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Chickasaw girls hone art talents at virtual Oklahoma Summer Arts Institute


September 8, 2020

Alyssa Underwood

Young Chickasaw artists Kali Grizzle and Alyssa Underwood developed their craft as they connected with fellow artists during the virtual Oklahoma Summer Arts Institute.

The Institute is normally hosted at Quartz Mountain. This year, the Oklahoma Arts Institute created "OSAI at Home." Students participated virtually in workshops with fellow artists, critiques and one-on-one lessons with professionals in their respective field.

"It was very different," Miss Underwood said. "They put a lot of effort into making it the same experience as it would be on campus. Of course, it wasn't the same as far as the scenic view, but as far as the learning experience itself, getting the things that I needed out of it, I still think I grew a lot."

The pair spent a week in June studying with internationally-renowned faculty and celebrity guest artists, such as Misty Copeland of American Ballet Theatre. The girls were selected from more than 1,000 applicants during a competitive statewide audition process last winter. Miss Grizzle studied acting. Miss Underwood studied drawing and painting.


Art has been an important part of life for Alyssa Underwood since she was a young child.

"I've been drawing and painting for a very long time," she said. "I grew up in a family of artists, so I was really inspired by them to do art ever since I was little."

This passion and drive for her art led Miss Underwood to attend the Institute last year, as well as virtually this summer.

"This year they had us focus more on portraiture," she said. "We worked with chalk pastels and we were drawing a portrait of ourselves. We did about four pieces and each day we learned a different technique on how to draw a portrait of yourself."

On the first day, they worked with black and white chalk pastels. The second day they worked in color, using any color they wanted. The third day they tried to stay with more natural colors. The final day they worked with complementary colors.

"All the pieces were building blocks, so we started with the very basic and then we built on top of it," Miss Underwood said.

She said her favorite part about attending the Institute was getting to know the other students, specifically getting the opportunity to hear other artists critique her work.

"We would have a presentation of all our work that we turned in and we would have somebody's art up front and everybody would critique it," she said. "I really loved that experience because there are so many wonderful and talented artists at OSAI. Hearing other people's suggestions helped me grow as an artist. I've learned to appreciate the people and artists that are around me."

Miss Underwood is a senior at Classen School of Advanced Studies in Oklahoma City. She hopes to attend college after she graduates. Continuing to paint and grow as an artist is undoubtedly part of her future plans.

"Last year every day you would wake up and go to your classes and you would do art all day and then you'd go to lunch and go back and do more," Miss Underwood said. "I remember sitting there and thinking 'this is it! This is what I want to do with my life.' This is the perfect experience of just doing art and being free to create whenever you want to."


Kali Grizzle, of El Reno, Okla., first realized her love for acting when she watched the Broadway musical "Wicked."

"Seeing Elphaba on stage made me want to be up there so badly," she said.

Her interest in acting bloomed. As she grew up, she took part in choirs and theater groups, helping her develop her acting and singing skills. Her friends encouraged her to apply for the OSAI.

"I was really nervous at first," Miss Grizzle reflected on her time before the first virtual class. "I think I would've felt the same kind of nerves if it was in person just because being around people who are so talented is a little bit scary. But as soon as that first Zoom call opened up I remembered how welcoming theater people and actors are. You want to hear people do their best, and that was automatically what it was at the Institute."

Throughout the week, Miss Grizzle was able to work on her monologues and private lessons that helped her hone her breathing and acting skills in general.

"We had a class called 'Life of an Actor,' and this was my favorite," she said. "They told us what it is like being a real actor. Honestly, at first, I felt my chest tighten it seemed so scary and overwhelming, but then after I closed my computer, I realized hearing all of that made me want to do it more. It made me want to chase it more."

It wasn't just the workshops and private lessons that Miss Grizzle enjoyed. Like her peer Miss Underwood, she found that being around fellow artists was one of the best parts of attending the Institute.

Kali Grizzle

"One of my favorite things was the entire Arts Institute and getting to be around those kinds of people," Miss Grizzle said. "It was exciting not only being a part of it but also that feeling I had after it was over. It helped me remember that I want to keep getting better. It sparked that passion for me again."

Miss Grizzle recently graduated from Yukon High School in Yukon, Okla. Her dream when it comes to acting is to be on Broadway someday.

"My goal for now is to audition and get my resume big until I feel comfortable where I can move somewhere else," she said. "As soon as possible, I'm starting dance classes which is the neatest thing. I'm really interested in the local theaters where I can build my resume. I definitely need to grow a little more before I move away."


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