Delbert Richardson, Marcie Sillman, and Dani Tirrell, along with the Center on Contemporary Art and Intiman Theatre, receive the 2019 Mayor’s Arts Awards on August 29, 2019

  • By Rita Cipalla
  • Posted 5/27/2020
  • Essay 21043

On August 29, 2019, five recipients of the 2019 Mayor's Arts Awards gather for an awards ceremony at the Charlotte Martin Theatre at Seattle Center. The individual 2019 recipients are historian and storyteller Delbert Richardson, arts and culture reporter Marcie Sillman, and choreographer and dancer Dani Tirrell. Also honored are the Center on Contemporary Art (CoCA) and Intiman Theatre. Accepting for the Intiman Theatre are Jennifer Zeyl, artistic director, and Phillip Chavira, executive director. Executive and artistic director Nichole DeMent accepts the award on behalf of CoCA. Newly appointed Civic Poet Jourdan Imani Keith is on hand to present the glass-and-metal trophies created by local emerging artist KT Hancock.

Artistic Excellence, Social Justice

More than 120 individuals and organizations were nominated for the 2019 Mayor's Arts Awards, in its 17th year. To select the 2019 awardees, a panel of Seattle arts commissioners and previous award recipients searched for individuals and organizations whose work helps further racial equity and social justice and exemplifies artistic excellence, among other characteristics. Announcing the awards, Mayor Jenny Durkin (b. 1958) wrote in a blog post: "These artists represent the rich diversity of talent, innovation, and passion in our communities. The Mayor's Arts Awards are a chance to shine a light on amazing arts and cultural contributions in Seattle, and to celebrate the work they're doing to advance equity and justice" (Lindsay).

In the third year of a five-year agreement, an emerging local artist was selected by Chihuly Garden and Glass, in partnership with the Seattle Office of Arts & Culture, to design the award trophy. For the 2019 awardees, Seattle artist KT Hancock used glass and metal to create jewel-like trophies, drawing her inspiration from the minerals and rocks found in King County. The Seattle-based artist has a background in jewelry and metalsmithing.

Delbert Richardson

Delbert Richardson, the founder and curator of the "Unspoken Truths" American History Traveling Museum, is an ethnomuseologist and second-generation storyteller. To promote community healing and cultural awareness, he uses stories, artifacts, and objects to educate audiences to appreciate the courage, perseverance, and resilience of African Americans. His hands-on traveling exhibit chronicles the history of Africans before slavery, the Jim Crow era, and the contributions that African Americans made to science, culture, and technology in the U.S. and around the world. 

Richardson is a graduate of Antioch University Seattle, completing his bachelor's degree in liberal studies in 2016, nearly 40 years after he started his studies at the University of Washington. He considers himself a community scholar -- rather than teach, he prefers to learn with his students. In 2017 Richardson earned the National Education Association's prestigious Carter G. Woodson Award, given to an individual or organization whose activities in African American affairs have made a significant impact on education and the achievement of equal opportunity. He also received the 2019 Courage Award from Crosscut for his leadership and altruism.

Marcie Sillman

Arts and culture reporter Marcie Sillman is a legend in broadcast journalism. Since 1985, Sillman has been a mainstay at KUOW-FM, Seattle's National Public Radio affiliate. Just a year after arriving at the station, she became the local voice of All Things Considered, NPR's flagship afternoon news magazine show. In the early 1990s, with colleagues Dave Beck and Steve Scher, Sillman transitioned to Weekday, a two-hour program that explores a variety of topics of interest to artists and thinkers. Sillman and Beck then teamed up to create The Beat, Seattle's only broadcast program focused specifically on arts and culture. In 2002 she became a full-time arts and culture reporter, contributing scores of stories to NPR, Voice of America, and other media outlets.

Throughout her long career, Sillman has been a staunch advocate for the arts community and women's rights. Born in Detroit, she holds a degree in Chinese from the University of Michigan. After graduating from college in the late 1970s, she transferred to Cornell University to pursue a certificate in the Indonesian language. While there, she started working at the student radio station and found it was a natural fit. In 2016, her first book, Out There: Jonathan Porretta's Life in Dance, was published.

Dani Tirrell

Dani Tirrell, a queer, black, gender non-conforming, movement-based artist, is the founder and artistic director of the Dani Tirrell Dance Theater. He also founded Seattle's Color Lines Dance Ensemble for dancers aged 12 to 18. Several of his productions have premiered at On The Boards, including House of Dinah (2016) and Black Bois (2018), which sold out all four performances. For several years, Tirrell has curated the Central District Forum for Arts and Ideas, creating opportunities for emerging black artists to be more widely seen and heard. He is the host of "Sunday Dinners", a program that brings the community together for food (catered by some of Seattle's most sought-after black chefs) and conversations centered on African American achievements in arts and culture.

As a part-time lecturer at the University of Washington's Department of Dance, Tirrell teaches street- and club-dance technique and composition. He was student advisor during the inaugural year of the UW Arts Diversity Council, where he helped facilitate discussions around race and equity, diversity and inclusion. He is the recipient of a 2018 Art Matters Fellowship, one of 24 artists selected nationally by the New York-based arts organization, Art Matters. He also received a DanceCrush Award from SeattleDance in 2018, and a 2019 Artist Trust Fellowship Award.

