Kristen Swank

Kristen Swank

OKLAHOMA CITY – Changing leaves and dropping temperatures signal the approach of an annual tradition for educators and artists across the state — a return to the Oklahoma Fall Arts Institute (OFAI) at Quartz Mountain. After a year away due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, hundreds were eager to journey to the newly renovated Quartz Mountain State Park this October for hands-on training through a series of intensive weekend workshops taught by nationally renowned artists in the literary, visual and performing arts.

Kristen Swank of Stillwater Junior High School was among this year’s attending educators.

Since 1983, the Oklahoma Arts Institute has offered this opportunity for teachers and artists to sharpen their skills, or learn new ones altogether, in an immersive environment with innovators in their fields. This program supplements the organization’s flagship Oklahoma Summer Arts Institute for high school students, held each summer since 1977. OFAI connects Oklahoma educators and creatives with some of the nation’s leading teaching artists, offering professional development and valuable training for teachers to take new skills back to their classrooms across the state.

Oklahoma public school educators attend OFAI on full scholarship, with tuition discounts for those who teach at private schools. Unlike other workshops, all meals and lodging are included in tuition. Removing or reducing the financial burden allows participants to focus on growing in their artform and to develop strategies for integrating workshop techniques into the classroom. Throughout the all-inclusive, four-day workshop retreat, participants also enjoyed activities and electives in tai chi, screenprinting, 3-D needle felting, guided stargazing and more.

“This year is the second year I've attended the OFAI in person, I also attended a virtual session last year,” said Swank. “I use part of what I have learned each time to further my students’ art experiences. The collaboration with other visual art teachers is invaluable, I get so many great ideas from the teachers I meet.”

OFAI workshops are geared to a variety of interests and teaching backgrounds. This year, participants chose from classes in painting, printmaking, poetry, photography and more. Workshops especially designed for educators included Stop Motion Animation for Teachers, Transforming Learning through Arts Integration and Teach Like It’s Music.

Participants interested in photography had the opportunity to study with renowned artist Jim Stone, Distinguished Professor of Photography at the University of New Mexico, whose works have been exhibited and published internationally. In his workshop, Photographing Strangers, Stone helped participants gain skills in managing spontaneous portrait situations while increasing their confidence in approaching and gaining the cooperation of their subjects.

“We couldn’t be more thrilled to be back at our Quartz Mountain home, continuing our tradition of providing Oklahoma educators with professional development opportunities of the highest caliber,” said Julie Cohen, Oklahoma Arts Institute President & CEO. “OFAI gives these educators and artists the unique opportunity to broaden their artistic horizons in a beautiful setting, while learning techniques they can take back to their students across the state.”

Every year, the Oklahoma Arts Institute reaches over 50,000 Oklahoma school children through their teachers' attendance at OFAI. Stillwater educator scholarships are made possible through funding from the Oklahoma State Department of Education and the E.L. and Thelma Gaylord Foundation. Additional program support is provided by the Oklahoma Arts Council, Inasmuch Foundation, McCasland Foundation, and the Zarrow Foundations.

Next summer, Oklahoma high school students can also study with the nation’s top artists at the Oklahoma Summer Arts Institute. Auditions for this prestigious program begin in January online and at locations across the state, and every accepted student receives a scholarship to the program. More information is available at oaiquartz.org.

This project was supported in part by the Oklahoma Arts Council, which receives support from the State of Oklahoma and the National Endowment for the Arts. The Oklahoma Arts Institute is a private, nonprofit organization founded in 1977, with a mission to provide exceptional multidisciplinary arts experiences that develop individual talent and inspire a lifelong passion for the arts.

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