Almost nine months to the day after The Seattle Times jumped into the middle of an intense, deliberate public process to declare in an unsigned editorial that Steven Holl should be chosen to design Seattle's new downtown library, the Times' editorial board has been won completely over to the side of Rem Koolhaas' Office for Metropolitan Architecture, the consensus selection of the Seattle Library Board.

Or has it? It's hard to tell from the mealy-mouthed editorial which ran last Thursday, following Koolhaas' presentation of his firm's preliminary design for the library. The Seattle Public Library is "getting what it wanted for the new central branch." But what SPL wants, according to the Times, is an "edgy" building, little more. This leaves, apparently, only the wise solons of the editorial board to point out, as they do here, that the building needs to function well -- not just look good. "Some will love this unconventional design, while others will hate it," the editorial continues, an unsupported statement so generic as to nearly pass beneath criticism. But it bears asking, who exactly is going to hate this building? Not one person has stood up to say, "I dislike OMA's work." The articles and editorials simply pass the buck, suggesting that someone, somewhere, sometime, is going to.

"The library retains what began when Boston opened the first public library in 1854: a free place for the public to gather and reflect." This is the first unambiguously positive note in the piece. But how could this not be retained? If the library charged admission? If techno music blared throughout the building? If patrons were consigned to individual cells? The editorial closes with this statement: "This project has captured the city's imagination. People in this town love books and are following this project closely. Koolhaas has sparked a civic conversation." In other words, we still don't know anything about contemporary architecture, but if six or seven hundred people are going to Koolhaas' presentation and applauding, well, he must be okay. That's cultural democracy at its worst.

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The National Endowment for the Arts announced its grants for the first quarter of 2000 last week, and Seattle did pretty well. Big winners include the Seattle Art Museum ($80,000 for a show of ancient Chinese art from Sichuan), On the Boards ($70,000 for six residencies by the likes of Dumb Type and the Wooster Group), Port Townsend's Copper Canyon Press ($55,000 to publish and support tours by poets), and the Henry Art Gallery ($65,000 for an exhibit featuring collaborations between artists, scientists, philosophers, and historians exploring biotechnology). This last heady project was the brainchild of Henry Associate Curator Thom Collins, who has since resigned from the museum. According to the Henry, the show will go on without Collins; it's set for November of 2001.

Other winners: A Contemporary Theatre will receive $35,000 for a "small-scale one-act opera" based on Kafka's Penal Colony, with a Philip Glass score; Seattle Symphony Orchestra will get $60,000 for an ambitious project exploring American, European, and Pacific Rim influences on American music and composers, culminating in a large-scale festival; and the New York company David Dorfman Dance (also part of On the Boards' residency series) will receive $10,000 for a piece done in collaboration with Seattle composer Amy Denio.

The oddest trend, looking over the online list of grants ( news99/Announce12-99.html) is the nationwide success of puppeteers in getting money from the federal government. This trend is played out locally, with under-$10,000 grants going to both the Carter Family Puppet Theater (for a possible adaptation of The Hobbit ) and Thistle Theater (for a touring production of an original, large-scale production of Scheherazade). I'd make a joke, but I think I'd like to see a version of the Thousand and One Nights done with puppets, particularly an unexpurgated version.

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