The decision to temporarily relocate this year’s Oklahoma Summer Arts Institute away from Quartz Mountain wasn’t an easy one. While we couldn’t be more excited to partner with the state’s only public liberal arts college at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma (USAO) in Chickasha, where our students can expect the same life-changing arts education experience we’ve been providing since 1977, our hearts will always be at our permanent home in southwestern Oklahoma.
This isn’t the first time OSAI has been held outside the boulder-strewn mountains of Great Plains Country. For several years beginning in 1995, the Institute temporarily relocated to public universities across the state after the Quartz Mountain lodge was lost in a fire. While this posed a number of challenges for our programs, the move allowed us to continue our tradition of excellence in arts education by serving our students in a new setting.
Today we’re talking with one of those students, Julie Ann Ward, who attended OSAI in creative writing at the University of Oklahoma in 1999 with instructor Judith Taylor. She told us about her background as a scholar, writer and educator, reflected on her memories of OSAI and offered some advice for students who might be weary of the change.
Can you tell readers a little about your background?
I work currently as a professor of Latin American literature at the University of Oklahoma. I came to OU in 2014, so this will be my seventh year. I write about and research Latin American theater and narrative, especially in Mexico. I'm also really interested in translation, and I've been doing some literary translation over the past few years. I graduated from Stillwater High School in 2001. I got my B.A. in Spanish at the University of Tulsa, and I did a master's degree in Spanish at the University of Kansas before getting my PhD in Hispanic languages and literatures from the University of California, Berkeley. I also recently founded a new online writing community called The Anchorage.
Let's talk about your OSAI experience at the University of Oklahoma. What can you say about that?
It opened up a whole world for me that I didn't know existed. I was recently thinking about all the different Oklahoma institutions that I came into contact with [through the experience]. The audition was held at the Philbrook Museum of Art in Tulsa … we had to choose a work of art and write a poem about it on the spot. The editor of the literary journal Nimrod was the leader of this audition, and she asked me to read my poem first. She said I looked like I had done this before, which I had not. [Laughs.] She pulled me aside afterward and said that my poem would fit in an upcoming special issue of their journal. So, it actually got published.
Yeah, that was really cool. It made me think writing life was going to be a lot easier than it actually is. [Laughs.] I ended up going to the University of Tulsa later, and that's where Nimrod is housed. So that was kind of an interesting connection. Then, finally, that OSAI was held at the University of Oklahoma was another thing. My family in Stillwater didn’t spend any time in Norman because of the whole rivalry, so that was really interesting. That kind of showed me there's this whole world of art and creativity in Oklahoma.
As a student, we spent a lot of time in the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art. I think that's where our meetings were, actually. Then we had our final reading at the Sharp Concert Hall. I had been writing mainly for myself and my family, and then for class assignments. I didn’t have any experience sharing what I was writing before OSAI. So that was one of the coolest parts for me.
It was very strange to end up with a job here so many years later. I never expected that my career would bring me to Oklahoma, just because of the way it usually works. During my first year teaching at OU, it was so funny to have these flashback moments when I would see a place that I remembered from OSAI. Like, “Oh, wait — that was here!”
Obviously OSAI expanded your horizons when it came to creative writing. Do you have memories of being exposed to other disciplines?
Yeah. My roommate was in the orchestra, along with a few of my high school friends, so I got to spend time with them. And then obviously there was an interesting connection between visual arts and poetry, because we were using the museum a lot as inspiration and interacting with other artworks through our writing. I remember that, especially.
This year’s Institute is being temporarily moved from Quartz Mountain in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, which is obviously a little disappointing for some of our students who have special memories there. What would you say to them?
I think over the past year, so many of us have had to learn how important spaces and places are. So, you know, it is a sad thing to not get to go to the place where you have these memories, or where you've been looking forward to going. But at the same time, we've also had to learn how important the people you're with are, and how you can build community in so many different ways and in so many places. That’s really the special thing about OSAI: the contact you’re making with new people, with other artists who inspire you, and the feeling that you could inspire someone else.
I think that when we get together, even if it's in a place that we weren't expecting to — or even if it's online or something like that — you really do find that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. There's something magical in coming together. It’s OK to feel bad about missing out on something you were expecting, but you'll probably discover a lot of cool things in this other space that are just as beautiful.
For more about the Institute's temporary move to USAO for OSAI 2021, read our official statement here.