and directed the High School Division Ensemble at the music-education nonprofit Seattle JazzED.

In addition to teaching, Acox has long been part of Seattle's music scene as a performer. In 1995 he cofounded the Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestra. For more than 20 years he appeared regularly at the New Orleans Creole Restaurant in Seattle's Pioneer Square, first with the Floyd Standifer Quartet and later, following Standifer's death, with the Acox-led Legacy Quartet.

Earshot Jazz and John Gilbreath

Earshot Jazz was founded in 1984 to promote jazz music and support jazz musicians in and around Seattle. It has become best known for the annual jazz festival it holds each fall in venues across the city. John Gilbreath became executive director in 1991, and under his leadership Earshot substantially expanded its budget, programming, and audience.

The annual Earshot Jazz Festival grew to become one of the largest on the West Coast, bringing national and international artists to Seattle venues, along with both new and established local musicians. Among the many performers scheduled to appear at the month-long 2017 Earshot Jazz Festival were Jason Moran, Omar Sosa, T. S. Monk, Marc Seales, Brad Mehldau, Robin Holcomb, Joe McPhee, Steve Swell, Dick Griffin, Gregory Porter, Paul Kikuchi, Jovino Santos Neto, Lori Goldston, Judith Hamman, and Dawn Clement.

The festival is just one of Earshot's many endeavors. The organization also promotes concerts in Seattle throughout the year, publishes a monthly print and online magazine covering the Seattle-area jazz scene, and recognizes local jazz musicians with an annual Golden Ear Award. Earshot has also worked with other local arts and culture groups on a variety of collaborative efforts, among them a jazz film series at the Northwest Film Forum and the Art of Jazz concert series at the Seattle Art Museum (also a 2007 arts-award recipient).

Besides leading Earshot, John Gilbreath has been a longtime presence on Seattle airwaves as a DJ on community radio stations KBCS-FM and KEXP-FM, playing an eclectic variety of jazz and other musical genres.

Jean Griffith

As an accomplished potter and the director of Pottery Northwest for more than half its 50 years, Jean Griffith "has been heralded as Seattle's 'muse of clay'" ("Mayor's Arts Awards: 2007 Recipients"). But she came relatively late to the art form. In college she majored in fashion design. It was only after moving to Seattle with her husband and their two children in the early 1960s that Griffith began studying pottery at the University of Washington. She joined the Seattle Clay Club, the forerunner of Pottery Northwest, and "quickly became 'hooked on clay,'" as she told an interviewer in 2012 (Kershner).

The club was a relatively informal organization that met in members' homes and did not have a workspace for making pottery. In 1966 Griffith and other club members incorporated Pottery Northwest as a nonprofit organization that could raise funds and operate a facility with kilns and other pottery equipment. Griffith became one of the first instructors at Pottery Northwest, which rented space in the Food Circus building (later known as the Center House and then Seattle Center Armory) at Seattle Center.

When the organization's first director stepped down in 1971, Griffith succeeded him. Except for a "brief retirement" for a couple of years in the late 1970s, she would lead the organization for the next three decades ("Mayor's Arts Awards: 2007 Recipients"). In her first tenure, Griffith oversaw Pottery Northwest's move from its space in the Food Circus to a 7,200-square-foot former parking garage at 226 1st Avenue N, adjoining Seattle Center. The new location, which opened in 1975 following substantial renovation of the building, provided classrooms, studio space for ceramics artists from around the region, and room to display some of the artwork being produced in the facility.

Two years after the move, Griffith stepped down, but when her successor left after two years and the Pottery Northwest board asked her to return, "I said, well, I'll come back for six months" (Kershner). The six months became more than two decades. Griffith headed Pottery Northwest into her 80s, "managing its finances, overseeing classes, hiring instructors, setting up workshops, lectures and exhibitions" until retiring in 2003 ("Mayor's Arts Awards: 2007 Recipients").

In her ceramic art, Griffith was among the first Americans to work in, and bring Western attention to, the traditional Japanese pottery style of raku. Many of her early works, including raku wall reliefs, were "monumental for their time" ("Mayor's Arts Awards: 2007 Recipients"). She largely set her own work aside to direct Pottery Northwest, but in that position she continued to play a major role throughout the region in promoting ceramics as an art form.

