Donald Byrd, Quinton Morris, Jack Straw Productions, On the Boards, Pratt Fine Arts Center, and Tet in Seattle receive Seattle Mayor's Arts Awards on September 1, 2011.

  • By Jim Kershner
  • Posted 8/09/2017
  • Essay 20426

On September 1, 2011, Donald Byrd (b. 1949), Quinton Morris, Jack Straw Productions, On the Boards, Pratt Fine Arts Center, and Tet in Seattle receive the 2011 Seattle Mayor's Arts Awards. Mayor Mike McGinn (b. 1959) honors the award recipients in a ceremony at Seattle Center, in conjunction with the opening of Bumbershoot, the city's annual arts and music festival. The mayor's office had announced the recipients on June 8, 2011, calling the arts "an essential part of a great city" (Childers). Donald Byrd is the artistic director of the Spectrum Dance Theater. Violinist Quinton Morris is a professor and the director of chamber and instrumental music at Seattle University. Jack Straw Productions is a Seattle audio-production center. On the Boards is a nationally known contemporary dance/theater performance company. Pratt Fine Arts Center is a visual-arts education center in Seattle's Central Area. Tet in Seattle is a free annual community event celebrating the Vietnamese Lunar New Year.

A Fixture in the Arts Calendar

The Seattle Mayor's Arts Awards program was created in 2003 as part of a wider initiative by the city to recognize the importance of arts and artists to the city's culture. The first awards were handed out at Bumbershoot that year. By 2011, the Seattle Mayor's Arts Awards had become a fixture of the city's arts calendar, with the awards announced in June and recipients honored at the end of summer at Bumbershoot.

When McGinn announced the winners in June, he described the elements that the winners had in common:

"While the collective achievements of this year's award recipients are impressive, what's truly inspiring is their commitment to making a difference in our community through the arts. They engage our youth, connect different cultures, give artists a place to grow and create access for all people to participate in the arts and tap their own creativity" (Childers).

Mayor McGinn presented the 2011 awards to the six recipients in a ceremony on the Seattle Center's North Fountain Lawn. The September 1 ceremony also included the official opening of the Bumbershoot 2011 Visual Arts Exhibits.

Donald Byrd

Acclaimed choreographer Donald Byrd came to Seattle from New York in 2002 to become the artistic director of Seattle's Spectrum Dance Theater. Byrd had already established an international reputation in the dance world by creating more than 80 works for his New York based company, Donald Byrd/The Group. He had also created works for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre and many other major dance companies.

Byrd said he was attracted to the Spectrum Dance Theater position because he liked the organization's mission "to make dance accessible, without limitation to the community" ("Mayor's Arts Awards ..."). Spectrum takes pride in tackling thorny and complicated contemporary issues in its performances. One of the Spectrum Dance Theater's goals is to use "dance as an art form and as a social/civic instrument" (Spectrum Dance Theater website). It also offers a full slate of dance classes and master classes. Byrd himself conducts intensive two-week dance workshops for dancers who aspire to professional careers.

Byrd's credentials span many different art forms. He was nominated for a Tony Award in 2006 for his choreography of the Broadway musical The Color Purple. He has also done works for the Joffrey Ballet, the Dance Theater of Harlem, the New York Opera, and the New York Shakespeare Festival/Public Theater. In Seattle, he has collaborated with Intiman Theater, Pacific Northwest Ballet, and the Seattle Opera.

Quinton Morris

Quinton Morris is concert violinist and the director of chamber and instrumental music at Seattle University, where he is an associate professor of violin and chamber music. He came to Seattle University in 2007, and "successfully transformed a nascent Music Division into a community of artists" ("Quinton Morris, DMA").

As a violinist, Morris has performed in solo recitals all over the world, with several solo appearances at the Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall. He has also performed concertos with the Seattle Symphony, Tacoma Youth Symphony, the Everett Philharmonic, and the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber Orchestra, among many others.

As the founder and artistic director of the Young Eight String Octet -- America's only string octet -- he performed at the Juilliard School and in residencies around the country. In 2007, the Young Eight String Octet did a national Black College Tour and hosted an Emerging Composers Competition for young composers. The Young Eight Octet disbanded in 2012.

As a teacher, Morris gives master classes around the world and works with middle- and high-school violin students in south King County. One of the award nominators said that among Morris's most impressive achievements was his "determination to make a difference for aspiring young musicians -- particularly for youngsters of color who do not always have role models close at hand in the classical community" ("Mayor's Arts Awards ...").

Jack Straw Productions

Jack Straw Productions is the driving force behind the Jack Straw Cultural Center, the Northwest's only nonprofit multidisciplinary audio-arts center. Its mission statement says that the center "exists to foster the communication of arts, ideas, and information to diverse audiences through audio media. We provide creation and production opportunities in audio media, including radio, theater, film, video, music, and literature" ("About Jack Straw Cultural Center").

