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Mrs. Sharon Samuels Reed Awarded 2020 Arts Partner of the Year By Dr. Francesca Armmer

On October 21, 2020, during the Annual ArtsPartners Meeting, Mrs. Sharon Samuels Reed was named Arts Partner of the Year for 2020! This award is given in recognition of exemplary support and service that has resulted in a more energized cultural arts environment in our Peoria area. The legacy of community service and commitment to social justice through the arts from Mrs. Reed is outstanding.

Celebrating Highlights of Her Journey

Educator and Administrator

Mrs. Reed began her teaching professional career with the Peoria Public Schools in 1972. Within the school system, she served as Chairperson of the Cultural Studies Department, with responsibilities within the areas of music, drama, dance, and visual arts. Through her tenure, a standard of arts performance excellence was established that was reflected in student participation in plays, community performances, and local, regional, and national competitions. Because of her concern for the students, Mrs. Reed emphasized the importance of optimal musical performance while becoming an honorable person. Her professional service has also included serving seven years as Chairperson of Cultural Studies at Pekin Community High School. Through her emphasis upon arts education, students were given an opportunity to learn and grow as individuals while experiencing an enhanced exposure to diverse musical genres. After retiring in 2008, Mrs. Reed served the Peoria Public School for seven years as the Director of Fine Arts.

Also, as an educator and administrator, Mrs. Reed provided an active role with the Illinois Arts Council. When called upon, Mrs. Reed has served as Grant Reader for the Arts and Foreign Languages (AFL) division. She also has served as Administrator of the AFL grants for the State of Illinois. Mrs. Reed was also an invited presenter for Bradley University in the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) program. As an instructor, she shared the Negro Spiritual: History and Continued Impact. Additionally, for two years, Mrs. Reed served as a Resource Specialist for the National Endowment for the Arts.


While dedicating numerous years to professional service, there remained a vision that Mrs. Reed was compelled to fulfill. That vision was the establishment of a musical organization developed to inform and celebrate musical diversity with a emphasis on the contributions of African American artists, composers, and performers. This organization is the Heritage Ensemble. This excerpt from the mission statement of the Heritage Ensemble reflects the passion and dedication that remains an essential beacon in depicting the Heritage Ensemble:

The Heritage Ensemble exists to celebrate the culture and history of African Americans through music. People of all cultures will be exposed to the diversity, beauty, richness, and complexity of musical literature born out of the African American Experience. Whether it is through our singing or the message in our music, the Heritage Ensemble strives to tear down walls and build bridges between all people. This diverse literature—spirituals, ragtime, jazz, gospel, work songs, hollers will be presented in a professional manner for the education and enjoyment of its members as well as for the entertainment and cultural enrichment of the community.

For over 20 years the Heritage Ensemble continues to flourish with a membership of approximately 30 chorus members. As Mrs. Reed has led the Ensemble to respond to several community performance requests, including performances at the Peoria Museum, the revitalization of the George Washington Carver Center, and Regional Conference of the United Methodist Church sessions; two annual signature performance events are the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr Concert-held in January and the Juneteenth Concert-held in June. At each of the signature performances, audience attendance averages from 325-375 persons. Dr. John Cooper, Western Illinois University professor shared, “Her concerts starkly remind us of how things were, how things are, and make us reflect on how things should be!” This 2020 year Mrs. Reed addressed the negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic by developing a “Virtual Juneteenth Celebration.” This production and performance became another reflection of the commitment to arts education and advocacy!

Blending her commitment to the arts with offering opportunities to the youth of our community, Mrs. Reed founded the Youth Heritage Ensemble. The Youth Heritage Ensemble was established approximately ten years for youth in grades 9-12. This group has averaged 11 members and performs at the signature concerts. Through this organization young people not only learn sound musical performance education, but experience the formal and informal lessons of self-respect, empowerment, and courtesy. Janda’ Carter, Esq, President of the Heritage Ensemble, shared, ”Through her leadership, passion, and guidance-the Heritage Ensemble has experienced a diversity in the types of music we learn and in the diverse opportunities we have been blessed to experience while performing.”

Community Collaborator and Activist

In the past three years, Mrs. Reed has led a collaboration with our Peoria local National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in the nationally based NAACP’s Afro-Academic, Cultural, Technological and Scientific Olympics (ACT-SO) program. This program provides a platform for high school students to share their ideas with a focus upon becoming leaders In science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), humanities, business, and the arts. Students meet in formal sessions to address topics of academics and life skills; while also receiving individualized coaching associated with their category of interest. In this 2020 ACT-SO cycle, Mrs. Reed served as coach for seven student participants in categories of classical and contemporary vocal performance. Through tireless efforts with the group, one of the students met the standard of eligibility in local competition and participated in the national competition. In addition to her musical expertise, Mrs. Reed was the role model for perseverance and commitment in a new and different setting, the virtual setting. In each individual way, all of the students benefited. Deloris Turner, retired Educator and Administrator, captured an essence of the commitment of Mrs. Reed when she shared, “A person’s passion is not authentic until it can be unselfishly shared, without reservations!”

Congratulations, Mrs. Sharon Samuels Reed; we celebrate your giftedness and your passion to make our community a more honorable and welcoming place for all!