Seattle Art Museum and Mimi Gardner Gates

The Seattle Art Museum (SAM) opened in 1933 in Volunteer Park on Seattle's Capitol Hill. In 1991, most of the museum's collections were moved to a much larger building at 1st Avenue and University Street in downtown Seattle. SAM remodeled the building in Volunteer Park as the Seattle Asian Art Museum.

Mimi Gardner Gates (then known as Mimi Gardner Neil -- she married Bill Gates Sr. in 1996) became director of SAM in 1994 and presided over a major renaissance and expansion of the museum. The two centerpiece projects of that renaissance were completed in the months leading up to the Mayor's Arts Award.

First, in January 2007, SAM celebrated the opening of its Olympic Sculpture Park, located on the city's Elliott Bay shoreline at the north end of downtown. The park "transform[ed] downtown Seattle's largest undeveloped waterfront property from a former industrial site into a free and vibrant green space for art and people" ("Mayor's Arts Awards: 2007 Recipients"), with large works of sculpture displayed outdoors against the backdrop of the bay and the Olympic Mountains beyond it. Gates conceived of the sculpture park and presided over the 10 years of planning for it. When she announced her retirement as director the following year, she described it as her "proudest achievement at SAM," saying:

"Certainly the Olympic Sculpture Park is a highlight. That surpassed all expectations and my dream of having art out in the community, open and free to everybody" (Farr).

In May, four months after the sculpture park opened, SAM reopened its downtown building following a major expansion that more than doubled its space. To fund the two projects, "the museum raised some $200 million, the largest arts-capital campaign this city has seen," and, in anticipation of its upcoming 75th anniversary in 2008, the museum also "announced 1,000 promised gifts of art valued at $1 billion, a landmark in museum philanthropy" (Farr).

When Gates stepped down as SAM's director in 2009, the museum's board named her director emeritus, the first time a retiring director had been so honored.

Longhouse Media's Native Lens program

"Native Lens teaches filmmaking to Native youth as a form of self-expression, inquiry, community development, and cultural pride and preservation" ("What Is ...?"). The Native Lens program was originally established in 2003 by Seattle's 911 Media Arts Center, working in partnership with the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community in Skagit County.

In January 2005, with the support of the Swinomish Community, Tracy Rector, who became executive director, and Annie Silverstein, artistic director, launched Longhouse Media. They conceived the nonprofit as "an indigenous media arts organization that would nurture the expression and development of Native artists, drawing from traditional and modern forms of storytelling, cultural identity, teaching and inquiry, based in the technologies of today" ("What Is ...?"). Longhouse Media became home to Native Lens, and focused much of its effort on the youth media program.

Within seven years, Longhouse had worked with more than 1,500 Native youth on filmmaking projects that "not only yielded strong and positive new media, but also increased participants' self esteem, worked as a catalyst for community interaction and dialog, and supported youth in the development of life skills and academic success in school" ("What Is ...?"). Many of the Native Lens projects involved collaboration with local tribes, funders, and other nonprofits. Longhouse and the Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF) established the annual SuperFly Filmmaking Experience, in which young Native filmmakers from around the country plan, write, shoot, and edit films in 36 hours, with the results shown at SIFF.

Working with professional filmmakers, three teenagers from the Swinomish Indian Tribe in the Native Lens program produced the feature-length documentary March Point for PBS. In the film, the three young filmmakers research and document the history of their tribe and reservation, and the impact on both of oil refineries built at March Point (near Anacortes), which had been part of the Swinomish Reservation.

Longhouse Media also supported urban Indian artists with an annual art show and launched the daily television program Native Lens TV. Longhouse and Tracy Rector partnered with Seattle's Northwest Film Forum in the ongoing Indigenous Showcase film series highlighting the work of Native and indigenous filmmakers.

Massive Monkees

Massive Monkees are a hip-hop crew based in Seattle's Beacon Hill neighborhood. They have been competing in national and international hip-hop (break-dancing) "battles" since 1999, winning their first world championship in 2004 and a second in 2013. The prize-winning crew first "came together as a group of grade school friends who enjoyed dancing, playing and creating art together" ("The Crew"). The young friends were inspired by a 1996 show at Seattle's Moore Theatre titled "Jam on the Groove," which featured dancers they admired and greatly influenced their subsequent work.

