Interview Article with Laura Reeder: Artist, Teacher, Human

Swampscott’s Laura Reeder. Image from https://www.bu.edu/cfa/profile/laura-reeder/

Since October of 2018, Laura Reeder, a citizen of Swampscott, has been dedicating lots of her time and energy to The Haven Project. This is a wonderful program that helps people who are low income, may not have a steady place to live, or are lacking reliable food, money or transportation to find and keep steady paying work.

According to their website, they’ve developed over a hundred on-site paid work opportunities since starting their job training program back in 2015. These are ongoing jobs within their Cafe and in their Catalyst workshops. The program is all about helping clients to become self-supporting and independent in a safe environment.

The Haven Project has also partnered with local nonprofits and some community businesses, and these arrangements have been vital to the program’s success.

Laura does one-on-one mentoring with clients bi-weekly, and is a significant donor being that she consistently contributes arts and crafts supplies to The Haven Project workshops. She initially got involved with the project because she’d previously worked as a public school teacher and with various other community organizations.

Image from The Haven Project website.

With seeing how so many young people and families had been challenged by issues like homelessness, Laura knew within herself that she could be a great asset to the organization. When the Executive Director of The Haven Project, Gini Mazman, asked Laura why she wanted to volunteer, the talented Teacher and Artist simply replied, “The Haven Project bridges a difficult period between K-12 school and adulthood for so many. I wanted to use my experience as an educator and as an artist to encourage young people to succeed, and The Haven Project provided a way to do that.”

“Every single story is different, and at the Haven Project we get to learn so much from each other,” Laura says in her statement on the organization’s official website. “I believe that poverty of spirit in one person is dangerously expensive to all of society. We cannot afford the associated costs of despair that comes with homelessness. James Baldwin once wrote, ‘Anyone who has struggled with poverty knows how extremely expensive it is to be poor.’ That statement inspires my mission and resonates with the times in my own life when I was not able to make ends meet or felt that there was no better tomorrow.”

A nice image of beach art from www.LauraKReeder.com.

Laura’s passion is art, and when you visit her website, www.LauraKReeder.com, you will see some of the loveliest pieces, and get wonderful insight into her vision, as well as the visions of the website’s contributors . I finally caught up with her for an interview, and she was a pleasure to talk to.

“Ok, so I belong to this international community of crazy artists who think that walking is art,” she joyfully explained to me. “And, we all have sort of like this understanding that, when you get out there and walk, stuff happens, you know? Even if you are not a walker, and your mobility is a wheelchair, or a bike or whatever it is. Getting your body physically outdoors, out of doors, moving through the world, generates creativity.”

She describes what she does as “cultivating”, and it’s one of the most unique art forms I have ever seen. On her website, Laura writes “Walking drawings, as labyrinths, explore boundaries, power, and coexistence of diverse people who learn by movement through a shared space. When nature and daily life align, it is possible to walk + draw + connect before the tide refreshes our time together.”

One of the creative beach drawings from Laura’s website, www.LauraKReeder.com.

I wanted to know whether the COVID-19 pandemic had restricted her much workwise. “I teach teachers, artists, and music teachers at Boston University.” she said. “They are from all across the United States and around the world, and have expressed to me the many challenges and how they feel about physically returning to classes during this pandemic. My actual children are all adults, but I do have a granddaughter who is going back to school, and it’s a struggle to try and juggle work and family time with this pandemic going on.”

“It’s just a mess, this Coronavirus, all over the map,” Laura continued. “All of my students teach in public schools, private schools, large and small institutions of learning. I just actually had two students ask me for extensions on assignments because they have small children at home that they need to take care of, and at the same time they are trying to get prepared for live, in-person classes.”

“They are also trying to set up online classroom strategies, so that if and when they have to possibly quarantine, for themselves or if the school shuts down, they can be prepared,” Laura said. “These are teachers who really want to go back to teach. It’s just that many of them, I think, are feeling overwhelmed by everything that’s going on as a result of COVID-19, having to do so much simultaneously between family, work and school.”