Jack Straw makes available a high-quality production facility for local artists who want to work creatively with sound in a variety of ways. The center provides opportunities in radio, theater, film, video, music, and literature. It also produces innovative audio presentations, commissions artists to create sound and audio productions, collaborates with other arts and performance organizations to integrate sound into their programs, and teaches sound design and production to young people.

Located in Seattle's University District, the Jack Straw Cultural Center gives students hands-on experience in a recording studio. They create their own programs, including radio theater, oral histories, and music projects. The Jack Straw Foundation was founded in 1962 in order to launch Seattle's KRAB-FM, one of the first non-commercial radio stations in the country. When that station lost its place on the radio dial in 1984, Jack Straw continued on as a production facility and educational center. It moved to its University District location in 1989.

On the Boards

On the Boards, with a two-theater performance space in the lower Queen Anne neighborhood, has been an institution in Seattle's dance and theater scene since its founding in 1978. It is well-known and well-respected for its wide-ranging programming, with each performance season typically including a mix of dance, theater, and performance art. On the Boards has also hosted many nationally known artists, including dancers/choreographers Bill T. Jones and Mark Morris, performance artist and musician Laurie Anderson, and monologist and actor Spalding Gray, in addition to many local performers.

On the Boards also operates a Performance Production Program, which provides selected artists with residencies, free rehearsal space, and other development support. One of the organization's best-known programs is the annual NW New Works Festival, which showcases a number of innovative and often provocative works in progress.

One of the missions of On the Boards is "helping launch and continue the careers" of some of the Northwest most promising artists ("History & Building"). At the same time, it is dedicated to "growing audiences for experimental performance" ("History & Building"). It has been successful in doing both from the beginning. It grew quickly enough to move to its current space in the historic Queen Anne Hall in 1998. In 2011 The New York Times called On the Boards "one of America's best theaters for contemporary performance" (La Rocca).

Pratt Fine Arts Center

The Pratt Fine Arts Center, located in Seattle's Central Area, has been teaching thousands of people how to create art since its founding in 1976. The Pratt campus, next to Pratt Park, offers art classes for all ages and all abilities and "allows participants to expand their skills as widely as their aptitudes and imaginations permit" ("Mission").

The center is surrounded by one of the city's most diverse neighborhoods -- one which has seen more than its share of economic struggles. The Pratt Fine Arts Center has always been dedicated to providing "equal access to free and subsidized classes, a low-cost studio rental program, and free exhibitions, lectures and events" ("Mayor's Arts Awards ..."). As of 2011, its ARTSpark program had provided free art classes to more than 600 underserved children and youth.

The center also takes pride in the quality and variety of its instruction. According to its website, "Pratt is the only facility in the Northwest where absolute beginners and established professional artists work side-by-side creating art in: glass; metal, stone and wood sculpture; jewelry and metalsmithing; painting; drawing; printmaking; and mixed media" ("Mission"). Like the park it adjoins, the center was named in honor of Edwin T. Pratt (1930-1969), a Seattle civil rights leader.

Tet in Seattle

Tet in Seattle is a nonprofit organization that stages the annual Tet Festival, the largest Vietnamese community celebration in Seattle. The two-day Tet in Seattle festival is held at the Seattle Center every year around the end of January or the first part of February to coincide with Tet Nguyen Dan, the Vietnamese Lunar New Year.

Tet in Seattle was first launched in 1996, when four organizations in the city's Vietnamese community worked together to create the first festival. By 1998, Tet in Seattle became its own organization, run by an organizing committee. The festival grew to include music and dance performances, Vietnamese food demonstrations and contests, arts workshops, children's events, a health fair, and other events showcasing Vietnamese culture. The Tet Festival attracts between 10,000 and 15,000 participants every year.

Tet in Seattle has expanded into other areas as well. It publishes a bilingual magazine featuring Vietnamese history and stories. It also "helps develop future leaders in the Vietnamese community and is committed to public service year-round" ("Mayor's Arts Awards ..."). The organization participates in neighborhood clean-up days in the International District and has created Vietnamese community floats for the Seafair Torchlight Parade. The Tet in Seattle festival is part of Festál, a series of community cultural festivals at Seattle Center.


"Mayor's Arts Awards: 2011 Recipients," Seattle Office of Arts and Culture website accessed August 5, 2017 (; Calandra Childers, "Mayor Announces 2011 Mayor's Arts Awards Recipients," June 8, 2011, Seattle Office of Arts and Culture Art Beat Blog accessed August 4, 2017 (; Spectrum Dance Theater website, accessed August 4, 2017 (; "Quinton Morris, DMA," Seattle University website accessed August 6, 2017 (; "About Jack Straw Cultural Center," Jack Straw Cultural Center website accessed August 6, 2017 (; "History & Building," On the Boards website accessed August 6, 2017 (; Claudia La Rocca, "Dance -- Summer Stages," The New York Times, May 8, 2011, p. AR-23; "Mission," Pratt Fine Arts Center website accessed August 6, 2017 (; Tet in Seattle website accessed August 6, 2017 (

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