About the Genius Awards

2012 Literature Genius Ellen Forney celebrates with 2006 Theater Genius Jennifer Zeyl.

Every fall since 2003, The Stranger has given a check for $5,000 and an obscene amount of attention to five artists in five disciplines whose work has stood out as risk-taking and exceptional. Nominations for the Genius Awards are determined by the full-time art critics at The Stranger. There is no application process; all an artist has to do to be considered is make original work that provokes critical attention. The grants are administered by the Genius Foundations whose fiscal sponsorship through Shunpike's 501(c)(3) makes all donations to Genius tax deductible and defined as charitable contributions.

For the 10th anniversary of the Genius Awards, past grant recipients—henceforth known as the League of Geniuses—voted on three finalists in each category and the winner was announced live from the stage, Academy Awards style. This was a major change for the awards and established a more secure bond between Seattle's creative leaders as they assumed the honor and responsibility of inducting new talent. Past Genius Award winners have included controversial artists such as DK Pan and well-loved organizations such as The Frye Art Museum. The expansion of the Genius Foundation to include past winners was so beneficial to culture building in our city that we have adopted the process for a second year and have expanded programming to include five showcase events featuring the finalists in categories of Visual Art, Literature, Film, Performance, and Music.

Statements from the Geniuses

I think receiving the Genius Award in Theater boosted awareness of and raised the bar of design in fringe theaters. It served as a real encouragement to hardworking designers in Seattle. It made every fringe theater in Seattle want to hire me. It made some larger, regional theaters notice what was happening at WET. That 5K spent real, real nice.

Jennifer Zeyl, Theater Genius, 2006

The Cody Rivers Show won the 2009 Stranger Genius Award for theater, and in our experience the awards are special and unusual in the manner in which they unconditionally respect and reward the recipients for doing exceptional work. Almost every other source of recognition and financial support requires artists to conform to standards that are not their own, either pressuring them to stray from a unique and visionary course to qualify for awards of some kind, or placing stipulations on how to use any money involved. The Stranger Genius Awards are an excellent model for how entities ought to reward boldness and accomplishment in the arts if they really wanted to encourage and support the arts. We were very touched to receive the award. The Stranger is the most substantial source of feedback, analysis, and critique of the arts in Seattle, and we very much appreciated being recognized by a publication that has such a breadth and depth of connection to the Seattle arts scene. Not only did that recognition bolster us professionally in Seattle, but some of our peers and audiences around North America (and even Japan!) were aware of the award and of us having won it. Clearly people in Seattle and beyond hold The Stranger in high esteem, and that has definitely translated into a boost in our professional status.

The Cody Rivers Show, Theater Genius, 2009

The Stranger's Genius Awards pull together all of Seattle's art disciplines and give everybody involved a reason to consider each other's accomplishments. Once a year, we all reflect on who has had a great year and why. Lots could have gone wrong. Stranger critics could have favored friends or flattered the youth demographic. Instead, the staff considers the widest possible range and reliably, year after year, picks well. Add the money that really matters, bad cake, an excellent party, and killer profiles of winners, and we're talking about an essential part of Seattle's cultural life.

Regina Hackett, Art Critic

A grant is a friend who slips money in your pocket. A Genius Award is a friend who stands up at a party and says, 'My friend is brilliant! Watch this…' then sits down and slips you the cash. It's terrifying, exhilarating, humbling, and it's the gift that haunts me when I wonder what the hell I'm doing in the arts.

Web Crowell, Film Genius, 2003

The award was a public acknowledgement of the exhibitions and programs initiated by the Frye in 2005 focusing on both contemporary exhibitions and new approaches to understanding and experiencing the Frye's Founding Collection. Called out by The Stranger, the Museum had changed from 'the old Frye' to actively engaging in new ways with our audiences through the exhibitions and programs. The Stranger Genius funds awarded helped the Frye to realize Oliver Herring | Task, an improvisational performance created by New York artist Oliver Herring and the Frye Art Museum in collaboration with the Seattle Public Library, On the Boards, and Tacoma Art Museum and presented at the Seattle Public Library's downtown branch on Saturday, June 28, 2008.

Frye Art Museum, Organization Genius, 2005

Genius Awards recognize and celebrate a different type of Seattle artist—one that relentlessly challenges, pushes boundaries, experiments, and explores new territory in self-expression. To receive one inspires and empowers—it helps confirm that the pursuits of the artist are not entirely foolish, irrelevant, or misguided. To be selected without an application, without a plea, is pure gasoline and sometimes exactly what we need to push forward.

Greg Lundgren, Vital 5, Organization Genius, 2003

To be called a Genius by The Stranger is not so much having a torch passed on to you but a gauntlet thrown at you. It eggs you on to do more—to respond with taking bigger risks and proving you are worthy to be in this unique group of artists. When a performing artist, like myself, gets recognition like this, it is something we can carry around. We don't have work in frames, on pedestals, or even on film—our work exists because people talk about it, write about it, see and experience it inside. I have never walked into a room (outside of being feted at my Genius Award party) and seen my work on big screens being watched by tons of people as I watched them. I exist onstage, usually in the light and the audience in the dark, and I don't get to watch people look at my work. The Stranger spends the entire year in a very honest, sometimes adversarial conversation with this city's art community and art-going public, and once a year they step out of that vital role and say… we respect you. That makes art in Seattle matter more to everyone who cares. And when you need a new computer, the $5,000 ain't too shabby.

Sarah Rudinoff, Theater Genius, 2004

Having received the award meant more immediate connection for me with local arts nodes. That's been happening for many months. This expedites new endeavors of all kinds. I can move right into 'Hey, why don't we do such and such a project together.' Not that I couldn't do that before, but the award so overtly solidifies and validates artistic intent. It helps underscore the fact that we're all hoping and working for the same things, that we're all on the same page… The award is different from other local awards because it is not juried or done by committee (or doesn't appear to be), is one of the larger awards in the city, doesn't require a follow-up field report, and because of its decided commitment to over-the-top celebration. In the same way that Slog has developed into a uniquely energetic, one-of-a-kind, and hugely popular site, the Genius Awards have developed into a really terrific and admired institution that is greater than the sum of its parts.

Stacey Levine, Literature Genius, 2009

Innocently sitting in a public café one day late in the summer of 2008, the Genius Award committee descended upon me with a cake informing me that I was, indeed, a Genius. I cannot remember ever being so bowled over. I simply could not wrap my brain around the honor of it. I remember the bus ride after—the big white QFC box bouncing on my knee, and an absolutely enormous smile plastered on my face the entire way home. Being designated a Genius by The Stranger filled me with unparalleled joy because it was completely unexpected—I hadn't applied for the honor and thus wasn't sitting around, chewing my nails and waiting for the outcome. The joy also came, I think, from the spirit that I detected behind it: it felt like a pure and heartfelt stamp of encouragement for being an artistic hometown hero. Getting that kind of public pat on the back from an esteemed (and smart and locally dedicated) institution of the city of my childhood—the city of my heart—meant more to me than I can ever express. The experience cemented my commitment to remaining an artist, and a Seattle artist in particular, even more deeply inside of me than it already was.

Lynn Shelton, Film Genius, 2008