Kabby Mitchell III, Huong Vu, Hedgebrook, and Annex Theatre receive Seattle Mayor's Arts Awards on September 2, 2016.

  • By Jim Kershner
  • Posted 8/24/2017
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 20430
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On September 2, 2016, Kabby Mitchell III (1956-2017), Huong Vu, Hedgebrook, and Annex Theatre win the 2016 Seattle Mayor's Arts Awards. Mayor Ed Murray (b. 1955) presents the awards in an indoor ceremony at Seattle Center as part of the opening ceremonies for Bumbershoot, Seattle's annual arts and music festival. The awards themselves are handmade glass totems created by Seattle artist Ali Vande Grift. Mitchell, a choreographer, dancer, and faculty member at The Evergreen State College, is honored as Cultural Ambassador. Huong Vu, a philanthropy manager and curator with the Boeing Co., receives the Philanthropy Award. Hedgebrook, a community of writers that has nurtured thousands of new works by women, is recognized for Arts & Innovation. The Legacy Award goes to Annex Theater, an innovative theater in Seattle that has produced dozens of world premiere plays.

The Awards Program

The Seattle Mayor's Arts Awards program was created 13 years earlier 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 in 2003. By 2016, the Seattle Mayor's Arts Awards had become a fixture of the city's arts calendar and the award ceremonies that year were attended by some 500 people. The 2016 ceremony on Friday, September 2, was scheduled to be held outdoors on Seattle Center's North Fountain Lawn, in its traditional location, but it was moved indoors due to the weather. The ceremony also included the official opening of the Bumbershoot 2016 Visual Arts Exhibits.

In 2016 the award categories were: the Cultural Ambassador Award, honoring "an individual who has significantly contributed to Seattle's arts and cultural community and raised the visibility of Seattle's arts culture;" the Philanthropy Award, "Recognizing an individual or organization that has generously contributed to the arts and cultural field through grant making, donations or other investments;" the Arts & Innovation Award, "Awarded for originality, ingenuity, and resourcefulness within the creative sector;" and the Legacy Award, "Recognizing an individual or organization with a rich and enlightening career in the arts, whose contributions have made for a more vibrant city" ("Mayor's Arts Awards ..."). More than 350 individuals and organizations were nominated, and 11 finalists recommended by the Seattle Arts Commission were announced on August 2, 2016. The four winners were announced a month later at the awards ceremony.

Kabby Mitchell III, Cultural Ambassador Award

Kabby Mitchell first made a name for himself in the Seattle dance scene in 1979, as the first African American to become a company member of the Pacific Northwest Ballet (PNB). He continued with the ballet company until 1984 and reached the rank of soloist. However, it was his post-PNB work that earned him the Cultural Ambassador award.

Mitchell became a sought-after choreographer in the region, creating works including The Nutcracker for Ballet Bellevue and Porgy and Bess for Seattle Opera. He also continued to dance with local organizations such as Civic Light Opera and national organizations such as the Dance Theatre of Harlem.

His most lasting contribution was as a dance educator. He taught ballet, modern, jazz, and Afro-Haitian dance at schools and dance academies in Seattle and beyond. He was also on the faculty of The Evergreen State College, where he taught dance and African American studies for many years.

Mitchell was committed to "the development of young urban dancers" and supporting "the underserved community through the arts" ("Mayor's Arts Awards ..."). Upon receiving the award, he noted that the Seattle arts community had embraced him for nearly 40 years, saying "Without this community ... there would be no Kabby Mitchell III" (Macdonald).

Less than a year after the awards ceremony, Kabby Mitchell died of coronary artery disease on May 4, 2017. Responding to the news, Seattle Arts Commission chair Vivian Phillips said that the Cultural Ambassador Award he had received months earlier "really encapsulated everything Kabby stood for ... He was an ambassador for culture, and an ambassador of love and caring and friendship and family" (Macdonald).

Huong Vu, Philanthropy Award

At the time she received the award, Huong Vu had been managing Boeing's "Pacific Northwest Region arts, culture, and civic engagement grants portfolio" for seven years ("Mayor's Arts Awards..."). She had managed more than $100 million in philanthropic funds over a 20-year career as a philanthropy manager working with corporations, foundations, and grant programs. In 2015, Boeing employees made contributions totaling some $56 million, with $2.8 million of that amount going to arts and cultural organizations, and Vu was instrumental in delivering those funds to deserving arts groups.

