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Talented students find expression in art, music, dance and more at Summer Arts Institute in southwest Oklahoma

Oklahoma's artistically talented high school students pursue their respective disciplines during the annual Summer Arts Institute under way at Quartz Mountain Arts and Conference Center in southwest Oklahoma. Public performances begin Friday for final Onstage Weekend.
BY BEN LUSCHEN bluschen@opubco.com Modified: June 22, 2012 at 5:32 pm •  Published: June 22, 2012

As director of “The New Year Parade,” Tom Quinn had seen his film many times.

But he still was nervous last week when his award-winning independent production was being screened for high school students attending the 2012 Oklahoma Summer Arts Institute at Quartz Mountain Arts and Conference Center.

During the screening, his nerves brought him outside the theater to take in the scenic mounds of rock and glistening lake that make up the resort's striking campus.

“I came back in for the last five minutes, and it made me wish I was here the whole time, because they were laughing where you would dream they would laugh and they were cheering,” Quinn said. “They were the best audience you could ever have.”

Quinn, who has worked with film and video students the past two weeks as an arts institute faculty member, had worried about how the students would respond to his film. Now he wonders why he had doubts.

“They're excited, which makes us excited, and stuff we thought might be a little bit above their level they're totally diving into,” he said. “It's great.”

Passion for expression

For more than two weeks this month, top arts students from across the state have gathered in southwestern Oklahoma to focus on strengthening their talents. The students' disciplines range from dance and performing arts to visual art and photography, but they are all united in a shared passion for self-expression.

The students' final performances will take place Friday and Saturday at the camp, which is near Lone Wolf. The performances are open to the public.

This year, more than 1,300 students auditioned for the camp's 271 spots. Selected students spend six to eight hours a day practicing their discipline while at Quartz Mountain, where they study under the camp's long list of accomplished faculty artists. Additional time is spent attending demonstrations and presentations in the evening.

Annina Collier, director of public relations and outreach for the Oklahoma Arts Institute, said the amount of time and dedication the students put into those intensive weeks makes it an experience not easily replicated.

“Because all the students are talented, they can play more music, dance more difficult steps, and learn more challenging techniques than they can at their own school, where the students have different ability levels,” Collier said.

Collier attended the camp in high school. She gives her Oklahoma Summer Arts Institute experience credit for developing her career path and introducing her to friends she still keeps in touch with.

Collier isn't the only staff member at the Oklahoma Arts Institute to have participated in Quartz Mountain. Many of the institute's permanent staff and camp counselors were Summer Arts Institute students at one point.

“I think we all recognize how important OSAI was to our development as artists and as people,” she said, “and we want to have today's students have the same meaningful experience we had.”

Here are some of their stories.

Andrew Hamilton, vocal, Altus

Many young men have high career aspirations. Very few dream of the New York Metropolitan Opera.

Andrew Hamilton, a recent graduate of Altus High School who is in his second year at Quartz Mountain, is one of those people. In an age when Kanye West is considered the height of musical genius, Hamilton still rocks out to “La Boheme.”

“I don't work out to opera though,” Hamilton said. “That'd be weird.”

Hamilton's path to hopeful opera singer was an unlikely one. Before junior high, he had never been a member of any choir, nor had he considered joining one. The only reason he took a choir class was because his friends were in it.

“Honestly, I didn't think I was going to like it,” he said, “because the teacher — it was her first year, and she didn't seem to like kids at all.”

Not only did Hamilton end up enjoying the class, he excelled in it. That year he was his school's only representative on the all-state choir in Oklahoma City.

For Hamilton, continually discovering things about his voice and his capability is an addictive element to one of his favorite activities.

“It's mind-boggling because it's something you've always had but you've never actually known about, so it's a part of you that you just keep discovering, and it's fascinating,” he said.

A choir boy is nothing without his choir though, and Hamilton realizes that. In fact, he longs for it.

“My favorite part and what keeps me coming is when you sing eight-part harmony or 12-part harmony with everybody,” he said. “You can hear the reverberations and the vibrations, and you just get tingles down your spine.”

Reagan Collins, ballet, Tulsa

As a ballet dancer, recent Tulsa Union High School graduate Reagan Collins is subject to a variety of critics. Separate pressures from her instructors, family, friends and audience all demand something different. While these things can be dodged or blocked out, Collins' toughest critic is one who cannot be escaped: herself.

“I'm always thinking about corrections, what I need to work on, every little step I'm taking,” Collins said. “I'm always thinking ahead for what I can perfect.”

Ballet is often perceived as demanding and sometimes grueling in its teaching and practice. Collins can attest to that.

“Ballet — it's all competition,” she said. “If you want to do well — you may love all the people in your class — but if you want a solo you have to get yourself out there and you have to be not afraid to be different from everyone else.”

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