For seven years running, The Stranger has thrown wads of cash at local artists and arts organizations in what has become a cross between the MacArthur genius grants and the Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes. There is no application process. There are no strict criteria or disqualifiers. Sometimes we award achievement. Sometimes we award promise. Sometimes we give the $5,000 cash prize to artists who need the money. Sometimes we give it to artists who don't. The only thing that unites the recipients: excellence. They are the best Seattle culture has to offer, and we don't want to them to move away. The $5,000, however, comes with no strings attached—if they want to spend it all on a move to New York (or a set of Wedgwood china or a new hot-air balloon), that's their business.
Too many arts grants demand a tangled bureaucratic relationship just to ask for money, not to mention all the accounting for where that money went. The arts editors of The Stranger prefer to say: "Hey, you're great. Take the money and run." And run they have: Lynn Shelton went on to win hosannas from Sundance to Cannes, James Longley was nominated for an Oscar, and Heather McHugh won a MacArthur genius grant just last month.
Deciding each year's Geniuses is never an easy job. There are always hurt feelings and fights and don't-you-take-that-tone-with-me moments. This year, we decided to lean into the problem and conducted our deliberations while sparring in a boxing gym. Fists flew, sweat poured, and we picked perhaps the broadest spectrum of Geniuses this year: experimental writer Stacey Levine, popular (but still experimental) comedy duo the Cody Rivers Show, ejaculatory and spiritual sculptor Jeffry Mitchell, young hiphop filmmaker Zia Mohajerjasbi, and the newly sexed-up and reinvigorated Pacific Northwest Ballet.
Lots of people who came to last year's awards ceremony at the Moore Theatre (somewhere north of 1,000 revelers) said it was their favorite party yet. So, after years of hopping from venue to venue—the Henry, SAM, Western Bridge, the Rem Koolhaas library—we're going with what we know and staying at the Moore, where you can dance on the stage and wander around its nooks and crannies with a drink and a date. And hear phenomenally catchy pop-rock by Throw Me the Statue, intelligent hiphop by They Live!, plus the ambient and chillwave U.S.F., and the deep and groovy cuts of the Emerald City Soul Club. The only main difference this year: The party will cost $5 to attend. Because we work in a dying industry. But five bucks for the best art party of the year is a steal. Just think of the door charge as your small contribution to next year's awards.
Who knows? Maybe you'll win one.
The Stranger Genius Awards cabal is Paul Constant, Christopher Frizzelle, Jen Graves, Brendan Kiley, Charles Mudede, David Schmader, and Lindy West.