On Friday afternoon, August 29, 2003, Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels (b. 1955) presents the first annual Mayor's Arts Awards at Seattle Center as part of opening ceremonies for the city's largest arts festival, Bumbershoot. Voice professor and internationally acclaimed tenor Vinson Cole (b. 1950) is awarded the Outstanding Individual Achievement and Commitment to the Arts Award; after-school-arts-education organization Arts Corps receives the Outstanding Contribution to Arts Education Award; multidisciplinary art center and curatorial project Consolidated Works receives its award for Excellence and Innovation by a Next Generation Arts Organization; and the Allen Foundation for the Arts is recognized for Outstanding Arts Philanthropy.
Recognizing Accomplishments in the Arts
The inaugural Mayor's Arts Awards ceremony coincided with the renaming of the Seattle Arts Commission as the Mayor's Office of Arts & Cultural Affairs (the name would be modified in 2013 to Office of Arts & Culture). In addition to funding art and artists through programs like 1 Percent For Art, with the inauguration of the annual awards program, the City of Seattle also recognized "the accomplishments of artists, arts and cultural organizations and community members committed to enriching their communities through the arts" ("Mayor's Arts Awards").
Since its founding in 1973, the Bumbershoot festival has taken over Seattle Center's indoor and outdoor stages every Labor Day weekend to showcase thousands of artists, including "poets, painters, dancers, divas, comedians, filmmakers, musicians, clowns, acrobats, DJs and more" ("Information"). The 2003 lineup included performances by high-profile bands like De La Soul, R.E.M., Modest Mouse, and Macy Gray, but also by lesser-known groups like the Los Angeles-based artists who turned the Space Needle into a harp and then played it.
At the first Mayor's Arts Awards presentation, on August 29, 2003, tenor and voice professor Vinson Cole was honored with the Outstanding Individual Achievement and Commitment to the Arts Award.
Cole debuted with the Seattle Opera in 1988. The Seattle Times music critic Melinda Bargreen described in her book Classical Seattle how Cole's debut performance helped make the reputation of longtime Seattle Opera general director Speight Jenkins early in his tenure:
"One turning point [in Jenkins' career] was a 1988 Orpheus and Eurydice, an eighteenth-century opera by Gluck that received a spectacularly modern treatment with Vinson Cole as Orpheus and choreography by Mark Morris. The performances sold out to almost universal raves" (Classical Seattle, 146).
Cole became a mainstay of Seattle classical music after that and eventually joined the University of Washington faculty in 2002 as a senior artist in residence. ("When Vinson Cole Sings ...")
Few black male tenors had achieved Cole's level of operatic prominence at the time. Classical music critic Greg Sandow interviewed Cole about "the classical color line" in 1997:
"It's sad to report that, even now, the New York Philharmonic has just one black member, and the Chicago Symphony none. The Detroit Symphony, in a black-majority city, has just three. It's no surprise that there's a sense of estrangement between African-Americans and the classical music world ... Which brings me back to Vinson Cole, who said two opera companies had 'told my management that they couldn't hire a black singer with a [white] female partner. It hurts.' He thought of taking legal action, but decided he'd rather be a singer than a cause" ("The Classical").
In recommending Cole for the Mayor's Arts Award, the Seattle Arts Commission noted that he had performed frequently with Seattle Opera, Seattle Symphony, Northwest Chamber Orchestra, and Seattle Chamber Music Festival. Cole had also sung leading roles internationally with operas and symphonies including the Metropolitan Opera, the Paris Opera, the New York Philharmonic, and the Berlin Philharmonic.
The 2003 Outstanding Contribution to Arts Education Award went to Arts Corps, an organization providing free after-school arts education to youth between the ages of 6 and 18. Lisa Fitzhugh, a former communications strategist and policy advisor to Mayor Paul Schell (1937-2014), founded the organization in 2000 with Leslie Marble and Heidi Lasher. As of June 2003, the full-time program staff consisted of Fitzhugh and four others: Community Development Director Amy Maguire, Faculty and Curriculum Director Tina LaPadula, Charlotte Beall, and Technology Director Stephen Nadal. LaPadula and Maguire also doubled as Teaching Artists, who, along with 34 other Teaching Artists, worked directly with students ("Who We Are").
