Excellence on Display at 45th Governor's Arts Awards

Tributes made to the late former Oklahoma Arts Council executive director Betty Price and Pulitzer Prize winning author M. Scott Momaday.

January 31, 2024

A group of fourteen individuals and four organizations which have demonstrated excellence in the arts were honored before a packed fourth floor rotunda at the Oklahoma State Capitol during the 45thAnnual Governor’s Arts Awards ceremony on January 30.

Tributes were also made to former Oklahoma Arts Council executive director Betty Price, who passed away in October, and award-winning author M. Scott Momaday, who died on January 24. “Scott’s legacy will forever live in our hearts,” Governor Kevin Stitt said of Momaday, who was born in Lawton in 1934 to a Kiowa father and a mother of European and Cherokee descent. Momaday’s 1968 novel, House Made of Dawn, won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction the following year. Former governor Brad Henry appointed Momaday as the 16h Oklahoma Poet Laureate in 2007.

Price served as executive director of the Oklahoma Arts Council from 1983 – 2007 and is considered the driving force behind the commissioning of countless works of art housed at the Oklahoma State Capitol. She also helped to establish the Oklahoma State Capitol Preservation Commission and was influential in many cultural organizations and festivals, including the Oklahoma Arts Institute, Greenwood Cultural Center, Woody Guthrie Folk Festival, Red Earth, the Native American Cultural and Educational Authority (precursor to the First Americans Museum), and more. The Governor’s Arts Awards were born out of Price’s efforts, Oklahoma Arts Council executive director Amber Sharples said. “Betty was a consummate public servant, and it is in the spirit of this service that these awards are bestowed.”

Former governor George Nigh also memorialized Price, whose family was in attendance. When he looks around the Capitol at all the beautiful murals, portraits, and sculptures completed by renowned Oklahoma artists, Price’s memory lives on, Nigh said. “Everything I see reminds me.”

This year’s Governor’s Award, recognizing individuals for longtime leadership and significant contributionsto the arts, went to two individuals:

· Muskogee arts organizer Ann Barker Ong, a ubiquitous presence and leader in the arts for more than forty years; and

· Tulsa arts volunteer leader and champion Holbrook Lawson.

The Earl Sneed Business in the Arts Award, recognizing businesses and corporations who exhibit outstanding support of the arts in Oklahoma, went to:

· American Fidelity, an Oklahoma City-based company that has made significant contributions to central Oklahoma’s arts community; and

· LEAP Coffee Roasters, a state-owned small business that provides financial support to local artists.

The Bill Crawford Memorial Media in the Arts Award, recognizing an individual member of the media who demonstrates commitment to the arts, went to KOSU director of content and audience development Ryan LaCroix, who has spotlighted Oklahoma musicians since 2003.

The Arts in Education Award, recognizing those who have demonstrated leadership and service in arts education, went to five individuals, including:

· DWe Williams, an Oklahoma City educator and playwright who has spent decades using storytelling, music, arts, and movement to help under-resourced communities;

· Jana Telford, a music educator from Chandler with a legacy spanning forty years;

· Marcelle Sharron Ahtone Harjo, a Kiowa educator who incorporated Native art practices in her curricula and has worked to preserve the practice of ledger art, a narrative pictorial style of painting that originated from Native American plains people;

· Penny McGill, a drama teacher as Muskogee High School who has built a reputation for employing enthusiasm to give students life-changing experiences in the arts; and

· Trey Hays, a rural arts educator in southern Oklahoma for more than twenty years who has built strong drama and musical theater programs.

The Community Service Award, recognizing individuals for significant contributions to the arts in specific communities, went to four individuals, including:

· Darcy Reeves, executive director of the Chisholm Trail Arts Council in Duncan;

· Selby Minner, a blues musician who operates the Oklahoma Blues Hall of Fame in Rentiesville;

· Susan E. Brackett, an avid proponent of dance and arts education in central Oklahoma for more than thirty years; and

· Suzanne Boles, who, with her husband, brought community theater to communities in northeastern Oklahoma.

The George Nigh Public Service in the Arts Award, recognizing Oklahoma government officials for outstanding support of the arts, went to:

· Oklahoma State Senator Kevin Matthews, who has been committed to the key role that arts and culture plays in communities; and

· Oklahoma State Representative Mark McBride, who has been a steadfast backer of bolstering arts education in public schools and using public funding to strengthen the arts in communities across Oklahoma.

Special recognition awards were given to Mid-America Arts Alliance and the Oklahoma Museums Association, both of which recently celebrated their 50th anniversary as organizations.

The Governor’s Arts Awards have been presented since 1975. Kirkpatrick Family Fund director Elizabeth Eickman received the Governor’s Award in 2018, and Oklahoma City businessman and philanthropist Christian Keesee won the award in 2012. Keesee’s grandparents, John and Eleanor Kirkpatrick, won the award in 1994. Kirkpatrick Foundation executive director Louisa McCune won the Bill Crawford Memorial Media in the Arts Award in 2003 when she worked as editor-in-chief of Oklahoma Today magazine.


Kirkpatrick Policy Group is a non-partisan, independent, 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization established in 2017 to identify, support, and advocate for positions on issues affecting all Oklahomans, including concern for the arts and arts education, animals, women’s reproductive health, and protecting the state’s initiative and referendum process. Improving the quality of life for Oklahomans is KPG’s primary vision, seeking to accomplish this through its values of collaboration, respect, education, and stewardship.