Juan Alonso, Dennis Coleman, Sergei Tschernisch, Book-It Repertory Theatre, Reel Grrls, and Velocity Dance Center receive Seattle Mayor's Arts Awards on September 3, 2010.

  • By Jim Kershner
  • Posted 7/25/2017
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 20416
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On September 3, 2010, Juan Alonso (b. 1956), Dennis Coleman, Sergei Tschernisch, Book-It Repertory Theatre, Reel Grrls, and Velocity Dance Center are honored with Seattle Mayor's Arts Awards in a ceremony held at Seattle Center in conjunction with Bumbershoot, the city's annual music and arts festival. Alonso is a painter and sculptor whose work has been commissioned for many public spaces around the region. Coleman is the artistic director of the Seattle Men's Chorus and the Seattle Women's Chorus. Tschernisch is the president of Seattle's Cornish College of the Arts. Book-It Repertory Theatre is a Seattle theater that performs plays adapted from books and short stories. Reel Grrls is an organization that provides film and video production training for teens. Velocity Dance Center is a Seattle dance training, development, and performance center.

The Seattle Mayor's Arts Awards program was created in 2003 as part of a wider initiative by the City of Seattle to recognize the importance of arts and artists to the city's culture. The first awards were handed out at the Bumbershoot festival that year. By 2010, the program had grown and the annual awards were announced in June and the recipients were honored later on the Bumbershoot stage. In announcing the 2010 awards on June 8, Mayor Mike McGinn (b. 1959) said the awards "shine a spotlight on the value of art and culture in our community and underscore the arts as vital to our quality of life in Seattle" (Childers).

Juan Alonso

Juan Alonso, a native of Havana, Cuba, arrived in Florida as a boy and later made his way to the Northwest, where he first came on the region's artistic scene in 1986 when he was part of a group show of Latino artists at Seattle Center. Alonso rapidly became a prolific and well-known figure in the Northwest art scene. His abstract paintings hearkened back to his native Cuba with their "weathered abstractions inspired by the facades of Havana's ornate, historic building" ("Mayor's Arts Awards ..."). He also became known for his paintings of patterned, almost floral themes, and his curvy, stainless steel sculptures.

Alonso's work had already been recognized with major grants and awards, including an Artist of the Year award in 2007 from PONCHO (Patrons of the Northwest Civic, Cultural and Charitable Organizations). His work became ubiquitous in Seattle and the region with public art projects at Sea-Tac Airport, the King County Housing Authority, and Century Link Field and Exhibition Center. He said, "I love being an independent working artist ... I love working by myself. My studio is my little sanctuary" ("2010 Mayors Arts Awards: Juan Alonso").

Dennis Coleman

Dennis Coleman had led the Seattle Men's Chorus since 1981. Under his leadership the chorus grew from about 35 men to around 350, making it the "largest community chorus in the United States, in audience and budget size" ("Mayor's Arts Awards ..."). Coleman then went on to become the founding artistic director of the Seattle Women's Chorus, in 2002. "The two choirs combined, with more than 700 voices, make up the largest community chorus organization in North America, and the largest LGBT-identified men's and women's choruses in the world," according to The Seattle Times (Brodeur).

Coleman retired as the director of the choruses in 2016. A leader of Seattle's LGBT community for more than three decades, he was involved with a variety of local civic efforts, including the Westlake Christmas Tree Lighting Celebration and Seattle's Goodwill Games.

Sergei Tschernisch

Sergei Tschernisch served as president of Seattle's Cornish College of the Arts during a "period of remarkable expansion of Cornish" ("Mayor's Arts Awards ..."). He took over the job in 1994, and increased the school's enrollment from 500 to about 800 by 2010. During Tschernisch's tenure, the main Cornish campus was relocated from Capitol Hill to an expanded site in the Denny Triangle/South Lake Union neighborhood.

Tschernisch retired from Cornish in 2011 but continued to serve as an advisor and consultant. He is also an artist, actor, director, and educator.