In addition to their competitive dance "battling," Massive Monkees have created full-length theatrical shows and toured them throughout the country. The crew has also appeared and toured with such performers as Macklemore, Public Enemy, Alicia Keys, Jay-Z, Missy Elliot, LL Cool J, Ludacris, and 50 Cent.

Recognizing the importance of teachers and mentors in their own development, for more than a decade Massive Monkees have also worked with schools, government agencies, and other nonprofit organizations to provide arts programming to young people in the community. In 2013, the group opened The Beacon, a community studio at 662 S King Street in Seattle, as a home for classes, youth-outreach programs, and arts events.

The Mayor's Arts Award was not the first time that Mayor Nickels honored Massive Monkees. Three years earlier, in 2004, the mayor declared April 26 to be "Massive Monkees Day" in Seattle, saying "Massive Monkees have shown that they're the best in the world and they're sharing it with their community" ("The Crew").

Richard Hugo House

Richard Hugo House was conceived by three Seattle writers -- Linda Breneman, Andrea Lewis, and Frances McCue -- as "an urban writer's retreat with readings and services for readers and writers" ("History"). They began planning in 1996, and Richard Hugo House opened in October 1998 in an old wood-frame building on 11th Avenue E in Seattle's Capitol Hill neighborhood, not far from the campus of Seattle Central Community College. The founders named their writers' center for poet Richard Hugo (1923-1982), who grew up in the hardscrabble White Center area south of Seattle. The Hugo House website explains:

"Hugo wrote beautifully about overlooked places and people who came from those places and who struggled with poverty and adversity. Hugo House made a place in Seattle for writers much as Hugo made a place in his poems for unlikely places and people" ("History").

Hugo House residencies provided established writers with a space and/or funding to pursue their writing, in return for holding "office hours" during which they were available to "anyone in the city and region who seeks their expertise" ("Mayor's Arts Awards: 2007 Recipients"). The center also offered writing classes aimed at a wide range of ages and experience, and presented numerous readings, panel discussions, and other literary events every year. Among the many writers who have read, taught, or otherwise participated in events at Hugo House are Amy Bloom, Billy Collins, Sharon Olds, Jonathan Raban, Sherman Alexie, Kay Ryan, David Shields, and Mona Simpson.

In May 2016, Hugo House moved from the old building it had occupied since opening nearly two decades earlier to a temporary location on Capitol Hill to make way for the construction of a new and larger permanent home at its original 11th Avenue E location.


"Mayor's Arts Awards: 2007 Recipients," Seattle Office of Arts and Culture website accessed August 30, 2017 (; "Mayor's Arts Awards," in Mayor's Office of Arts & Cultural Affairs: 2007 Report to the Community, p. 27, City of Seattle website accessed August 30, 2017 (; "Recipients of the Fifth Annual Mayor's Arts Awards Announced," The Seattle Times, June 22, 2007 (; "Clarence Acox -- Director -- Bands I & II," Garfield Jazz website accessed August 30, 2017 (; "29th Annual Earshot Jazz Festival," Earshot Jazz website accessed August 31, 2017 (; "Our Staff," Earshot Jazz website accessed August 31, 2017 (; "Jean Griffith," Pottery Northwest website accessed September 7, 2016 (; "Welcome to Pottery Northwest," Pottery Northwest website accessed September 7, 2016 (; Sheila Farr, "Mimi Gates Stepping Down as Seattle Art Museum Director," The Seattle Times, June 3, 2008 (; "What Is Longhouse Media?" Longhouse Media website accessed September 6, 2017 (; "March Point," Longhouse Media website accessed September 6, 2017 (; "Indigenous Showcase," Northwest Film Forum website accessed September 6, 2017 (; "The Crew," Massive Monkees website accessed September 5, 2017 (; "History," Hugo House website accessed September 7, 2017 (; Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, "Pottery Northwest" (by Kate Kershner), "Seattle Art Museum opens downtown on December 5, 1991" (by David Wilma), "Seattle Art Museum opens its Olympic Sculpture Park with a two-day celebration beginning on January 20, 2007" (by Paula Becker), and "Richard Hugo House, a center for writers, opens in Seattle in October 1998" (by Priscilla Long), (accessed September 6, 2017).

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