Vu had also been an educator in the area of arts funding and been on the adjunct faculty of Seattle University's MFA Leadership Program. She said that arts education has been one of Boeing's biggest art success stories: "Boeing gave more than $1 million to arts education in 2015. We have many talented partners empowering young people through the traditional art forms such as music, dance, theater and literature -- as well as newer technologies such as film, animation, coding and gaming" ("Arts Funder ...").

Upon receiving the award Vu said, "I feel enormously lucky that I get to live and work in a city like Seattle, and to be a part of this [arts] community and support the work that you do, because you do the heavy lifting each day. And you're the reason Seattle is this incredibly complex, dynamic, weird, beautiful and cosmopolitan city" ("And the Winners Are ...").

Hedgebrook, Arts & Innovation Award

In 1985, Seattle philanthropist Nancy Nordhoff (b. 1932) bought a farm on Whidbey Island and transformed it into a writers' retreat and haven for women authors. Since then, Hedgebrook's cottages have provided a place for generations of women novelists, poets, and other writers to create new and groundbreaking work. Every year, 40 writers are awarded residencies.

Among Hedgebrook's alumnae are Gloria Steinem and Karen Joy Fowler. The Hedgebrook cottages have produced "a global force of storytellers" ("Mayor's Arts Awards ..."). The organization says its "commitment to our alumnae extends beyond their residency ... our public programs connect them and their work with agents, publishers, editors, producers, readers and audiences" (" ... About Us"). Hedgebrook also offers master classes, a screenwriting lab, and a playwrights' festival.

In accepting the award, Amy Wheeler, Hedgebrook's executive director, said:

"There's a quiet revolution on Whidbey Island. ... It starts with writers in cottages who face the blank page and wrestle their stories to the page. It expands when they join other writers who are in residence with them, in the farmhouse kitchen ... and it expands when their stories go out into the world in the form of poems, novels, screenplays, songs and graphic novels, and go on to literally millions of people. It's revolutionary, because those writers are women" ("And the Winners Are ...").

Annex Theatre, Legacy Award

Annex Theatre describes itself as "a democratic collective of theatre artists dedicated to creating bold new work in an environment of improbability, resourcefulness, and risk" ("Our Theatre"). It was founded in 1986 on Bainbridge Island and soon moved to downtown Seattle, and then later to Capitol Hill. Every year, it produces eight world premiere plays by living playwrights. It also produces a monthly late-night cabaret/variety show, titled Spin the Bottle.

Annex has long been a crucial generator of new talent -- actors, directors, and playwrights -- in the Seattle theater community:

"In its past few seasons, Annex Theatre has doubled down on its commitment to telling stories under-represented in mainstream theaters; almost 40% of the artists this year are people of color and/or LGBTQ, and most shows are written and directed by women. Annex is committed to developing the next generation of American theater artists -- and making sure it looks more like America" ("Mayor's Arts Awards ...").

Accepting the award, Annex artistic director Pamala Mijatov said, "We have always been run by, for and about the artists, we've never had a separate administrative staff, so literally thousands of people have made this possible, some for a few weeks or months and some for decades ... It's incredible to see that kind of grassroots work recognized" ("And the Winners Are ...").


"Mayor's Arts Awards: 2016 Recipients," Seattle Office of Arts and Culture website accessed August 14, 2017 (http://www.seattle.gov/arts/mayors-arts-awards#2016); "And the Winners Are ...," City Arts, September 1, 2008 (http://www.cityartsonline.com/articles/and-winners-are); Moira Macdonald, "Kabby Mitchell III, First Black Dancer with Pacific Northwest Ballet," The Seattle Times, May 11, 2017 (http://www.seattletimes.com); "Arts Funder Virtual Roundtable: Huong Vu," Philanthropy Northwest website accessed August 15, 2017 (https://philanthropynw.org/arts-funder-virtual-roundtable-huong-vu); "Hedgebrook: About Us," Hedgebrook website accessed August 15, 2017 (http://www.hedgebrook.org/about-us/);  HistoryLink.org Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, "Hedgebrook retreat for women writers welcomes its first guest, Jan D'Arcy, on August 2, 1988" (by Dominic Black), http://www.historylink.org/ (accessed accessed August 23, 2017); "Our Theatre," Annex Theatre website accessed August 15, 2017 (http://www.annextheatre.org/about_/our-theatre/).

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