We try not to take too much too seriously here at The Stranger--but our Genius Awards are different.

For the second year in a row, we're awarding $5,000 each to a filmmaker, a theater artist, a writer, a visual artist, and an arts organization that we think are doing terrific and original work. It's true that we notify the Genius Award winners with cheap chocolate cakes. It's true that the artists we select are free to spend the money however they choose--on their work, on a trip to Fiji, on a new kitchen floor. And it's true that, in the pages that follow, we've asked them the same questions that Playboy asks its centerfolds. But we take the responsibility of handing out these awards very seriously.

First, a word about how and why we do this. It will come as no shock to you to learn that The Stranger has a prickly and--okay, all right--combative relationship with the arts in this town. We are tough on Seattle filmmakers and theater artists and writers and visual artists because we care about Seattle film and theater and writing and visual art, and we want it to be as good as it can be. (We constantly call attention to the good stuff too; sometimes people lose sight of that.) If occasionally it seems like we actually enjoy tearing apart book festivals and glass art and shows by Sharon Ott, well, the Genius Awards give us a chance to reverse that critical energy. For one week a year, we devote ourselves to unreservedly celebrating the emerging and established artists, writers, and filmmakers who make this damn town worth living in.

One admission: We don't apply the word "genius" entirely seriously--used earnestly, that word can be the kiss of death--but it's close enough to what we mean and we like the way it sounds. And let the record show that Genius Awards were hardly the kiss of death for last year's winners. Last year's Genius filmmaker Web Crowell just finished his stop-motion alien epic Borrowing Time, and is shopping it around to festivals. Writer Matt Briggs is publishing a new novel, Shoot the Buffalo, in a matter of months. Theatrical composer Chris Jeffries is at work on a major new work called The Horse Opera. Visual artist Susan Robb is preparing for a solo show at Platform in 2005. Vital 5 and Velocity Dance Center, the organizations that split an award last year, continue to produce outlandish multimedia and thoughtful dance events, respectively.

All of last year's winners had a hand in helping us choose this year's winners. We combined their expertise with our expertise and your expertise (hundreds of Stranger readers wrote in this year) to pick this second generation of Stranger Geniuses: an actress, an animator, a painter and sculptor, a poet, and a collective whose antics I can't possibly describe here. Rub shoulders with this year's winners at our blowout Second Annual Stranger Genius Awards party on Friday, October 15, at Western Bridge (3412 Fourth Ave S, 838-7444) at 9:00 p.m. (A free bus will run back and forth all night between the party and Bauhaus Books & Coffee on Capitol Hill.) There will be live music (Bugz in the Attic, Sientific American, SunTzu DJs), various art installations (sculpture, film, poetry), tons of people, a couple of surprises, and a bar. Come help us celebrate. And bring your friends.