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“I like getting awards,” Sherman Alexie told the crowd at ArtsFund’s 26th annual Celebration of the Arts Luncheon the other day. “But I am also suspicious of the whole process. I like getting banned more.”

The prolific and offbeat author, who was honored for Outstanding Achievement in the Arts, told the crowd of how his National Book Award-winning “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” has been on banned-book lists for years — but was knocked out of first place by “And Tango Makes Three,” a children’s book about two male penguins at New York’s Central Park Zoo who cared for an egg together.

“Gay penguins are more dangerous than reservation Indians,” Alexie cracked.

He took in the crystal vase he had been presented and concluded: “I’ll put gummy bears in it,” but then softened.

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“Art saved me. Books saved me. The chance to stand here and tell you that is amazing. I travel the world, and there is no city that supports the arts at every conceivable level like Seattle.”

Much of that made possible by the people in the room: King County Executive (and new dad) Dow Constantine; Randy Engstrom, director of the Seattle Office of Arts & Cultural Affairs; ArtsFund Advisory Council member Jim Tune; Sellen Construction head Scott Redman, who is helping build the new home for KEXP; and Hugo House executive director Tree Swenson.

The Behnke family was honored for Lifetime Dedication to the Arts, which is hardly an understatement.

Sally Skinner Behnke died in December, after her late husband, Robert and their son, Ned; and leaving a legacy of art appreciation and philanthropy in her family’s hands. The Pacific Northwest Ballet. Seattle Art Museum. On the Boards. The Henry Art Gallery.

“More than anything, our family has always felt the inspiration to make the community better,” John Behnke told me, as the rest of this family (wife Shari, brother Carl and his wife, Renee) swirled around the family table at the event’s end.

“It’s just what we did.”

Ludo mixes it up

Seattle Symphony music directorLudovic Morlot conducting four of his musicians through a piece inspired by Pearl Jam’s “Indifference.”

Leslie Chihuly straddling an Indian motorcycle.

London Tunes Records artist Kim Virant singing her song “Pilot” to a hushed crowd that included glass artist Dale Chihuly.

Just a few of the highlights of the third annual “Club Ludo” fundraiser, held at the Chihuly Boathouse Saturday night.

“This is the official kickoff to summer party!” said emcee Fred Northup. Indeed, Leslie Chihuly said she had to turn down people who called her for tickets. (You snooze, you lose, people.)

No wonder, when you have Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready sharing the basement stage with the Chris FrielOrchestra (with Gary Westlake, Sean Bates, Cathy Moore and Andy Stoler) for a smoking Stones set, while Dick’s Drive-In queen Fawn Spady set up a mountain of cheeseburgers in the next room.

Morlot couldn’t stop smiling after conducting the aforementioned original piece by Seattle composer Angelique Poteat.

“It’s just like a dream,” Morlot said. “It is breaking barriers. I still love inviting people to listen quietly, but music like this is a bridge to different generations.

“We are all embracing this and we can do it, we can learn,” he said. “I want to explore out there, and it makes me a better artist.”

Morlot is excited that Sir Mix-a-Lot will be performing with the symphony this weekend. Baby got Bach! Or something like that.

“Of course! Of course! I know that song!” Morlot said with a laugh. “For us, as classically trained artists, it is so good for us to think outside of the box. It makes us better artists and better people.”

Not exactly the pits at the 5th Avenue gala

Entering the crowded lobby of The 5th Avenue Theatre for its 12th annual gala Saturday night, I couldn’t see the usual suspects: Bernadine and Sean Griffin, SaSa and Ken Kirkpatrick, Tom and Connie Walsh (the happy producers of the Broadway smash “Kinky Boots”).

Turns out the theater’s high-rollers had been sent underground: Gala chairman David Quinnhad gathered them all on the orchestra-pit riser and lowered them via hydraulic lift to dinner in what’s known as DAT 5 — a drab, subterranean rehearsal space that had been transformed into a sumptuous dining room with satin curtains and chandeliers.

“It was a great way to kick off a new kind of 5th Gala,” Quinn enthused. (And a great way to end was by raising a record $750,000.)

The 5th is all about new, said artistic director David Armstrong. It has hosted 16 new works over the last 12 years, including nine that have gone to Broadway. One of them, “Aladdin,” is up for a Tony Award for Best Musical. (Keep your fingers crossed.)

Shanna and Ryan Waite used the night as a chance to talk up The Studios, a 10,000-square-foot space in the downtown Times Square building that they are turning into a performing-arts training center and studio, where professional artists can train, adults can learn to dance and sing — and everyone else can watch from the sidewalk.

“In Seattle, we don’t have that yet,” said Shanna Waite, a theater professional since she was 7. “We deserve it.”

Ryan Waite, a senior manager at Amazon, is in love with the space, which once housed The Seattle Times and later a bank (they’re turning the old vault into a recording studio). “The ceilings are 25 feet high,” he said. “I get goose bumps.”

Against the back wall of the lobby, costume and wardrobe queens Shanin Strom-Henry and Deborah Engelbach were helping attendees play dress-up with a long rack of colorful costumes from 5th productions.

“We use them and then they go away for a while,” Strom-Henry said. “People don’t realize the detail.”

Like Terrence Mann’s name inside Capt. Von Trapp’s dressing gown from “The Sound of Music,” or Tim Curry‘s name inside a jacket from “Spamalot.”

By the mirror, Ben Simmons stood wearing a woman’s ascot hat from “My Fair Lady” — and a scotch-scented smile. “It’s wonderful!” he beamed, as Engelbach removed the hat, and he returned to the happy crowd.

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

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