SEATTLE TREATS ITSELF like an artistic backwater, but it shouldn't. While self-deprecation can be charming in a person, it's annoying as hell in a civic entity that has a body of writers, choreographers, and performers as substantial and varied as anywhere else in the world. In my fall listings below, it's entirely appropriate to speak of Philip Glass, Heidi Schreck, Wim Vandekeybus, Elizabeth Heffron, and UMO in the same breath; some are more famous than others, but the quality of their individual work is comparable.

Let's face it, 90 percent of the art created anywhere ranges from ho-hum to downright shitty. Cities like London or Chicago look at the outstanding 10 percent as evidence of the greatness their artists can achieve. Seattle concentrates on the 90 percent as evidence of our essential mediocrity. It's telling that San Francisco offers more grant money to its artists and arts organizations--$50 million annually compared to around $12 million from Seattle's funding sources--yet everyone I've ever spoken with who's familiar with the arts scenes of both cities agrees that Seattle's is as vital, and that Seattle's theater scene in particular is far stronger. But San Francisco has a healthy civic ego, and so doesn't hesitate to champion its artists as equal to any in the world.

Civic ego isn't something any individual is responsible for--every critic or funder in town would argue that they've supported this or that artist--but an accumulative sense of identity, a gestalt of factors, like the way arts funders give more money to buildings than to individuals; the way audience members who love a particular show at Seattle Repertory Theatre won't follow that show's director to his/her production at another theater, they'll go to the next production at the Rep; the way the critical attitude toward solo performer Lauren Weedman became far more respectful after she'd decided to leave us.

Seattle needs to open its eyes to its own bounty and sing its own praises. This isn't hubris--it's self-respect.