Book-It Theatre

Book-It Repertory Theatre holds a distinctive niche in the world of Seattle theater. It adapts and performs works of literature, including many stories and novels by Northwest authors, as stage plays. It began in 1987 with a Capitol Hill collective adapting short stories for the stage and touring them around the Northwest. Book-It Theatre was formally launched in 1990.

Since then, it has mounted four or five productions a year -- original works that "preserve the narrative text as it is spoken, not by a single narrator, but as active dialogue by the characters in the production" (Mayor's Arts Awards"). Book-It adapted for the stage stories by well-known national authors such as John Irving and Maya Angelou, as well as works by Northwest writers Jim Lynch, Ivan Doig, and Jess Walter. As of 2017 it had produced more than 100 world-premiere adaptations of literature. It also brought touring educational performances to schools, aimed at improving reading and writing skills and promoting a love of books. Book-It is based at the Center Theatre in the Seattle Center Armory.

Reel Grrls

Reel Grrls, an after-school program and media arts center dedicated to teaching young women the skills needed to make their own films and videos, was founded by Malory Graham in 2001. The organization "provides media literacy training to help grrls, gender non-conforming youth, and male allies from diverse communities interpret and respond to the flood of gendered and racialized images and messages young people encounter in our media saturated world" ("About Reel Grrls"). In after-school sessions, day camps, and weekend workshops, Reel Grrls teaches students age 15-22 how to write scripts, shoot film and video, and create a finished visual story.

Reel Grrls productions have been screened at film festivals around the world. More than half of the students receive financial aid, and some gone on to careers in the media industry using skills and relationships developed in the program.

Velocity Dance Center

Velocity Dance Center is a Seattle art center devoted to contemporary dance and one of the "cornerstones of Seattle's dance ecosystem" ("Mayor's Arts Awards ..."). It fulfills "an unduplicated role as the essential incubator and forward-thinking laboratory for new dance in the Pacific Northwest" ("About Velocity"). The center was founded in 1996 by dancer/choreographers KT Niehoff and Michele Miller.

Velocity Dance encompasses all areas of dance. It provides instruction, workshops, rehearsal space, performance space, and dance festivals. Kara O'Toole took over as executive director in 2006. With rent rising at the Odd Fellows building on Capitol Hill where Velocity Dance was located, O'Toole launched a successful campaign to renovate a new space on Capitol Hill at 1621 12th Avenue. The organization it moved into its new home a few months before the 2010 Mayor's Arts Awards were announced.

On September 3, 2010, at the start of Bumbershoot, Mayor McGinn honored the recipients of the 2010 awards in a ceremony at the Seattle Center's Northwest Court. Nancy Guppy emceed the outdoor event. It also included a preview of the Bumbershoot Visual Art Exhibits, which opened one day early as part of the ceremony.


"Mayor's Arts Awards: 2010 Recipients," Seattle Office of Arts and Culture website accessed July 16, 2017 (http://www.seattle.gov/arts/mayors-arts-awards#2010); "2010 Mayors Arts Awards: Juan Alonso," video, October 6, 2010, City of Seattle Seattle Channel website accessed July 24, 2017 (http://www.seattlechannel.org/videos?videoid=x25478); Resume, "Juan Alonso-Rodíguez," Juan Alonso Studio website accessed July 20, 2017 (https://www.juanalonsostudio.com/resume/); Calandra Childers, "Mayor Announces 2010 Mayor's Arts Award Recipients," Art Beat Blog, June 8, 2010, Seattle Office of Arts and Culture website accessed July 16, 2017 (http://artbeat.seattle.gov/2010/06/08/mayor-announces-2010-mayor%E2%80%99s-arts-award-recipients/); Nicole Brodeur, "For Retiring Artistic Director, the Seattle Men's Chorus Heralded Much More Than Music," The Seattle Times, June 29, 2016 (www.seattletimes.com); "About Reel Grrls," Reel Grrls website accessed July 20, 2017 (http://reelgrrls.org/about/); "About Velocity," Velocity Dance Center website accessed July 20, 2017 (http://velocitydancecenter.org/about/).

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