SEATTLE TIMES: Cornish gala raises $800,000; Runway to Freedom, fashion and compassion

Had she been at The Paramount Theatre Friday night, Nellie Cornish wouldn’t have been sitting among the Seattle swells and far-flung alumni who gathered to celebrate the centennial of Cornish College of the Arts.

Instead, the school’s founder would have been “sitting backstage on a coil of rope, watching the performances,” said spokeswoman Rosemary Jones, “and telling them ‘Good job.’ ”

The night said just that to college President Nancy Uscher and her faculty — but also to the students who have spread the school’s name and impact all over the world.

Among them: Mary Lambert (Class of ’11). She’s on tour supporting her new record, “Heart On My Sleeve,” but made time to perform for her alma mater. (“You look so beautiful out there,” she told the crowd. “Like the Titanic. But we’re going to be OK.”)

She sang an expanded version of the hook she wrote for Macklemore’s “Same Love” called “She Keeps Me Warm,” followed by “Body Love,” and “Red Lipstick” before popping back into her tour bus, which was parked outside.

Board Chairwoman Virginia Anderson noted that the event drew an overcapacity crowd (including 19 former board members) and focused on how Cornish has “aged so beautifully.”

She was followed by a video presentation produced by Sandy Cioffi and Gretchen Burger from the school’s film department that captured the school’s century in the city.

In the room: Mayor Ed Murray and his husband, Michael Shiosaki; philanthropist and Paramount savior Ida ColeRandy Engstrom of Seattle’s Office of Arts & Culture; Josh LaBelle of the Seattle Theatre Group; Leonard Garfield of the Museum of History & Industry; Seattle International Film Festival head Mary Bacarella; Pyramid Communications founder John HoytDavid Armstrong, executive producer and artistic director of the 5th Avenue Theatre; and Larry Corey of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center with his wife, Amy.

“We’re trying to push the boundaries, just like Nellie did,” Uscher added. “She believed that everything was possible. The next century will be bigger and more audacious.”

Indeed, the raise-the-paddle portion of the night was audaciously kicked off by James and Sherry Raisbeck and Carl and Renée Behnke. Each couple gave $100,000, starting what would be a $550,000 flurry of cash.

In all, the night brought in more than $800,000 to fund scholarships — likely a record amount.

And had she been there, Jones said, Nellie Cornish probably would have pledged her own salary — something she was known to do for students in need of tuition money.

No need this year. Did I mention Cornish’s middle name was Centennial?

Compassion fashion

The nonprofit Runway to Freedom is all about fighting domestic violence, but it’s also about empowering women.

So DJ Leslie Wheatley came to the organization’s fifth annual fundraiser at the Showbox the other night with plenty of strong women.

“I’ve got Gloria Gaynor (“I Will Survive”), Beyoncé (“Run the World (Girls)”); Alicia Keys (“Girl on Fire”) and Tina Turner (“Better Be Good To Me”),” Wheatley told me with a wink.

Lending some of his star power to the event was Macklemore, who grew up with Runway to Freedom founder Lauren Grinnell. When she asked if he would stand for photos with VIPs, the rapper was there. No problem.

“We go way back,” he said of their friendship.

He arrived in a peak-lapel gray flannel suit and wore what looked like a Super Bowl ring.

“I paid so much for this,” he said of the suit. “I bought it in New York and have been regretting it ever since.”

Turns out it is a Super Bowl ring, which the Seahawks superfan bought as part of the team’s friends and family program. (In other words, no, you can’t get one too.)

When it was her turn, Lina Kim presented the rapper with a toothbrush and toothpaste. Huh?

“It’s a reference to his song, ‘Thin Line,’ ” she said. I looked it up: “My job comes with complimentary toothpaste.” Cute.

Andrea Keenan was dressed in a sumptuous fox-fur coat, which of course drew the rapper’s attention.

“He said, ‘I’d love to borrow it,’ ” Keenan said as she stepped away, “And I said, ‘Anytime.’ ”

Heck of a coat, I said to the rapper as he waited for the next VIP. Vintage.

“You have to say that,” he said. I repeat: Vintage.

When it was her turn to be photographed with Macklemore, Mary’s Place Executive Director Marty Hartman presented him with a book called “The Many Faces of Macklemore” — drawings made by the kids who live at the shelter, which was the beneficiary of the event.

Hartman took a few moments to take it all in: Volunteers like Clayne Wheeler, who grew up in a home affected by domestic violence (“It was really frightful”), and was happy to give free shoe shines. The models, who walked the runway on their own time. And the donated auction items, including guitars signed by Willie Nelson and Brandi Carlile and running shoes signed by Seahawks Marshawn LynchDoug Baldwin and Richard Sherman.

“Incredible,” Hartman said. “There’s no greater gift than helping a woman reclaim her life.”

Jairemie AlexanderComment