Arts Academy marks 15 years of developing students

This article appeared in the September 2019 edition of the Chickasaw Times

This year marked the 15th year of the Chickasaw Arts Academy. Students from across the U.S. return annually to develop their artistic skills and gain hands-on experience.

The academy expanded this summer by separating the levels of classes and offering instruction at two locations.

The starting arts rotation (STAR) students worked on the East Central University campus in Ada, Okla. Intermediate and major level students studied at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, Okla.

The Chickasaw Arts Academy was established in 2005 to provide art programs for Native American students. Today, the academy offers classes on more than 30 different mediums.

Despite the elimination of several local and state art programs, the Chickasaw Arts Academy continues to make great strides in advancing arts education. Often, the academy is the only source of arts and culture available to most students during the year.

STAR students, ages eight to 11, rotated through performing and fine arts disciplines. Intermediate level students, ages 12 and 13, chose rotations of classes from fine arts, performing arts or mass communications.

The majors, ages 14 to 18, chose one area of focus from a variety of disciplines.

The Chickasaw Arts Academy continues to impact students by providing high quality Native-focused classes taught by renowned artists.

Chickasaw Nation Arts & Humanities executive officer Laura Stewart has witnessed growth of arts academy firsthand.

“The sustainability of this special arts endeavor shows the commitment to arts education for our young citizens,” Ms. Stewart said. “The opportunity to create is a basic human need. The youth are so talented and they just need the opportunity to shine.”

During the two-week academy, students prepare for an art gala and showcase presented on the academy’s final day.

STAR students performed the original musical Chikasha Saya, the story of a boy who went on a journey to learn about his ancestors and Chickasaw history. At the end of his journey, he learned it was a treasure to be Chickasaw.

The intermediate and majors performed the traditional musical Guys and Dolls, a romantic comedy set in Depression-era New York City.

“The arts continue to tell our story through cultural and artistic expression and achievement in visual, performing and literary arts,” Ms. Stewart said. “Our culture is intertwined in the arts and this continues through the support of our leadership.”

Chickasaw culture is embedded into academy curriculum. Students learn Chickasaw history, language, artistic styles and symbolization of Southeastern art.

Students attending the academy are living examples of how the Chickasaw Nation fulfills its mission. This program provides opportunities and promotes a sense of self-worth, accomplishment and passion among Indian students.

For more information about the Chickasaw Arts Academy, call (580) 272-5520 or visit