Karen Benita Reyes: Improving Lives Through Art

October 31 - On The Dot
FIRST THOUGHT: Art for Art’s Sake

Have you ever seen a kid finger paint? They don’t have a care in the world as they wildly maneuver their paint-splattered fingers to express themselves. They don’t think getting their hands dirty is that big of a deal, and they could care less whether anyone else likes the final result.

Today, let’s adopt this kind of breezy attitude. Grab some paint or colored pens and let your fingers create some expressive artwork, even if it’s just a fun little doodle. When we let go of the noise in our minds and from the outside world and let our imaginations take over, we can express ourselves in ways we may never have thought possible.


Artistic expression has proven to be beneficial both in our personal and professional lives. For example, take this startup CEO, who, while studying computer science and economics in college, took dance classes in hopes of tapping into his creative side. It was an experience he believes has strengthened his business acumen. Even Apple mastermind Steve Jobs admits it was a calligraphy class he took that inspired him to design beautiful typography for the Mac computer.

Art classes can have a profound effect on students and their studies. According to DoSomething.org, students who study art are four times more likely to excel in academics, and three times more likely to be awarded for school attendance.

WOMAN TO WATCH: Karen Benita Reyes, Executive Director of ArtReach at Lillstreet

One mighty creative gal who is doing some really cool stuff is Karen Benita Reyes. Karen earned a Ph.D. in urban educational policy studies and worked for nearly a decade as the managing editor of an academic journal called Latino Studies before moving on to teach high-school art. She also taught a college bridge English course to help better the lives of adults who were formerly incarcerated. Yeah, she’s the kind of passionate teacher most of us dream about learning from.

For the past handful of years, Karen has acted as the executive director for a nonprofit called ArtReach at Lillstreet. Founded in 1990, ArtReach works to empower and connect people through the practice of visual arts, often working with underserved populations in Chicago that might not otherwise have access to such programming. Youth programs are often collaborative and experimental, and range from mixed-media art to ceramics. The adult and elder programs offer every facet of art practice, and highlight the history and therapeutic nature of art. ArtReach programs are available in more than 25 Chicago communities, and the nonprofit has been responsible for more than 8,100 art encounters since its inception.

ArtReach is mobile, so instructors are available to visit a variety of locales, from hospitals to community centers, to teach students about the life-changing world of art. And ArtReach uses social media to share photos of students and their work. It’s really neat to watch as students sit at their pottery wheels, their expressions evoking a sense of concentration and wonder, then revel along with them in their finished masterpieces as they beam with accomplishment.

Karen credits her mother for instilling the boldness in her to care so deeply for others. She recounts a time when she was a teenager and her mother arranged for her to take a bus ride with members of the National Organization for Women to a political rally in Washington, D.C. It was an important learning experience for Karen, and one that taught her that a group of brave women can be a powerful force, a sentiment she hopes to instill in her own daughter.


In our modern-day society, it takes a lot of courage to pursue an artistic life, but as journalist Maria Shriver said:

“Art is fundamental, unique to each of us. ... Even in difficult economic times—especially in difficult economic times—the arts are essential.”

This is Melinda Garvey signing off until next time. Remember, ladies, empowered women empower other women. Share On the Dot so more women can have a voice. Thanks for getting ready with us!

To learn more about our conversation, check us out at OnTheDotWoman.com and talk to us @OnTheDotWoman on Twitter and Instagram. We’d love to hear your voice.

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