Lucy "Sierra Leone" Owens, a recipient of a 2018 Governor's Award for the Arts. CONTRIBUTED
Photo: HANDOUT
Photo: HANDOUT

Mastermind behind Dayton urban poetry showcase to be honored today 

Sierra Leone will be in the spotlight today.

The Dayton writer and one of the leaders of a Dayton urban poetry movement is a 2018 Ohio Governor’s Award recipient in the category of Community Development and Participation.

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The award is presented by the Ohio Arts Council and Ohio Citizens for the Arts Foundation. Sierra’s award, in Community Development and Participation, is for, according to the Ohio Arts Council website, an “Individual or organization that works to create or strengthen interactive arts participation among diverse community members while increasing public awareness about the role of the arts in community life.”

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That is certainly a fitting description of Sierra, who is the president and artistic director of Oral Funk Poetry (OFP) Productions, co-founded with her husband Robert Owens Sr.

“I felt euphoric,” Sierra said, when I asked her to describe her reaction to learning that she’d won the award. “I don’t make art for validation, and yet this particular validation felt powerful, to know that our state recognizes and values the work I’ve created with Robert.”

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For more than a decade, OFP has produced “The Signature: A Poetic Medley Show,” a bi-monthly show that presents urban poetry, music, dance and more, drawing from local, regional and international talent. The show is housed at The Loft Theatre and is co-presented by The Human Race Theatre Company. In addition, the show expanded to include a poetry competition, The Last Poet Standing.

“The urban art we’ve produced is a unique form, celebrating all art forms with poetry as the moral fabric,” Sierra says. “Spoken word poetry is not usually in the forefront of the arts, so for this to be honored by the state is meaningful to us.”

Sierra also works with organizations and schools through the company’s educational arm, particularly focusing on girls’ empowerment work. She writes and performs her own poetry as well.

Artist, educator and activist Sierra Leone.
Photo: Contributed photo

“I come from a large family,” Sierra says, “And I started thinking about this when I learned of the award. I wondered, ‘what are the roots of my passion for connecting arts, artists and community?’ And I think it has to do with growing up in a large family, and from my grandmother who emphasized that life is better together, in community. In community, we can be more creative, more impactful, reach more people in diverse audiences.”

Indeed, The Signature shows are, Sierra says, in some ways like artistic church to the attendees. “It’s a higher minded experience, and provides in many ways a sense of healing to the community.”

At the same time, Sierra says that “the arts are constantly morphing and changing, and so we need to, too, at OFP.” Looking ahead to the next ten years, Sierra says the production company will continue to produce some “The Signature” shows, but also aims to develop other experiences and productions. Sierra, who started as spoken word poet, plans to also continue to grow as a poet in writing, and to focus on consulting with area schools and organizations and to serve as the lead educational consultant for her husband Robert’s education business.

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Oral Funk Poetry and The Human Race Theatre will celebrate the 10 season of the The Signature: A Poetic Medley Show with "What's Your Razzle Dazzle." Pictured: Dayton poet Lucy "Sierra Leone" Owens, Oral Funk's founder.
Photo: Submitted

“Robert has been in my corner 100%, all along,” she says. “I’ve learned that no one creates goodness alone.”

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