Peter Donnelly: he gave unconditionally to the arts

A veteran arts administrator pays tribute to the arts leader whose vision and connections led the arts forward on many fronts
A veteran arts administrator pays tribute to the arts leader whose vision and connections led the arts forward on many fronts

We called him The Godfather. Peter's influence was everywhere in the Seattle, indeed, statewide arts scene. I know he had national influence as well, but wasn't as connected to that.

I first met Peter in 1972, while I was working for the Pacific Northwest Ballet Association (predecessor to Pacific Northwest Ballet). He had a strong relationship with my mother, Maxine Cushing Gray, the arts critic for The Argus, and they were both attuned to the importance of "the majors," which I often felt was to the detriment of "the minors," particularly the neighborhood arts movement which was growing during the 70's. But Peter eventually came to recognize the importance of community arts development as an important building block for a strong political constituency for the arts in our state.

He did have his blind sides, such as not fully supporting the creation of 4Culture, yet was eventually willing to acknowledge the importance of Jim Kelly's vision to do so.

I owe a lot to Peter. He supported my chairmanship of the Building for the Arts Committee. He was always gracious in his appreciation for people contributing to the overall development of the arts in our state.

I remember when the Bill Evans Dance Company in the 1970's was trying to move from a national touring business model to a regionally based economic model, and Peter contributed much of his time to that effort without hesitation, along with John Graham from the Seattle Symphony. Peter took that on as a challenge to expand his knowledge of the regionally-based theatre model to try to create a parallel economic example for modern dance.

Peter gave almost unconditionally to whatever he thought would forward the development of the arts in our region.

Sometimes I felt Peter held our cultural development back because of his strong opinions about the primacy of our established arts entities (compared to Greg Falls, the founder of ACT Theatre, who thought that the more grapes on the vine, the more we all fermented and grew), and through Peter's "control" of his myriad connections with funders and those in position to influence our state's cultural development. Other times, however, his vision led us forward and because of those connections, made things happen that might not have otherwise.

I can only think of two other people who had as much impact: the arts patron Morrie Alhadeff and John Blaine, who headed the Seattle Arts Commission in its prime. Morrie was, as I recall, the first chairperson of the Seattle Arts Commssion, and set the stage for many constructive years of growth. John was SAC's first director, and gave us much of the foundation for public arts support that continues today.

Peter was there for all of that. Bless his memory, his contributions, his energy, and commitment.


Please support independent local news for all.

We rely on donations from readers like you to sustain Crosscut's in-depth reporting on issues critical to the PNW.


About the Authors & Contributors