Mayor’s Arts Awards Expands

If you work in Seattle arts, don’t plan on getting anything done on Friday, Aug. 31. An unusual number of the city’s most important arts administrative offices will power down early when the Mayor’s Arts Awards fill Seattle Center’s North Fountain Lawn with bad jokes, big smiles and gracious speeches. The reason? The Arts Awards are growing up.

A decade in, the annual Awards have a higher profile than ever before. For 2012, the Seattle Arts Commission, which recommends award recipients to the Mayor, received public recommendations for 550 nominations, almost double the number from last year. To celebrate the Awards' 10th anniversary, the number of awards were also increased from six to 10.

“It was a very difficult task to narrow it down to only 10 recipients,” says Vincent Kitch, director of Seattle’s Office of Arts & Cultural Affairs and the city’s liaison to the Commission. “There is a lot of amazing work happening in Seattle right now.”

This year’s list of award recipients is wildly diverse. As always, there are a few institutions whose recognition seems inevitable, including KEXP, Seattle Arts & Lectures, Freehold Theatre and the Vera Project. The real flavor of the awards is always in the organizations that could easily go overlooked. They give a sense of the Commission’s interests and reflect on the concerns of the Mayor’s Office and City Council, both of which are involved in appointing the volunteer members of the Commission. This year those recipients include the Duwamish Tribe youth performance group, TilibSedeb (Singing Feet); the film hub for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities, Three Dollar Bill Cinema; and the sprawling, imaginative site-based performance art of Lucia Neare’s Theatrical Wonders.

Neare’s work isn’t the only art being recognized for its direct engagement with the city’s landscape. Buster Simpson will be receiving recognition for his recent public art works at the Brightwater Treatment Plant in Woodinville and the SeaTac International Airport, as well as for 30 years working on the city’s infrastructure and engaging in community projects.

The final two individual recipients, Olivier Wevers and Li Hengda, are both noted choreographers. Is the City trying to tell us something about the role dance plays (or should play) in the cultural life of the city?

“The inclusion of two artistic directors in dance is purely coincidental,” Kitch says. “And while Seattle is making a name as a center of contemporary dance, it does tend to be underrepresented in schools and the industry, so I’m pleased to be able to recognize the discipline in this way.”

As it does every year, the Mayor’s Arts Awards will end with a declaration from Mayor Mike McGinn, formally opening the Visual Arts Exhibits at the Bumbershoot Music & Arts Festival. As a parade of (hopefully) sun-kissed arts workers and lovers mosey from the North Fountain Lawn to the exhibit building, few will feel left out. 


The Mayor’s Arts Awards will be held at Seattle Center at noon on Aug. 31. City Arts will publish an online series of winner profiles in the two weeks leading up to the event.

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