Local Renaissance Woman Prepares for Artist Residency in French Countryside
Author, artist, dancer, healthcare tech strategist and single mom plans for uninterrupted creative time after deferring residency due to pandemic
CHICAGO – Octavia Reese is a renaissance woman: a professional informaticist as well as an artistic creative. In 2019, she applied for an artist in residence program at Chateau d’Orquevaux in France, and won the Denis Diderot AiR (artist in residence) Grant along with a coveted place amongst other talented artists. While Octavia planned to spend two weeks abroad in the summer of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic closed borders and halted Octavia’s dream excursion.
“I’ve been waiting for an opportunity like this for almost 20 years,” Octavia said. “In 2005, I won a Fulbright Fellowship to teach English in France. I also won Miss Michigan and had a difficult decision to make. I couldn’t defer the Fulbright, so I chose to compete for Miss America over going to France,” she said.
After Miss America, Octavia moved to Chicago, got married and started a family. Suddenly everything Octavia planned for own professional development took a backseat to raising her three boys, now 13, 11 and eight years old.
“I had to reprioritize my time and attention,” Octavia said. “And then I looked up and it had been years since I prioritized myself.”
In 2014, Octavia’s marriage dissolved, and she had to reinvent herself as a single parent, responsible for three young men. “That’s when I decided to put myself back in the pilot seat,” she said. “It took me a long time to learn that I can’t be an exceptional mom unless I’m an exceptional individual – and for me, that means prioritizing the development of my own skills and talents. And to do that well, I need uninterrupted creative time.” Octavia began looking for residency opportunities and found Chateau d’Orquevaux.
Octavia will spend two weeks in France – without her children – to focus on two new novels, writing film scores and painting masterpieces.
“My art is all connected,” Octavia said. “I highlight women of color in my books, music and paintings. There’s no limit to Black women’s beauty, intelligence, resilience and creativity. And that deserves to be celebrated indefinitely.”
Octavia also works in healthcare information technology and specializes in expanding customer experience with healthcare tech and strategizing engagement plans. Since she works at a hospital, she was able to get vaccinated in January.
“I am a big nerd and a vocal advocate for science. I love working in healthcare and I was so excited to get my vaccine.” Now that Octavia is vaccinated, she also hopes to be an advocate for responsible travel.
“I hope international infection rates continue to decline so I can finally embark on this journey. It’s so important to get vaccinated as soon as possible and to still adhere to responsible public behavior. Keep wearing those masks!”
Octavia’s passion is to empower Black women to chase their dreams, remember their worth, and embrace their inner and outer beauty.
From chateauorquevaux.com: The Chateau d’Orquevaux Artist Residency emphasizes the human experience and the creative process. This magnificent estate in the French countryside of Champagne-Ardenne is a unique environment, offering artists a place with limited distraction, plenty of food and an abundance of natural inspiration.