Daytonians to be honored today with Ohio arts awards

Lucy "Sierra Leone" Owens screamed and hollered when she first heard the news.

It was a joyful noise.

Owens, the president and artistic director of Oral Funk Poetry Theatre Company, is among three Dayton-area winners of the 2018 Governor's Awards. 

Owens, along with Stuart and Mimi Rose and the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company will be honored today at a special luncheon in Columbus.

>> What you need to know about Sierra Leone


Owens co-founded the company with her husband, fellow poet Robert Owens. Owens said she strives to support urban creative arts through "The Signature: A Poetic Medley Show."

The showcase — a mix of poetry, music, dance and visual arts from local, regional and international artists — celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2017 and is gearing up for its 11th.

>> Mastermind behind Dayton urban poetry showcase to be honored today

When times got tough or she was uncertain, Owens said she recalled encouragement she received from Denise Rehg, Culture Works's previous president.

“She said, ‘Opera was a street art 200 years ago, go for it,’” said Owen, who is working on a staged piece related to singer Nina Simone. “We did it as a community. We did the work in the face of denial.”

Owens said money could never buy the feeling of being recognized with a Governor’s Award.

“It is such a special day, a memory — a moment that shifts the legacy of our journey,” she said. “It makes me think of (the) Paul L. Dunbar poem ‘He had his Dream.’ We had this dream that maybe one day it would happen.”

Owens, who was nominated by the Sinclair Community College English department, will be awarded the Community Development and Participation Award at the at the 2018 Arts Day and Governor's Awards for the Arts in Ohio luncheon and ceremony on Wednesday, May 16.

Nine winners in all will be recognized, including Arts Patrons winners Stuart and Mimi Rose. 

>> Dayton couple enriches lives of others: How Mimi and Stuart Rose do it

The Roses are key backers of the Dayton Art Institute and the city of Huber Heights' 200-seat covered amphitheatre, the Stuart and Mimi Rose Music Center.

The Dayton Contemporary Dance Company  will be awarded the prestigious Irma Lazarus Award.

The dance company and those associated with it have been recognized with Governor’s Awards in the past.

Ro Nita Hawes-Saunders, DCDC's executive director, said the award is particularly special and she and the company are grateful.

“It represents what is best in terms of arts and culture in the State of Ohio,” Hawes-Saunders said. “They don’t give this particular award every year. it is competitive.”

DCDC was nominated by University of Dayton president Eric Spina. 

>> University of Dayton President: ‘We do it right”

According to its description, the “Lazarus Award goes to individuals or organizations  who have helped shape public support for the arts through their work as advocates and have brought national and international recognition to Ohio through sustained dedication to artistic excellence.”

Nationally renowned, DCDC was founded in 1968 by Jeraldyne Blunden, a legend in Dayton’s art community. The company will celebrate its 50th anniversary this year.

Hawes-Saunders said DCDC shares the honor with Dayton.

“We are a nonprofit organization that really depends on the support of the community to do what we do,” she said. “We are grateful. I am thankful and I am absolutely grateful for the support.”

Here is more about the winners.


According to the Ohio Arts Council:

The world-renowned Dayton Contemporary Dance Company (DCDC) is the oldest modern dance company in Ohio. 

Founded in 1968 by Jeraldyne Blunden, DCDC is one of few American dance companies of international reputation located outside a major U.S. metropolitan area. Having the world’s largest repertoire of classic works by African-American choreographers, the company continues to celebrate dance art around the world. 

Executive Director Ro Nita Hawes-Saunders created collaborative partnerships between the dance company and area universities, and the company delivers extensive education and outreach programs and services to elementary, middle and high schools, both locally and while on tour. 

DCDC is one of three dance companies across the United States tapped to tour internationally through the seventh season of DanceMotion USA, a dynamic cultural diplomacy program run through the U.S. Department of State and Brooklyn Academy of Music. DCDC will travel to Russia and Kazakhstan in May 2018. Historically, this marks DCDC’s third trip to Russia.

>> Dayton dance group wins 'Oscar' of the dance world

Credit: Submitted

Credit: Submitted

SIERRA LEONE (Community Development and Participation)

According to the Ohio Arts Council:

Writer Sierra Leone is the president and artistic director of OFP Theatre Company, co-founded with her husband Robert Owens, Sr. 

For more than a decade, Ohio has benefitted from Sierra's vision of creative urban arts as a powerful artistic medium to bring communities together across racial, cultural, ideological, and economic divides. 

Her project “The Signature: A Poetic Medley Show” presents a hybrid of urban poetry, music, dance, and visual arts from local, regional, and international talent. 

The show later expanded to include an energetic poetry competition called The Last Poet Standing.  Her work with youth arts organizations, schools, and community organizations has been ongoing through her company’s educational arm, Signature Educational Solutions. 

Sierra is continuing girls’ empowerment work through the Dayton Public Schools’ Girls Achievement program, and she has written and performed commissioned work for many local and national organizations.

Credit: Contributed photo

Credit: Contributed photo


According to the Ohio Arts Council:

From dynamic performing arts centers to rare copies of ancient books, Stuart and Mimi Rose’s support of the arts spans a diverse array of fields. 

In May 2015, the city of Huber Heights celebrated the opening of its 4,200-seat covered amphitheatre, named the Stuart and Mimi Rose Music Center in honor of the couple’s generous donation. 

In its inaugural season, the center presented 29 performances and welcomed thousands of visitors to the city. Their recent support of The Dayton Art Institute, where Mimi served on the board, pays homage to the museum’s upcoming centennial in 2019, allowing many exciting projects that further strengthen the Institute to take place. 

Other past philanthropic gifts have drawn from Stuart and Mimi’s personal interests. 

They recently funded the construction of the 300-seat Stuart and Mimi Rose Theatre at Dayton’s Miami Valley School and the 358-seat Carey Family Amphitheater at Cincinnati Country Day School. 

Stuart, a rare book enthusiast, has loaned pieces from his private collection to the University of Dayton on several occasions. In 2014, following the “Imprints and Impressions: Milestones in Human Progress” exhibit featuring 49 rare books, Stuart surprised the school with the donation of a rare “He” version of the 1611 King James Bible and a colorful, whimsical edition of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland featuring illustrations by Salvador Dali.

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