News & Community

Get to Know the 2024 OSAI Faculty

May 31, 2024
Damian D. Lewis, Acting Instructor

Damian D. Lewis was a bit of a class clown in Junior high school, so his math teacher suggested he join the drama class. There, he was introduced to the words and works of Shakespeare and the language reminded him of the King James version of the Bible. The class was preparing for a festival and his teacher asked him to work on a monologue from King Lear and he placed fourth in that competition. The following year, he won first place performing a piece called The Creation, written by an African American Poet James Weldon Johnson. In between festivals their drama club toured a show called Dreams Over Drugs, these experiences solidified in him a passion for the art of storytelling through performance.

At an early age he was exposed to the positive impact great storytelling and performances can have on an audience. While performing at children’s hospitals, community events and juvenile detention camps, he realized that he could be a part of shaping lives in a positive manner through performance while earning an income to support his family. 

Some of Lewis’ creative influences come from various genres of music and movement primarily those of a spiritual, soulful, celebratory and minority perspective. Lewis is highly influenced from the African Diaspora, the music informs the movement. While at Quartz Mountain, Lewis says, “I'm looking forward to meeting each student where they are in their process and helping them take the next step or steps on their journey of being grounded in the unique brilliance they have been designed to become.”

Michael Barrett, Chorus Conductor

At five years old, Michael Barrett’s mother started teaching him to play the piano, and according to her, he was always singing. At age eight, he was sent to a well-known boys’ choir in South Africa, the Drakensberg Boys Choir School. Music has always been a part of his life; he recalls singing Palestrina by day and traditional African music by night. He was awarded a D.Mus. (Performing Arts) in choral performance by the University of Pretoria in 2017, is currently the conductor of the University’s (Tuks) Camerata choir and a senior lecturer in choral conducting in the Department of Music. Barrett is the executive director and co-producer of Capital Singers, South Africa's largest community choir project.

Barrett has traveled to the United States several times but has not been to Oklahoma. He says, “I’m excited to meet the people and grateful for the opportunity to come visit and share my music and culture with everyone. I feel blessed to be invited for such an opportunity, which I never take for granted. June can’t come soon enough.”

Tobias Wray, Creative Writing Instructor

The first poem Wray recalls reading with real avidity was the poem Maya Angelou read for President Clinton's inauguration, "On the Pulse of Morning”. “I cut it out and basically taped it to my heart,” he said. He added, “Those who want to write poems read them. If you want to write well, all you really need to do is to deepen how carefully you read. This is also to suggest that you look around you more carefully, that you connect to the world and how all around us are ideas that are waiting to be articulated. I started writing poems the moment I began paying real attention to the world.”

In college Wray couldn't stop traveling—at every suggestion of travel, he said yes. Along the way he would pick up poetry books and he would feel close to them. “Once you find a form that can hold everything you are or might become, it becomes easy to begin pouring life into that container. Folks who make art are lucky that way. It's hard work, of course. The hardest maybe because it doesn't just mean a paycheck or a career, it means everything. You are pursuing life entire, you are trying to tell the story of how life is pursuing you.”

When asked about his expectations of Quartz Mountain he responded as only a creative writer can, “Quartz Mountain sounds like the kind of place magic is stored, waiting to be tapped by a wizard who knows what she’s doing. Can’t wait to find out for myself what that might be and how we might share that experience together. Spaces that are intent on cultivating art are very special.”

Andrew Palermo, Dance Instructor

When Andrew Palermo was five he saw Fred Astaire in a movie, inspiring him to take tap dancing lessons. His mother took him to a local dance studio, only to be told that they didn’t take boys. Undeterred, they went to a nearby town where he started studying ballet, tap, and jazz. Palermo went on to study at Rochester Academy of Performing Arts (RAPA) and transferred to Rochester’s School of Arts for his last two years of high school. 

He ultimately earned a B.F.A. in musical theatre from the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music (CCM). Palermo now directs, choreographs, creates new works, and teaches individuals on the autism spectrum. Working in such diverse ways allows him to stave off the inevitable valleys that come from living a life in the arts. Having taught at Quartz Mountain five times since 2009, Palermo says, “There’s nothing like it—not only is the location idyllic, the faculty world-class and the facilities top notch, but the intangible magic of the mountain is ever present. Something about that place—with its hungry students, inspiring faculty, and a staff that’s second to none commingling to create an arts intensive—that is one of a kind.”