Lovely work displayed on Laura’s website, www.LauraKReeder.com.

I asked Laura how things were looking so far with the college kids of the area finally returning to classes. “Yup, students are coming back to campus,” she said. “I feel that Boston University has done a wonderful job of encouraging students to stay home whenever they have the chance, to take classes online instead of physically at the school. But, yes, the doors are officially open. They have a very effective Coronavirus testing strategy, and being that they are a research institution they have the capacity to do a lot of scientific testing that lots of other college communities may not necessarily have.”

According to Boston University’s ‘Back2BU’ section of their website, testing for Laura’s students as well as everyone else in the community will be free, to include all faculty and staff as well. All of these community members will be tested upon returning to campus, and everyone will also be regularly tested for COVID-19 throughout the entire semester.

I wanted to know if Laura herself was feeling overwhelmed by all that’s going on with both the ongoing pandemic as well as the students, faculty, and staff returning to the University. “No, I’m not overwhelmed,” she told me. “I actually think that, overall, I have a pretty easy life. I have been teaching with Boston University for the past three years, and it’s been via their online campus. So, I’ve never really needed to be physically on campus. Most colleges I would say have decent technology, and being that I work at a research institution they have very good technology. So, there have been no issues with that.”

A peek inside one of Laura’s creative spaces. Image from www.LauraKReeder.com.

“You know, in my opinion, I feel like us college professors are very privileged people” Laura said. “Whenever we physically go to campus, we show up for a couple of days of teaching, and then we can go back and work from home. We can do our grading from home as well as our meetings.”

Laura has been doing work via the internet for a while, so it’s become a routine for her nowadays. “The other part of my work is that I am also an Education Researcher and Curriculum Consultant,” she said. “I’ve been able to do that work online as well, and it actually keeps costs low for the people that hire me. I realize that schools don’t have a lot of money to pay for my traveling, and for the last ten years I’ve been working for a school district that’s located in Long Island, New York. While I do travel to meet with teachers every summer and quarterly, in between I can do videos, phone calls, and emails.”

Striking pieces on display at Laura’s website, www.LauraKReeder.com.

The work that Laura displays on her website is absolutely stunning. “For me,” Laura began, “I teach artists who want to be teachers. Physically making ceramics, or metal welding, or sculpting, well, those are things that are impossible to teach online. You just cannot do that. But most of the work that I do involves me helping my students to go out into the world, observe how kids develop, observe art creating classrooms, etc. That’s one of the biggest obstacles that COVID-19 has caused, because my students can’t go out into classrooms and observe now. Their hands-on experience, as a result, is changing significantly.”

Laura and I began talking about how so many of us spend so much time in our home offices these days, especially with the pandemic that’s upon us all right now. “Honestly, too much time on the computer just sucks!” she laughed. “I love walking though. I walk to think, to create, to study, everything. So, because walking is like the opposite of sitting in front of my computer, I can’t stop myself from doing it. Pretty much everything I do now creatively simply comes from me walking. So, it’s kind of a funny balance, but it works fine for me.”

One of the beautiful beach drawings on Laura’s website, www.LauraKReeder.com.

“One of my favorite things about Swampscott is the iconic beach walk,” Laura said. “The main village center of Swampscott happens to be not just Swampscott but it’s actually the waterfront that we share with the city of Lynn. The waterfront is along a place called King’s Beach. That walkway and that beach there is a meeting of cultures.”

“When I go and do my large beach drawings,” she continued, “these large labyrinths that people can walk in, I meet people from everywhere. People who have moved to this area, from Swampscott to the north shore, have moved here from places like Ukraine, Russia, China, Central America, Guatemala, just all around the world. They may be new, they may have been living here all their lives, but they all want to meet other human beings. That’s why that particular part of Swampscott is extra special.”

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Curiosity drives me, but I’m mostly interested in researching and writing about urban news, music, and health topics. A lil’ politics, too. Sometimes.

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L. Woods

L. Woods

Curiosity drives me, but I’m mostly interested in researching and writing about urban news, music, and health topics. A lil’ politics, too. Sometimes.

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