Humans of the UIC School of Art & Art History: Jen Delos Reyes

Creative laborer, educator, writer, radical community arts organizer, and Associate Director of the UIC School of Art & Art History

Welcome to our new blog about the diverse human ecology of the UIC School of Art & Art History.  We capture the unique style of members of our community somewhere on campus and ask them to answer 5 questions.  

1.) What is your most fierce character trait?

Being calm in the midst of chaos. I used to not be able to handle stressful situations. But  more and more people point out to me how calm I am when faced with  things would be really stressful for most other people. I think this is something I developed from living on the West Coast for close to a decade. The West Coast mellow/chill vibes are definitely one of my  strongest character traits at this point.

2.) What do you teach at UIC, and can you tell us about something fun you recently did in class?

Currently I am teaching ART 101: Intro to Artmaking and Critical Thinking. I think one of the most fun things I have done is make a playlist for the class. The playlist for me is just as important as the reading list. Each week I pair a song that lines up with the topics we are covering -- everything from modernism and postmodernism to socially engaged art and activism. I think any class that can value Drake and Bikini Kill alongside Walter Benjamin and Suzi Gablik definitely embraces a sense of playfulness.

3.) Tell us about something you have recently made or done that you are proud of?

I am so proud of Open Engagement, an international conference and platform that supports socially engaged art. The conference highlights the work of transdisciplinary artists, activists, students, scholars, community members, and organizations working within the complex social issues and struggles of our time. I really never imagined that this conference would become such an important site for so many people when I started it in 2007. I am so excited to bring this conference to UIC in 2017.

4.) Who has most influenced you in your life/career trajectory?

Some of my most influential folks have been people I have never had the pleasure of meeting. I really can’t pick just one. The following three people have deeply impacted me, especially as an educator.  The first is artist and activist Sister Corita Kent. She inspires me to see the world anew and to share the gift of really looking with students. Inventor and visionary Buckminster Fuller remains my guide in resisting the impulse to become an expert, embracing  failure as the greatest education, valuing the experiences life gives us as lessons, and seeing  experimentation as the life-blood of education. Finally,  spiritual leader, poet and peace activist Thich Nhat Hahn has influenced me with his wisdom, compassion, and love. He is truly one of the greatest teachers the world will ever know.

5.) What has impressed you most about UIC in your short time here ?

Truthfully, it is the diversity of the community at UIC that impresses me the most. I feel so enriched by the multitude of perspectives and knowledge bases that are present at the university.

I lived and taught for a long time in Portland, Oregon —one of the whitest cities in America. When out with friends I would more often than not be the only person of color in the restaurant or bar. When Oregon was granted statehood in 1859, it was the only state in the Union admitted with a constitution that forbade black people from living, working, or owning property there. It was illegal for black people even to move to the state until 1926. Oregon's founding is part of the forgotten history of racism in the American west. It is really shocking to see how that legacy remains visible in the state to this day.

My approach to teaching and personal scholarly activity values and acknowledges multiple forms of knowledge. How I run my classroom is based on a foundation of DIY approaches, collaboration and engagement, so when there are people coming from a diverse range of human experiences it enriches the learning environment.