Daphne Arthur, Drawing & Painting Instructor

Daphne Arthur began practicing art at a young age. She started by playing the piano and was surrounded by art at home and at school. She took a six-month break after graduating high school with the plan to prepare for music school auditions and create a portfolio for art school. She felt she needed this time to prepare something special for both. She ultimately enjoyed the process of painting and felt she could best convey her ideas through the visual arts. 

The School of the Art Institute of Chicago accepted her on the spot during a portfolio review session, and that is where her journey in the field began. Arthur believes that art is a form of meditation—a listening practice and a display of cognitive and physical endurance. She describes being constantly surprised with in the artistic space, wherein the evolution of a piece often involves a back-and-forth play of chance and constant translation that culminates in something unpredictable and better than what she originally imagined. This is what keeps her coming back to the studio, as she is often in awe of the things that simply come into being.

Arthur has never been to Quartz Mountain, but says, “I’ve heard too many great things about the program and students. I’m excited to be immersed in a space of collaborative drive and creativity.”

Jennifer Peepas, Film & Video Instructor

Jennifer Peepas moved from the East Coast to Chicago in her mid-20’s to work a tech job, shortly after she was laid off and found herself thrust into the film world. She was working on the administrative side on film sets, but found herself drawn to the creative side of things. She’d be on set getting the lunch set up, and in the next room she could hear when the dialogue wasn't landing right. She could see places where there could be more attention to art direction and lighting, opportunities to make the space a character in the story. She also had very strong opinions about editing. This led to her decision to attend film school.

When she was interviewing during the application process for her M.F.A., the interviewer asked her what she would do if she didn’t get into the program. She said, “I’d still make movies, it’d just take me longer to pull the resources together.” In this moment she realized she was telling the truth, not just trying to give a suitably impressive answer. This was the first time she wanted to do something badly enough that she was willing to be bad at it for a while. The more she worked on film, the more she loved it!

When interviewed we asked Peepas if she had anything else she’d like to share. She inspiringly responded with “If you can get a few friends together and make a movie, you can probably do literally anything the modern workplace requires. You can generate new ideas, test and revise those ideas, meet deadlines, work with others, solve problems, leverage scarce resources, talk people into doing inconvenient and complicated favors like letting a group of sweaty teenagers run amok in their vacation home or workplace after hours for the sake of art that will never make a single dollar, take feedback, and present a finished product to the world. Film is a vehicle for dreams, mixed with the most practical of disciplines.”

Kimcherie Lloyd, Orchestra Conductor

Kimcherie Lloyd got her start in music by studying the piano, and at a young age became an assistant conductor in her middle school and high school choir. She also played many instruments including the flute, percussions, and violin. She always had encouragement from her teachers, and in high school she attended the National Music Camp in Interlochen, Michigan studying conducting. She always knew she wanted to conduct, but her teachers told her that first, she must become a musician and she is glad to have taken their advice. Her experiences as a pianist have led her to many opportunities as a young conductor. Throughout her career she has been fortunate to work with many talented musicians/artists at all levels. “The world is full of wonderfully creative and talented artists - It is truly an honor and privilege to make music as a conductor”, says Lloyd.

When asked about coming to Quartz Mountain to teach she says, “I am looking forward to being in nature and working with highly talented and motivated young musicians. I truly cannot think of anything better!”

Janelle Lynch, Photography Instructor

Janelle Lynch had a special relationship with her grandfather, an amateur photographer, which started her love for the medium early in her life. On her tenth birthday she received her first camera from her mother, establishing her life’s trajectory.

Lynch says, “I knew that I wanted to pursue photography as a profession because I felt it in my body.” She loves to make photographs—it is the primary way for her to make meaning of life and out of life experiences: to learn, grow, and discover. Some of her creative influences are found in literature, including poetry, memoirs, and essays about the natural world. She describes nature itself as a creative influence, that, and solitude. She is excited to be at Quartz Mountain and to be in a brand-new landscape!

Learn more about all of the 2024 OSAI Faculty.

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