Center On Contemporary Art (CoCA)

For nearly 40 years the Center on Contemporary Art, a nonprofit organization dedicated to creative expression, has served the Pacific Northwest. The organization began in 1981 when more than 100 artists, business owners, and arts supporters came together to organize exhibits and art-related experiences in galleries and venues around Puget Sound. In its first 35 years, CoCA presented more than 200 major exhibitions, hundreds of events, and the work of nearly 3,000 artists. A veteran at encouraging artistic experimentation through exhibits, music and dance performances, residencies, and art forums, CoCA sparks discussions around the social and political meaning of art in society.

From the beginning, CoCA focused its attention on art and programming. At times there was no executive director, and the organization was run by a dedicated group of volunteers. From 2014 to 2016 CoCA moved three times, from a design showroom in Georgetown to a Capitol Hill gallery to the basement of the historic Good Arts Building in Pioneer Square. In 2019 CoCA settled into a new gallery space in Pioneer Square at 114 Third Avenue S. In an interview, CoCA's executive and artistic director Nichole DeMent noted that the organization was committed to bringing innovative art to Seattle, aiming to become "that dynamic spot where local artists and international artists can come together and learn from each other and then broaden that to our local audiences" (Graves).

Intiman Theatre

Intiman Theatre has presented about 250 productions since its founding in 1972. Among its many awards are a 2006 Tony Award for outstanding regional theatre, three 2018 Gregory Awards for outstanding musical (Dragon Lady) and three 2018-19 Teeny Awards for staging works that examine critical social issues. Intiman (from the Swedish for "intimate") was founded by Margaret Booker, a Fulbright scholar who had studied in Sweden, and it was named after a theater in Stockholm created by the playwright August Strindberg. The company did not have a permanent home until 1987, when the Playhouse at Seattle Center, originally built for the 1962 World's Fair, was renovated and reopened as the Intiman.

Over the years the theatre has garnered national acclaim for its world premieres and new adaptations. In 2004 it was the first theater company in Washington state to be named a leading national theatre by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. In 2006 the Municipal League of King County named Intiman the "organization of the year" -- the first arts organization to receive this honor. But the theater's future looked bleak in 2011. It was more than $1 million in debt and was forced to abruptly close its doors. After months of downsizing and fundraising, the Intiman reopened in 2012, presenting an eight-week theater festival, a model characterized as more financially sustainable and artistically vibrant. By 2018, with a leaner budget and an artistic vision focused more keenly on issues of racial equality and social justice, the Intiman was able to retire $2.7 million in debt and obligations, thanks to support from its audiences, donors, actors, and the community.


Erika Lindsay, "Mayor Durkan Announces Recipients for the 2019 Mayor's Arts Awards," August 6, 2019, Seattle Office of Arts & Culture Art Beat blog website accessed May 5, 2020 (; Sheila Cain, "Delbert Richardson's Traveling Museum Invites an Understanding of African History," Crosscut, September 16, 2019 (; Sheila Cain, "Stepping Up & Speaking Out," Seattle Magazine, November 2019 (; "The Delbert Richardson Story," May 30, 2017, Antioch University website accessed May 5, 2020 (; Susan Fried, "Delbert Richardson's American History Traveling Museum," South Seattle Emerald, July 11, 2017 (; "Delbert Richardson's American History Traveling Museum," video, February 10, 2017, Seattle Channel website accessed May 6, 2020 (; "Delbert Richardson To Receive National Education Association's Carter G. Woodson Award," The Seattle Medium, April 19, 2017 (; "Marcie Sillman," KUOW website accessed April 27, 2020 (; "Marcie Sillman," Washington State Jewish Historical Society website accessed April 27, 2020 (; "Artist Profile: Dani Tirrell," Artist Trust website accessed May 5, 2020 (; Lisa Kwak, "University of Washington Alumni and Faculty Receive 2018 DanceCrush Awards," December 3, 2018, University of Washington Department of Dance website accessed May 3, 2020 (; Lisa Kwak, "Dani Tirrell Receives Mayor's Arts Award," September 3, 2019, University of Washington Department of Dance website accessed May 3, 2020 (; "Dani Tirrell," University of Washington Department of Dance website accessed May 5, 2020, (; "Dani Tirrell," Velocity Dance Center website accessed May 1, 2020 (www.velocitydancecenter/org/artists/dani-tirrell/); Claire Selven, "Art Matters Announces 2018 Grantees," December 12, 2018, Art News website accessed May 5, 2020 (; "Our History," Intiman Theatre website accessed April 27, 2020 (; Marcie Sillman, "Intiman Theatre Was Hanging by a Thread. Now It's Out of Debt," January 22, 2019, KUOW website accessed May 3, 2020; Gayle Clemans, "CoCA Looks Back on 35 Years of Contemporary Art with 'Legacy,'" The Seattle Times, October 10, 2017 (; Jen Graves, "Couch-surfing Center on Contemporary Art Gets a Center," The Stranger, July 13, 2016 (; "About Us," CoCA Seattle  website accessed April 28, 2020 (; "Beyond the Scenes: Creation of the Mayor's Arts Awards" (video) (

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