At noon on Friday, September 2, 2005, in what has become an annual tradition since their creation in 2003, the Mayor's Arts Awards are presented by Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels (b. 1955) as part of Bumbershoot opening ceremonies at Seattle Center. Of the 60 public nominations recommended to the mayor by the Seattle Arts Commission, Nickels honors six with awards: Reverend Patrinell Wright (1944-2022) and the Total Experience Gospel Choir receive the Soul of the Community Award; Sara Liberty-Laylin of Adams Elementary School gets the Innovation in Integrated Arts Education Award; longtime arts advocate Peter Donnelly (1938-2009) is honored with the Tour de Force Award; David Brewster (b. 1939) and Town Hall are recognized in the Cultural Catalyst category; iconic painter Alden Mason (1919-2013) receives the Northwest Legacy Award; and the Tsutakawa Family receives A Generation of Artistic Inspiration and Leadership Award.
Reverend Patrinell "Pat" Wright
Reverend Patrinell "Pat" Wright and the Total Experience Gospel Choir were recognized with the Soul of the Community Award. The Total Experience Gospel Choir began as two separate youth choirs -- the Franklin High School Gospel Choir and the Black Experience Gospel Choir at Roosevelt High School, both founded in 1970 with Pat Wright at their helms. In 1973 when her positions with Seattle Public Schools were cut, Wright invited both choirs to rehearse together at Mount Zion Baptist Church. The 57 students who showed up for rehearsal formed the new Total Experience Gospel Choir.
The number of choir members has ebbed and flowed since then from 19 to over 160. But a fluctuating membership hasn't gotten in the way of performing or producing music. At the time of the award, the all-volunteer Total Experience Gospel Choir had recorded eight albums and toured nationally and internationally, performing in 38 U.S. states and 22 countries.
Turning dozens of volunteers into a touring gospel choir requires serious commitment from singers. When Wright interviews singers who express interest in joining the choir, she emphasizes commitment over singing ability:
"There are no auditions; there are no fees. You pick up the phone and you make a call to me and say, 'I have an interest in being in the Total Experience Gospel Choir.' And by the time I get through interviewing you, I let you know the commitment -- not how well you sing because I can teach you how to sing, but I can't teach you how to be committed -- and if you fail the commitment area, that's it. It's that simple." ("Mayor's Arts Awards 2005: Pat Wright")
Sara Liberty-Laylin and Adams Elementary School
For her work integrating the arts into the academic curriculum at Adams Elementary School in Ballard, Sara Liberty-Laylin was honored with the Innovation in Integrated Arts Education Award.
After more than two decades teaching other Seattle-area public schools, Liberty-Laylin became the principal at Adams in 2000. From the beginning of her tenure there, she was interested in giving students the opportunity to learn through doing art. With grant funding, she brought in professional artists to train teachers in creative methods that boosted students' cognitive development. They were taught to put fundamental principles from math, social studies, reading, writing, and science into practice by using what they learned from those disciplines to create visual art, music, and theater pieces. One way Adams Elementary School teachers would participate in students' learning was by writing short reflections about the mediums and topics student art pieces were exploring.
Sara Liberty-Laylin left Adams Elementary School the following year (2006) to become the Seattle School District's program manager for visual and performing arts.
Peter Donnelly was recognized with the Tour de Force Award in recognition of the 40 years he devoted to developing the Seattle Repertory Theatre and cultivating funding networks to support other arts institutions in Seattle.
Donnelly moved from Boston to Seattle in 1964. After the 1962 Seattle World's Fair catalyzed interest and spurred investment in local arts infrastructure, Donnelly was hired as a Ford Foundation management fellow at the Seattle Repertory Theatre for what was supposed to be a one-year term. In an interview commemorating his Mayor's Arts Award, he described the Seattle arts landscape a few years before his arrival:
"There were really only three professional arts organizations in the Northwest, in Seattle particularly: the Seattle Symphony, which paid its musicians most of the time but not all of the time; the Seattle Art Museum, which was really a boutique museum, interested only in Asian art ... And then there was a thing called the Ladies Musical Club that brought in the top tenor singing in America at that point or the top balalaika player or the Russian dance troupe, those kinds of things. And that really was it" ("Mayor's Arts Awards 2005: Peter Donnelly").
At the Seattle Repertory Theatre, Donnelly's one-year fellowship turned into a 21-year career as managing director and then as producing manager. But his impact and influence extended beyond the theater. Donnelly helped write the legislation that created the Seattle Arts Commission in 1971 -- the same body that, 34 years later, would recommend him to Mayor Nickels for a Mayor's Arts Award. He was also instrumental in getting the Rep's new home, the Bagley Wright Theatre at Seattle Center, built in 1983. After a short stint in Dallas, Donnelly returned to Seattle in 1989 to salvage and turn around the Corporate Council for the Arts, which eventually became ArtsFund. Donnelly retired from ArtsFund in 2004.
Peter Donnelly died in 2009. In an obituary, fellow 2005 Mayor's Arts Award recipient David Brewster recalls the mentorship Donnelly provided in the early years of Town Hall:
"He had excellent political judgment, and nearly all the local politicians enjoyed his company and counsel. He could also be a wonderful coach for inexperienced arts groups on how to build a board, how to define a mission ... I know from experience, since he was a champion and mentor of Town Hall, back when I was helping to start the venture, from scratch, in 1998" (Brewster).
