Rob Ward

Rob Ward is the fifth president and second alumnus to serve the Oklahoma Arts Institute at Quartz Mountain, a private, non-profit organization with a mission to provide exceptional multidisciplinary arts experiences that develop individual talent and inspire a lifelong passion for the arts. 

Originally from McAlester, Ward was a three-time chorus student with institute, in addition to serving an additional 15 summers as a counselor, counselor coordinator, technical director and faculty member. In addition to receiving degrees in vocal music education and choral conducting from Oklahoma State University, Southern Methodist University and the University of North Texas, Ward has taught middle, high school and university choirs. We caught up with Ward and picked his brain on …

Photo courtesy Rob Ward

… the unique perspective he brings to this role.

There is no substitution for having experienced the Oklahoma Summer Arts Institute firsthand. I wish we could get more supporters to Quartz Mountain to see what we do! I wonder if people roll their eyes sometimes when we say things like: “This experience may change your life,” but I’m proof of that statement. I met one of my greatest mentors at OSAI, who then recruited me to Oklahoma State and later to the University of North Texas. OSAI put me on a path to becoming a professional musician and conductor and I’ve never forgotten that. 

…what makes Quartz Mountain so special. 

My wife will tell you that Quartz Mountain is my ‘happy place,’ which is to say OAI is my ‘happy place.’ Having participated in the Summer Arts Institute, and now the Fall Arts Institute, in so many different capacities, the thing that amazes me is that it’s equally special, in each of those roles. I think the crux of it is that it’s rare to have the opportunity to set aside all of life’s demands to focus on something that feeds you. There is also something more, something intangible, that comes as a result of the many ways our programs and participants are supported. 

We are lucky to call Quartz Mountain home because of our partnership with the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department. The setting alone is an inspiration, but it’s the folks who work at Quartz Mountain and Lookout Kitchen who make us feel at home. Then, to think that some of our participants are able to attend on scholarship due to the support of the State Legislature, State Department of Education, Oklahoma Arts Council, NEA, as well as a long list of foundations, corporations and private donors, amounts to this vast community of supporters who are lifting up some of Oklahoma’s most gifted artists and arts educators and saying: “We’ve got you, we’re proud of you and keep going!”

… his day-to-day.

I’m fortunate to work alongside some tremendous friends and colleagues, as well as a board of directors who care deeply about our organization and our mission. They are the ones who turn the wheels. What I find myself considering often is what our role to play in the larger arts/education community is. As we continue to run our programs, I see opportunity to connect with other organizations across the state. I want to know what others are doing so that I can lift them up when I have the opportunity. So aside from the day to day, I’d say I spend a fair amount of energy having conversations with stakeholders around the state to educate them about our programs, but also to get them thinking about the economic and cultural impact the arts can have in their communities.     

… OAI’s other programming. 

A program we piloted last year is the OAI Quartz Previews. These are short workshops we hold in various locations around the state to introduce students to the kind of work they would do at OSAI, while educating them about the audition process. Human nature tells us that we aren’t good enough or aren’t ready when it comes to auditioning for a program like OSAI. I tell students all the time that, “Yes, you are good enough, right now!” The reality is not every person who applies will be accepted, but that’s no different than a college application or job interview. Every time we put ourselves in that situation, we improve, we learn something about ourselves and we gain confidence for the next time we apply. 

… what he wants to people to know about OAI.

I’m disappointed when I talk to an adult artist who grew up in Oklahoma who says, “I had no idea this opportunity was out there when I was young.” The thing I want everyone to know about OAI … is for them to know about OAI! Tell your friends, children, the teachers and administrators in your schools about this opportunity that is singular to Oklahoma! There are other programs around the country that are similar, but I’ve yet to find one that is just like the Oklahoma Arts Institute. We’re often told that Oklahoma has something truly special and unique in OAI.

… what he enjoys most about his role. 

Prior to working for the Arts Institute, I was an educator, and the thing I most enjoyed were those lightbulb moments when the elements of your lesson came together in a moment of understanding. It’s not that different working for an arts institution where you plan and fundraise, negotiate and engineer a moment for others to be inspired or to find their purpose. Those moments seem so distant much of the time, but when you consider the thousands of moments over the last 47 years of the Arts Institute, you feel pretty special being part of that legacy.    

… OAI’s offerings. 

Along with the Summer Arts Institute for students ages 14-19, we hold a Fall Arts Institute for adults. OFAI is a series of all-inclusive, four-day workshops held over three different weekends in October at Quartz Mountain State Park. Any adult can attend these workshops, but scholarships and discounts are available for Oklahoma educators and Summer Arts Institute alumni.

… where we can find him outside the office.

My vice is golf, no doubt. But I enjoy spending time with my family and friends, going to great restaurants, attending arts, cultural and sporting events, cooking and, when time allows, travel.

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