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It’s an election year, so it’s easy to be a little cynical about any gathering with an open mike and a politician looking over his notes.

But it was impossible to feel jaded about the 2013 Mayor’s Arts Awards, held under a glorious blue sky at Seattle Center on the eve of Bumbershoot.

The event was a welcome reminder that Seattle is filled with good people doing good work — despite all the yammering and slamming that goes on around here.

The Future Focus category was won by the 826 writing and tutoring program and was accepted by its fearless leader, Teri Hein, who is getting kind of used to this, having accepted an award for 826 at the White House last year. (Sorry, Mayor McGinn, but first lady Michelle Obama beat you to it.)

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Barbara Earl Thomas won the Cultural Ambassador category for a lifetime of visual artistry, writing and her more recent work as the major-gifts officer at the Northwest African American Museum.

“No one does anything that’s really great alone,” she told the crowd. “I am here because you have helped me be here.”

The Frye Art Museum received the Venture Culturalist award for its 120 years of contributions to local artists and the community. The award was accepted by Director Jo-Anne Birnie Danzker.

In the Arts as The How category, the Pongo Teen Writing Project was recognized for its 18 years of work with juveniles in jails, psychiatric hospitals and homeless shelters. Richard Gold, who founded Pongo in 1992, said of his students: “When we help kids to write, the biggest thing we do is bear witness to their stories.”

Artist Preston Singletary won the Raising the Bar category for his native-themed glass work, and thanked his wife for her support. “Behind every great man,” he said, and, well, you know the rest.

And the Seattle Repertory Theatre won the Artistic City Award, which was accepted by Artistic Director Jerry Manning — and just as the theater celebrated its 50th anniversary. Manning shared the honor with Managing Director Benjamin Moore. Bravo.

The 11th annual awards were the first given out by Randy Engstrom, director of the Seattle Office of Arts & Culture. Members pored over 600 public nominations (Said McGinn: “They don’t trust me with the selection”) before choosing the six winners. Each was featured in a video presentation deftly produced by the Reel Grrls nonprofit.

“This is the arts community’s neighborhood block party,” Engstrom said.

The office used the event to formally announce “The Creative Advantage,” a partnership between Seattle Public Schools, the Arts Commission and The Seattle Foundation that aims to give all Seattle students access to a continuum of arts classes by 2020.

The reception was filled with those who support the honorees in both spirit and action.

Author Jennie Shortridge (her latest, “Love Water Memory”) is a volunteer writing coach at 826 who, as a member of the Seattle7Writers and their band, The Rejections, has been raising money for the nonprofit for two years.

At the wine-and-beer tent, Hein held a fistful of drink tickets for her army of volunteers, while staffer Peggy Allen Jackson mused that the statue was not only hefty, but “looks like a tongue.” (I couldn’t argue.)

Attendees included Lyall Bush from the Northwest Film Forum; Brangien Davis of Seattle Magazine; Rick Simonson of The Elliott Bay Book Company; Jo David and his wife, Marlow Harris.

And why is it that the folks from the Frye looked like they belonged at a garden party in the Hamptons?

Communications director Jeffrey Hirsch strode about in a smashing seersucker suit, and director of finance and facilities David Brown looked positively “Paper Chase” in his bow tie, jacket and tortoiseshell glasses.

“They’re the only thing that Cary Grant and I have in common,” he said of the specs. (I doubt that, sir.)

Designer Mark Mitchell mused about being the current City Arts Magazine cover man. The magazine was placed on every chair at the ceremony.

Mitchell, who has only been back to making clothes for the past five years, has an exhibit called “Burial” that will be presented live at the Frye on Sept. 20 and will run for four weeks.

(I checked the website for a description: “Addressing ceremony and tribute, transformation and release, ‘Mary Mitchell: Burial’ will present ensembles to clothe the dead. Buried in the earth, incinerated, or at the bottom of the sea, these vestments are intended to degrade readily, leaving nothing behind.” Oh my.)

“It’s exciting,” Mitchell said. “I’m on an artistic high.”

After Friday’s awards and a banner Bumbershoot weekend, aren’t we all?

Nicole Brodeur’s column appears Tuesday and Sunday. Reach her at 206-464-2334 or

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