Cornish's Next Century Gala raised more than $500,000 for scholarships. Tony Award and Pulitizer Prize winning playwright Brian Yorkey talked about the importance of education and the arts. Broadway star and Tony Award nominee Stephanie Block seranaded the guests. And Cornish students showed their stuff throughout the evening, from a photo montage of recent art shows to award-winning film to live performances.
Cornish's centennial year ended with the event, marking a time to focus the College on the its next 100 years. The Next Century Gala brought board members, contributors, friends, students, faculty, and staff to the stylish Four Seasons Hotel on November 13 to celebrate the moment. This gala, as it does every year, has a vital interest: raising money to make a Cornish education possible for deserving students. This year, over half a million dollars was raised for this purpose. The gala's purpose was serious, but so was its fun.
After the black-tie guests to Cornish's Next Century Gala entered the Four Season Hotel, they were greeted by Cornish students and invited to watch performances of “Tiny Dances” choreographed by Wade Madsen. Next up was a screening of “itsy bitsy,” a film created by Cornish dance student JuJu Kusanagi '16 and her sister Lisa Kusanagi. The Kusunagi Sisters (as they call their production company) won the Audience Choice Award at the 40 NORTH Dance Film Festival 2015 and "itsy bitsy" has been screened at multiple festivals. Other student performances included musicians Andrew Forbes, Ruby Dunphy, and Michael Conlin, as well as the alumni-student jazz ensemble Lucas Winter Trio (Lucas Winter, Adam Kessler, and Paul Gabrielson).
The evening’s welcome speeches began when Linda Brown, Chair of the Board of Trustees, acknowledged faculty member Timothy McCuen Piggee’s recent receipt of the 2015 Gregory A. Falls Award for Sustained Achievement and his many contributions to theater in Seattle as well as at Cornish. Piggee acted as the Master of Ceremonies for the evening.
Dr. Nancy J. Uscher acknowledged the distinguished history of Cornish, which figured prominently in the birth of the American avant garde movement, and the many achievements of its alumni in Seattle and around the world. She noted the evolving role of the artist in society and the ways in which Cornish prepares its students to be leaders in a changing world. “Our own graduate, and now trustee, Eleuthera Lisch, has spent decades using her artistic talents to work on the prevention of gang violence and to frame gang behavior as a public health issue,” Uscher said.
Her remarks were followed by the Honorable Ed Murray, Mayor of Seattle, and student speaker AnnaClaire Laush '17. Murray touched on the recent tragedy in France as well as the importance of the arts to bridge cultures and bring people together. Laush spoke of being a "rebel" who dared to take her dreams of a career in the arts seriously, rather than seeking a college degree that led to a more mundane job. Laush also acknowledged the support of people like the Gala audience that made her scholarships and college career possible.
Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and director Brian Yorkey, who directed the current production of My Fair Lady at Village Theatre, also spoke movingly about the arts. Then the crowd was presented with what the power of art can do, via the vocal pyrotechnics of special guest Stephanie Block. Everyone learned what kind of star quality puts an artist in Broadway musicals and earns a Tony Award nomination. Block received warm applause punctuated with standing, whooping, ovations for "Don't Rain on My Parade" from Funny Girl and for a song from a role she defined on the national tour of Wicked, Elphaba's "Defying Gravity."
The evening was a celebratory start to Cornish's second century that helped fund more than half million dollars in scholarships for students like Laush.