Dedication and service to the community and arts were recognized Tuesday during the 43rd annual Governor's Arts Awards at the Capitol.

Three Norman residents were among 17 individuals and one business recognized for their contributions to the arts: Jo Rowan and Wilmari and Robert Ruiz.

"I talk a lot about becoming a top 10 state, and we can do that together," Gov. Kevin Stitt said during the ceremony.

He said he wants to leverage the arts community, because "it's intertwined in everything we do. People are our most important product."

Ann Neal, Oklahoma Arts Council chair and director of ceremonies, said the arts ultimately impact individual lives, "and today's honorees are making a difference."

Rowan was one of two recipients of the Governor's Award, which recognizes longtime leadership and significant contributions to the arts. She is a nationally known master ballet teacher and performer.

"I'm really very happy to be an American and an Oklahoman. This is the place I want to live and die and do good things," she said. "I've been waiting for something as wonderful as this."

Chair of the Ann Lacy School of American Dance & Entertainment at Oklahoma City University, Rowan started the program nearly 40 years ago to offer a degree emphasizing music theater dance at the college. Thousands of students have gone through her program.

She also founded OCU's American Spirit Dance Company, where students receive professional performance and touring opportunities worldwide.

Robert and Wilmari Ruiz received a Community Service Award, which recognizes significant contributions to the arts in specific communities in leadership and volunteerism.

"It's a huge honor. Norman has been our home for more than 20 years," Robert Ruiz said, adding that it's great to be honored for their work done in Norman and the state. "We work with so many great people. I'm thankful for the arts community culture there."

Some projects they are involved in to serve central Oklahoma's growing Latino community are the Oklahoma Latino Cultural Center, Academia OKC, the Anita Martinez Martiachi Festival, the Plaza Mayor's Fall Festival, the OKC Cinco de Mayo Festival, Enye Music and the Scissortail Community Development Corporation.

Wilmari Ruiz said their four children were very happy for them.

"They were filled with honor and pride. As a parent, it's nice to hear that from your kids," she said, adding that the award is not easy to achieve.

Robert Ruiz said he feels that the awards reflect very well on Norman.

"Norman is one of the art centers in Oklahoma. To add this [award to others achieved], it's really nice to join this wonderful group of people," he said.

Rowan said she has an international background and could have chosen anywhere to live, and she chose Norman and loves what Norman offers, especially in the arts community.

"Oklahomans are such wonderful people," she said. "I want to be around them and part of the matrix of doing good things. We have created good things through collaboration."

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