Lucky: How the Seattle Art Scene Kicked Tobacco With the Patch

Lucky Strike vs. Artpatch What the heck does tobacco have to do with the Seattle arts scene? Almost exactly two years ago, Lucky Strike (Brown & Williamson/ R.J. Reynolds Tobacco) waltzed into Seattle brandishing a giant checkbook, and a curious interest in art. A number of organizations gladly accepted the dollars thrown their way, and even a popular weekly newspaper took advantage of the handouts…

In 2003, The Stranger held their First Annual Genius Awards, giving no-strings-attached grants of $5000 to individuals in various disciplines, “made possible in part by the generous support of Lucky Strike.” The awards were a huge success. The party was held at the heavily-Lucky sponsored Consolidated Works, where the venue showed off their swanky new “Lucky” lounge area. I believe there was even a red and green gowing circle decorating it.

Another, more questionable contest came soon after. The purpose was to design an “Art Pack” piece of art to fit the dimensions of a cigarette pack. The prize? 20 winners would get $2000 to be used to create 200 more copies of their art, to then be used as giveaways with packs of Lucky Strike cigarettes. Emily Hall of the Stranger voiced what everyone was thinking, back in this Stranger article.

Questionable contest aside, this isn’t a bad thing, right? I mean, it’s a lot of money flowing into the art community, that wasn’t already there. Who cares where it comes from? This Seattle P-I article describes many other recipients of the funding, and goes into this very debate. If it were just about the contributions and the arts, it would be one thing, but at the same time Lucky Strike was stepping up countless other promotions and marketing tactics throughout the city. For a while it was hard to find a single hip bar, club, or gallery that didn’t have a subtle glowing Lucky circle somewhere. The same red and green circles were also showing up at the bottom of more and more ads/posters for show venues. For better or worse, the Seattle arts scene had a deep-pocketed new friend.

Hardly a year later, that friend decided they were done. As mentioned in this 2004 Stranger article, Lucky Strike just up and left. Numerous art organizations that came to rely on the money were left high and dry. But a hero came to the rescue. Art Patch is a group formed by the Cornish College of the Arts and the Seattle & King County Dept. or Public Health, in direct response to tobacco’s recent moves. For yet another perspective, the fall of Lucky and the rise of Art Patch is described in this article, Kicking the Habit, with some speculation on why exactly Lucky bailed.

I’ve seen first-hand some of the efforts that Art Patch has made, and I know groups and individuals are seeing some hefty grants from the new organization. The Stranger has even flip-flopped (as they’re wont to do), with Art Patch as this year’s co-sponsor of the Genius Awards. Follow the bouncing $ sign, eh?

There’s some great stuff going on as a result of the Patch project, and I hope this time around the money is here to stay. Start making some art!

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