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The Business of Giving

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June 22, 2009 at 5:30 PM

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From Burning Man to national award for arts leadership

Posted by Kristi Heim

Randy Engstrom, founding director of the Youngstown Cultural Arts Center in Seattle and an important voice in the arts community, received the 2009 Emerging Leader Award from Americans for the Arts, the country's leading non-profit for advancing the arts.

The award honors new and young leaders for extraordinary work in the field of arts administration, demonstrating innovative thinking, a commitment to the advancement of the arts, exemplary leadership qualities and impact on their communities. Engstrom is also a member of the Seattle Arts Commission.
Americans for the Arts honored another Seattle artist, Buster Simpson, with the 2009 Public Art Network Award for helping define contemporary and environmental art.

The awards come at a time when arts funding has come under increasing pressure from shrinking budgets of local governments, foundations and corporations hit by the economic downturn.

Randy Engstrom.jpg

Youngstown is an example of how arts can benefit the community in a variety of ways. It's a multi-purpose arts education, meeting and performance space that includes 36 affordable live/work studios for rent to artists of all disciplines. The Delridge Neighborhoods Development Association (DNDA), a private nonprofit based in West Seattle, rescued the historic school house turned boarded-up high school, raised $12 million and redeveloped it into what is now a vibrant cultural center, with Engstrom at the helm.

This story followed Engstrom just before he took that post, back in 2005 when he and Chris Airola helped build The Machine, a five-story wood-and-steel structure incorporating motion, sound, lights, smells and performance into what was to be the most elaborate art piece in the 20-year history of the desert festival known as Burning Man.

Engstrom's work at the festival caught the attention of Burning Man founder Larry Harvey, who brought him to San Francisco to talk to the organization about Seattle and how they could use their experience to spawn businesses and community organizations.

"Truth is," Harvey said of Engstrom and his Seattle group Static Factory Media, "they're doing something radical. They're doing something innovative."


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