In 2003, Arts Corps partnered with 17 public schools and community centers around the region -- from Tukwila Elementary School to Ballard Boys & Girls Club -- to provide classes in drama, music, dance, visual arts, and writing. As one example of the wide range of classes offered, the course description for a "Brazilian Rhythms" class for Burien middle school students in the fall of 2002 said:
"Participants of all ages and levels of ability will be introduced to several traditional grooves such as samba, baião, afoxé and Samba-Reggae. Percussion instruments will be made available, and a brief historical perspective will be given for each of the rhythms. The focus is on a hands-on experience, allowing participants to feel the inner workings of Brazilian music in an intuitive and spontaneous way, often using vocalizations and call-and-response methods to incorporate the musical experience" ("Fall 2002").
The multidisciplinary art center Consolidated Works was the recipient of the 2003 Mayor's Arts Award for Excellence and Innovation by a Next Generation Arts Organization. Founded in 1999 by Matthew Richter, formerly theater editor at The Stranger, Consolidated Works curated visual art, film, theater, and music under the same warehouse roof. The organization began at 410 Terry Avenue North, but relocated in 2001 to the 30,000-square-foot former Ducky's Office Furniture building on Boren between Republican and Mercer ("Art Goes Here").
According to welcome sign in the lobby, the building's architecture informed the programming philosophy: "ConWorks is arranged architecturally like a wheel, with a hub and spokes... Our programming follows the same hub-and-spoke structure as our architecture" (Kiley) A thematic hub would serve as the central organizing principle for visual art, music, film, a theater production, and a lecture series that would occupy the space over the course of an eight-week "Consolidation Series."
The summer leading up to the 2003 Mayor's Arts Awards ceremony saw a Consolidation Series around the theme of sex. Among the events and exhibitions were a performance/lecture by Dr. Annie Sprinkle, co-produced with sex-toy shop Babeland and sex-positive event space The Wet Spot, as well as a visual art exhibit called Wrapture that presented photographs, sculpture, and video around the theme. The Stranger art critic Emily Hall described artist Euan Macdonald's piece "Two Planes," shown with other pieces as part of Wrapture: "In a short video loop, two airplanes fly around together, seen first at a distance and then closer. At the end, one plane's landing gear descends, briefly, like a little erection, or a birth, before the loop begins again" ("Mating Airplanes").
The Consolidated Works space closed in 2008.
The Allen Foundation for the Arts
The Allen Foundation for the Arts received the 2003 Mayor's Arts Award for Outstanding Arts Philanthropy. The grant-making organization was one of the first four foundations that initially made up the Paul G. Allen Foundations, founded in 1988 by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen (1953-2018) and his sister Jody Allen. (Additional foundations were subsequently added, and the overall entity was later named the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation.)
From the time of its founding the Allen Foundation for the Arts had been a shaping force for arts infrastructure in Seattle. In addition to funding dozens of one-off productions and festivals -- from "I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings" at Book-It Repertory Theatre to the 2003 Seattle International Children's Festival -- the organization also supported projects that became permanent elements of Seattle's arts landscape: such as the Tashiro-Kaplan artist-housing facility in Pioneer Square, to which the foundation granted a total of $600,000, and "Light Reign," a permanent "Skyspace" installation by artist James Turrell (b. 1943) at the Henry Art Gallery on the University of Washington campus.
The Allen Foundation for the Arts and its founder also had connections to two of the three other 2003 award recipients. In 2002, the foundation had given $25,000 to Arts Corps to support capacity building, and Paul Allen's real estate firm, Vulcan Real Estate, was Consolidated Works' landlord in both of the latter's locations.