David Brewster and Town Hall
David Brewster and Town Hall received the award for Cultural Catalyst. Brewster technically moved to Seattle in 1965 to teach literature at the University of Washington, but he was building a career in journalism at the same time. He worked in journalism in the summers during graduate school, and after his move to Seattle he briefly worked as an editor at The Argus and as a reporter with KING-TV. Brewster's passion for journalism led him to found the The Weekly (later The Seattle Weekly) in 1976, where he remained the publisher until selling to The Village Voice in 1997.
Town Hall was Brewster's next big project. In the early 1990s, he and a group of local music organizations were looking for a building to buy so they could rehearse and stage performances. He thought the Fourth Church of Christ, Scientist at 8th Avenue and Seneca was perfect. He made several offers over the next few years, all of which the church turned down. All told, between 1991 and 1997 there were six offers from Brewster, but also several higher offers from church-adjacent property owners, and "the wrecking ball was in the air" (Watson). By 1997, with the help of Historic Seattle and $1.6 million put up by a group of 16 investors, Brewster had assembled a new organization called Town Hall LLC and purchased the building.
The auditorium had a 900-seat capacity and featured the excellent acoustics one would expect of a former church. It started its new life as a classical-music venue, but quickly turned into a lecture hall and conference center when it became apparent that Town Hall was meeting a previously unmet need for a centrally located, rentable community space. Town Hall continues to host hundreds of events every year, ranging from chamber orchestra performances to readings by poet Mary Oliver (b. 1935) and author Jonathan Raban (b. 1942).
The Cultural Catalyst Award came six months after Brewster's announcement that he would be stepping down as executive director of Town Hall to write a book about Seattle history. Perhaps what seemed at one point like a passion for journalism was actually a passion for public discourse.
Mayor Nickels presented the iconic painter Alden Mason (1919-2013) with the Northwest Legacy Award in recognition of six decades making, showing, and teaching art in Seattle.
Mason was born on a farm in Everett, Washington, where the beavers and birds that surrounded him captured his attention and earned his admiration. A HistoryLink essay about him by former Seattle Times art critic Sheila Farr paints a portrait of the artist as a young bug collector and amateur taxidermist who found inspiration in the fields of the Skagit Valley.
Mason enrolled at the University of Washington, where he abandoned his first field of study, entomology, and ultimately graduated with bachelor and master of fine arts degrees. He went on to teach in the university's art department for over 30 years, mentoring hundreds of students, including artist Chuck Close (1940-2021) and gallerist Greg Kucera, who would go on to play their own significant roles in Seattle's visual-arts history.
Over the course of a long painting career, Mason's paintbrush etched and burbled in many different styles. He was best known for his Burpee Garden Series, the set of colorful large-scale oil paintings he made between 1972 and 1976. But long hours working with oils and turpentine to achieve a watercolor-like effect left him sick. During the 1980s, Mason switched out oil paints for acrylics. Human and animal figures emerged on his canvases. Kucera, Mason's former student and studio assistant, describes Mason's acrylic work:
"Working there, I saw his paintings from the time they were just blank rectangles of canvas (painted black), through his rough drawings on them in charcoal, and then through the eventual scratchy lines of paint that would become filled in with acrylic color, applied through squeeze bottles. These paintings moved back and forth between comically figural and completely patterned, eventually becoming, by the mid-1980s, large heads or monumental figures that filled the canvas from edge to edge" (Kucera)
Alden Mason died on February 6, 2013.
The Tsutakawa Family
The award for A Generation of Artistic Inspiration & Leadership was given to Gerard (b. 1947), Deems (b.1952), Marcus (b. 1954), and Mayumi Tsutakawa (b. 1949), the four adult children of Ayame Tsutakawa (b. 1924) and her husband, painter and sculptor George Tsutakawa (1910-1997). Born and raised in Seattle's Mount Baker neighborhood, Gerard, Deems, Marcus, and Mayumi have all continued their parents' legacy by contributing to the city's arts landscape in different ways.
Gerard is a sculptor working in wood and bronze. The Woodside/Braseth gallery represents his smaller objects: heavy, asymmetrical geometric shapes with rounded edges. But his most famous piece, and not coincidentally the one with the most room for small children to climb into, is the nine-foot-tall, 12-foot-wide "MITT" sculpture in front of Safeco field.
Deems is a jazz pianist who founded J-Town Records in 1982 and has been performing all over the Seattle area for decades. In one interview that illustrates his approach to life and music, Deems's desire to use the piano keys to evoke the feeling of pre-light-rail Rainier Avenue, "not as a thoroughfare to get to work, but as a cruising boulevard ... the image of that 'mountain' on a crisp clear day [that] has been there from the get-go and will be there long after the light rail is gone" (Ohaus) led the interviewer to declare him "a romantic and an optimist" (Ohaus)
Marcus, at the time of the award, had been the orchestra director at Garfield High School for two decades. During that time the orchestra toured nationally and internationally, and Marcus was recognized by several different organizations for his contributions to music education. He retired in 2016.
Mayumi has been a journalist with The Seattle Times, a curator, an anthology editor, and an arts administrator at several Seattle organizations. She worked at the Wing Luke Museum before joining the Washington State Arts Commission as Arts Participation Manager. A colleague from the King County Arts Commission, where she served as executive director, summed up her impact: "She has been a tireless and imaginative cultural leader, connecting our communities with the power of art" ("Mayumi Tsutakawa Retires ...").