Many Oklahoma children who are passionate about the arts dream of attending the Oklahoma Arts Institute at Quartz Mountain each summer. Years ago, a young Tulsa native named Tim Blake Nelson attended the poetry program for three years. He calls his experience at Quartz Mountain “transformative.”
“Though I had excellent English teachers in high school, and I was brought up in a very intellectual home, I had not been exposed to much poetry, let alone the poetry workshop experience provided at Quartz Mountain,” Nelson says. “We studied with real poets who treated us not like high school kids, but college students, and these expectations were profoundly uplifting, both technically within our work, and psychologically in encouraging us to take that work and ourselves seriously.”
As one of the institute’s most celebrated participants, Nelson will return to Oklahoma for his induction into the inaugural OAI Alumni Hall of Fame ceremony, held in conjunction with the institute’s 40th anniversary. An acting veteran of such movies as O Brother, Where Art Thou, The Incredible Hulk and Leaves of Grass – as well as the writer and director of numerous other films and plays – Nelson says his Oklahoma roots have informed much of his creativity and career.
“Growing up in Oklahoma has been a boon for me both directly and indirectly,” he says. “Everyone who creates in the arts has to do so from a specific place, whether he/she loves or repudiates that place, or feels something in between. I mostly love Oklahoma, and to this day I am most comfortable writing and playing characters from what I consider ‘my’ part of the world, though I’ve now lived in New York for far longer.… Additionally, growing up in the Southwest, and making a decision early on to immerse myself in the place and meet as many characters with as many points of view and stories and manners of expressing themselves as possible, I became my own sort of student of acting and storytelling without even knowing it, just by virtue of wanting to meet as many interesting people around me as possible in such a wonderfully specific region of the country.”
Nelson has written and directed several movies set in his home state, with more in the works. He says the key to encouraging arts of all types in Oklahoma is to approach life with an open mind. This, Nelson says, fosters the kind of spirit in which the arts can thrive.
“Because the arts emanate from the position that anything is possible, closed minds will always inhibit creativity,” he says. “The more accepting and inclusive we can be, the more we benefit from one another and the myriad perspectives we all bring to the world around us. This crosses ethnicities, creeds, genders, sexual preferences and all other ways we find to distinguish groups from one another in destructive or inimical ways. As for the positive aspects of Oklahoma, what I continue to appreciate most is a generosity of spirit that makes us one of the most welcoming areas of the country. I love coming home because a kind of patient decency seems to pervade.
“Okies give one another the benefit of the doubt, and we forgive; we want and see the best in one another. I truly believe that. Specifically when it comes to the arts, places like OAI, one of the only organizations of its kind to focus almost exclusively on in-state kids, will nurture future artists who can take that Okie generosity of spirit far out into the world.”