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Jo-Anne Birnie Danzker Gives 2017 Commencement Speech

Cornish College of the Arts Interim President Chris Kevorkian announced that Honorary Doctorate degrees will be awarded at this year’s Commencement to curator and Frye Art Museum director emerita Jo-Anne Birnie Danzker, artist Abigail Gray Swartz, and art historian David Martin. In addition, the 2017 Distinguished Alumni Award will go to Seattle Children’s Theater Artistic Director Courtney Sale ’01 and the 2017 Distinguished Recent Alumni Award will go to dancer/choreographer/teacher Sam Picart ’13.

Following the presentation of honorary degrees and awards, Kevorkian will confer degrees on the graduating seniors at this year's evening ceremony at Benaroya Hall. The Commencement address will be given by Birnie Danzker.

“Ms Birnie Danzker is not only a great intellect, but a funny, warm, and engaging proponent for the arts. She is deeply passionate about art in all its forms, and is an international ambassador for the Seattle arts community,” said Kevorkian. “It is clear that her work at the Frye has engaged and entranced our community in a manner that will continue to resonate for years to come.”

During her seven-year tenure at the Frye, Birnie Danzker celebrated exceptional, cross-platform artistic practice in Seattle in a series of exhibitions that embraced technological innovations and communication strategies of the 21st century. She also championed the work of artists of color in such shows as “Mw [Moment Magnitude]” that included Cornish College alumni Catherine Harris-White ’08, aka SassyBlack of the music group TheeSatisfaction, and the 2014 retrospective of Curtis R. Barnes, who also studied at Cornish. Her final exhibition “Genius,” included a number of Cornish College faculty and alumni.

Also to be honored at the ceremony is artist Abigail Gray Swartz, who recently painted the unforgettable Women’s March cover for The New Yorker. In it, she re-imagined the classic “Rosie the Riveter” image as a powerful woman of color. Her work captured national attention for its ability to simultaneously portray the significance, the humor, and the diversity of the event. “Abigail personifies the passionate artist as a social commentator,” said Kevorkian.

Also to be honored is art historian and curator David Martin. His continuing research into the history of Cornish College of the Arts was recently featured at a Historic Seattle lecture on the historical significance of the college and also led to the popular 2016 Cascadia Art Museum exhibition “Looking Back, Moving Forward: A Centennial Tribute to Nellie Cornish & the Cornish College of the Arts” that showed the many national figures who studied and taught at the school from 1914 on. “David is hands down the steward of Nellie Cornish’s legacy. Nobody knows more or thirsts to know more than David. His work shows the impact of Cornish College of the Arts on the Seattle community and the world at large,” said Kevorkian.

This year’s recipient of the Distinguished Recent Alumni Award is dancer Sam Picart. Following receiving his BFA from Cornish College of the Arts, Picart studied on scholarship at the Joffrey Ballet and became a founding member of Ashani Dances directed by former Cornish College faculty member Iyun Ashani Harrison. Picart won the first Ellen Degeneres' Dance Off competition and was a featured guest on her show. Currently, Picart teaches, choreographs, and performs all over the US. Picart joined the dance company AU Collective in 2016. “Sam Picart took our collective breath away with a mesmerizing dance performance at last year’s Gala. He has been a powerful ambassador for his alma mater,” said Kevorkian.

Seattle Children’s Theatre Artistic Director Courtney Sale will receive the Distinguished Alumni Award. With a strong interest in new plays and devised work, she has developed new work at New Plays for Young Audiences at NYU/Provincetown Playhouse, NW Playwrights at Seattle Repertory Theater, Denver Center Theatre Company’s Summit New Play Festival, The New Harmony Project, Write Now, and The Orchard Project, among others. Sale has received the 2013 Austin Critics Award and has been nominated for a New York Innovative Theatre Award. In 2016, she was named Artistic Director of Seattle Children’s Theatre, one of the 20 largest regional theaters in the country. “We are delighted that Courtney Sale’s appointment has brought her back to Seattle to inspire the next generation of theatrical artists,” said Kevorkian.

The 2017 Commencement will take place on May 14, 7:30 p.m., at Benaroya Hall in downtown Seattle. Cornish College of the Arts awards Bachelor of Music as well as a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Art, Dance, Design, Film+Media, Interior Architecture, Performance Production, and Theater.