ChiArts Alumna Shaqui Reed: Arts, Advocacy and Education

Shaqui Reed truly has a story to tell; drawing from her mission to uplift Black culture with her award-winning work, this artist, designer, and teacher at Chicago High School for the Arts (ChiArts) embodies what artistic passion is all about. “Art is all around us,” says Reed. “It’s in everything we eat, do and breathe–it’s in everything!”

We spoke with Reed about her love of the arts and what being a ChiArts student-turned-teacher means to her and her career.

Chicago Defender: ChiArts certainly cemented your artistic path, but what sparked your initial interest in the arts? Were you that little kid who was always doodling or creating something?

Reed: I was definitely a creator from the beginning. My grandma and dad were artists and they inspired me. I never knew that I wanted to be an artist, though; it was during elementary school where I first really learned about art in a serious way.

Chicago Defender: Was there a teacher at school that helped you find your footing, who perhaps served as a mentor?

Reed: Yes! That teacher was Krystal Webb and I am still in contact with her today. She made art so fun and interesting. She also made it educational by teaching me about different Black artists like Elizabeth Catlett. It was all just a different side of an art class that I had never seen before, especially from a Chicago public school.

Chicago Defender: As the saying goes, “the student is now the teacher.” What is it like to be a ChiArts faculty member–and being on the other side of the coin, so to speak?

Reed: It’s amazing to be on the other side. As a teacher who has auditioned and selected some of the students, I see the potential in them. I remember what it was like when I sat in that seat, so I look at students’ work and see where they can be in a couple of years with the right training under their belt. I worked hard to be here, but I now also have a responsibility to those students.

Chicago Defender: It is well-documented that from a budgetary standpoint, arts programs in public schools are typically the first to get cut, which is why ChiArts is so necessary, particularly for students in underserved communities. How does this impact you?

Reed: Yes, art programs are quick to get cut and that’s why ChiArts is so important because for a person like me, not coming from a strong economic background, I wouldn’t have been able to take a free art class. I wouldn’t have known my potential. I probably wouldn’t even be an artist because I just wouldn’t have had that opportunity.

Chicago Defender: Personally, what has surprised you the most about your journey from student to teacher?

Reed: I guess the surprising part for me is finding out that teachers are actually…people! But also, I was a bit surprised about ChiArts’ willingness to be open to me and my ideas, especially since I’m a first-year teacher. It’s amazing to have that support from a whole community of people who really want me to do well.

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LaShawn Williams is a Chicago-based freelance writer and arts and entertainment enthusiast. Find her on social media @MsWilliamsWorld


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