Governor's Arts Awards honors diverse group of educators, artists and administrators

When Oklahoma State University President Burns Hargis and his wife Ann arrived on the Stillwater campus more than 11 years ago, he had two equally strong and opposing reactions to OSU’s fine arts programs.

“I really was stunned at the (high) quality of especially the music program, and equally stunned at the condition of our performance hall – which was the other direction, just absolutely terrible. We also did not have an art museum,” he recalled.

During his tenure, the university renovated the 1930s-era Postal Plaza in downtown Stillwater and converted it into the OSU Museum of Art, which opened in fall 2013. This fall, OSU will celebrate the opening of the McKnight Center for the Performing Arts with an Oct. 12 Opening Night Gala and Concert featuring Tony-winning Oklahoma native Kelli O’Hara and the New York Philharmonic.

“It’s a state-of-the-art facility, and it has all technology that you could want. … We were able to, thanks to Ross McKnight, raise a $50 million endowment for programming. So, we’re bringing in the New York Philharmonic. … Then we’ll have three Broadway plays coming in this year, with lots of other genres of music that will be presented, and they’ll all work with our students,” Hargis told The Oklahoman.

“I think this award that Ann and I are receiving really is to everybody that’s worked on the arts, because lots of people have worked on this, to get the arts elevated at Oklahoma State. Now, the buy-in has started and then it started to crescendo.”

The Hargises were among honorees at the 43rd Governor’s Arts Awards Tuesday at the state Capitol, where Tulsa-based soprano and OSU alumnus Sarah Coburn sang and Gov. Kevin Stitt presented the medallions at his first Governor’s Arts Awards ceremony as governor.

“I talk a lot about becoming a top 10 state, and I believe we can do it together. … For economic development, I don’t think there’s any better place to grow a business and thrive. And when you talk about being top 10, I think about leveraging this art community because the proven ability of the arts just goes a long way to developing our education system, our rural development, our health care. I think it’s intertwined in everything we do,” Stitt said. “When it comes to our most important resources, I believe it’s the people of Oklahoma, and nothing exemplifies that better than many of the folks that are involved in the arts.”

Diverse honorees

Honorees ranged from Deborah McAuliffe Senner, of Edmond, celebrating her 10th anniversary as president and CEO of Allied Arts, and Wilmari and Robert Ruiz, of Norman, who are driving forces behind several projects in the central Oklahoma Latino community to Pamela Catt, of Fairland, the president of the Miami Little Theatre in northeastern Oklahoma, and Daniel Worcester, of Lone Grove, an award-winning Chickasaw artist and bladesmith. Wonder City Coffee in Locust Grove was lauded as a community arts hub, with owners Kelly and Mark Palmer hosting free art workshops, Cherokee storytellers and more.

“We have a really wide slate of individuals from all over the state, many of them representing rural communities because we know the power of the arts to help with rural communities is great,” said Oklahoma Arts Council Executive Director Amber Sharples. “The Oklahoma Arts Council was one of the first state arts agencies in the entire nation to establish the Governor’s Arts Awards. We’ve been having this ceremony annually since 1975, and this is really to honor individuals … who go over and beyond to ensure that the arts thrive in our state.”

The awards also highlight the economic and cultural impact the arts make in the state, she said.

“The arts are a mega-industry in our state, an $872 million industry. Artists are small-business owners, and they do employ other individuals - and we want them to be here in Oklahoma. So, they’re essential to our bottom line, but they also enhance our quality of life,” she said.

One of five recipients Tuesday of the Arts in Education Award was Scott Booker, president and CEO of the Academy of Contemporary Music at the University of Central Oklahoma, which is marking its 10th anniversary this year.

“What’s kind of different about our program is that we embrace the entrepreneurial side of art just as much as we do the artists themselves. The idea is that this is a program that teaches musicians how to be a successful businessperson as well. … The growth of the music business here in Oklahoma City, with places like The Criterion and The Jones Assembly and the Tower (Theatre), our alums are all working in all those places and then also all the new recording studios,” he said.

“The real reason I’m getting this award is because of what my students have been doing, right. They are the ones who deserve this.”

Booker also is marking his 30th year as manager of the Grammy-winning art-rock band The Flaming Lips, and he’s seen the cultural and economic force the group’s frontman, Wayne Coyne, has become by staying in OKC.

“The Flaming Lips are a small business here in Oklahoma, and we employ 20 to 30 people, depending on how much we’re doing. … And we bring in a few million dollars every year. And imagine if there were instead of two or three bands that were of that kind of size living here there were 20 or 30. And that’s kind of the goal,” Booker said.

“That to me is what the arts are all about, right. It’s being able to make a living doing something you love but also with an end product that makes life better – and all the better if it’s right here where we live.”

Similarly, Hargis, who received with his wife the George Nigh Public Service in the Arts Award Tuesday, said he hopes the new OSU museum and performing arts center will be boons to the region, Stillwater and especially the university’s students.

“I’ve always thought the arts were important,” he said “It’s all part of being an educated person. I mean, it should be part of the whole agenda for you in a university.”

2019 Governor’s Arts Awards honorees

Governor's Award: Barbara McAlister (Muskogee) and Jo Rowan (Norman)

Business in the Arts Award: Wonder City Coffee (Locust Grove)

Arts in Education Award: Jay Ferguson (Edmond), Scott Booker (Oklahoma City), Chris Ramsay (Stillwater), Pamela Catt (Fairland), Roselle Tyner (Tulsa)

Community Service Award: Daniel Worcester (Lone Grove), Deborah McAuliffe Senner (Edmond), James Loftis (Oklahoma City), Juanita Pahdopony (Lawton), Mary Ann Hawkins (Woodward), Bob Sober (Tulsa), Wilmari and Robert Ruiz (Norman)

George Nigh Public Service in the Arts Award: Ann and Burns Hargis (Stillwater)