Interview x Jen Delos Reyes

Processed with VSCOcam with g3 presetJen Delos Reyes is one of those women that inspired me from day one. The first time I met her was seven years ago when I traveled to Canada to participate in her MFA thesis conference, Open Engagement. The conference opened my eyes to an incredible community of socially engaged artists, many of whom I am still close with today. Jen has always amazed me with her willingness to do the challenging work of building community. This is such important service and I believe one of the reasons she is such an incredible person.

When I wrote out a list of women I wanted to include in this series, Jen was at the top. In her own words Jen is a creative laborer, educator, writer, and radical community arts organizer. She is also a brave soul, giver, maker of meaning, and powerful spirit. I love the way Jen sees the world and how she uses her voice to foster connection.

In this interview Jen shares so much of her heart with us. Reading these intimate snapshots of her life remind me that we are all capable of greatness if we are willing to show up and open our hearts.


Where do you find inspiration?
Friends and allies.

Best advice you have ever taken.
“Be kind to everyone, we are all suffering.”

Do you make time for meditation and/or reflection? What does that look like?
I try to take five minutes every morning for meditation. What that looks like is probably pretty hilarious because I do it hanging upside down on an inversion table. I do this after I exercise to release my muscles and relax my mind. I also use this time to get centered for the day and in all respects to feel stronger. I start by reflecting on a mantra that is actually a variation on one you shared in a post on self-care. The root of it is bravery, clear communication, and setting clear intentions. This is especially important for me as an educator.

Something that I try to do every week is completely shut down technology on Sundays. No phone, no laptop. It is a great way to reset and reflect. It doesn’t always happen 100%, and I am not hard on myself if I end up needing to work on a Sunday.

inspired living // jen delos reyes

IMAGE: Neo-concretism assignment from my History of Socially Engaged Art class. Students had less than an hour to recreate or reinterpret a work. This piece was inspired by Lygia Clarke. Fall term, 2014.


Share your self-care musts.
Spend more time in the spaces and moments that make you happy. I often find myself feeling stressed out about deadlines or trying to be productive in every waking moment. It is not a healthy state, and not generous to the people around me. While it might seem to be a small thing, I find that even just giving myself the permission to spend a few extra minutes in moments of happiness is key, that might mean listening to music, a few extra minutes in a hot shower, sitting a while longer and enjoying tea, or especially important here in Portland Oregon, basking in the rare rays of sunshine. It is so important to acknowledge these moments and to be with them.

inspired living // jen delos reyes

IMAGE: Sun worship, Portland, OR, 2014.


What does your body need to feel nourished?
Exercise. Healthy food. Friendship. Rest. I exercise with a friend about five days a week. This is great for me because I feel stronger and get to connect with a friend and start the day feeling energized. Sharing food with friends is another way I combine two nourishing things together. I love taking the time to make and share food.

inspired living // jen delos reyes

IMAGE: BEST pancakes, 2014.


How do you practice kindness?
For me practicing kindness starts by being gentle, understanding, and compassionate with myself. This radiates out.

Tell us one thing you haven’t done yet that you really want to do.
Build my own tiny house.

List a few songs that changed your life.
These are in order of when I encountered them in my life:

Hallelujah, Leonard Cohen

I first encountered the work of Leonard Cohen reading Beautiful Losers as a thirteen year old in Winnipeg, Manitoba. I became an instant fan of his work recognizing him as a national treasure and became engrossed in taking in all his writing and music.

Hallelujah is a song that resonates with me on multiple levels—first, the sheer beauty of the song itself. Such emotional depth, and lyrically vulnerable. Second is for me is the value in seeing that this song has really been performed by other people in ways more striking and impactful than Cohen’s version—K.D Lang’s rendition and Jeff Buckley’s to name a few. I like seeing that you can put something out in the world and it can be improved upon by others. And lastly, it was seeing Cohen perform this song live a few years back while he was in his eighties. Witnessing that made me want something similar for myself, to live a life where I get to create and put my energy into the world well into my old age. It was really an incredible performance, I read someone describe it as feeling like Cohen was so buoyant, so exalted, that it was as though he would just dissipate in ecstasy before our very eyes.

inspired living // jen delos reyes

IMAGE: Hot Rocks, 2013.


Get Up, Sleater Kinney

This band was one of the reasons I learned drums, bass, and guitar and started to play in bands as a teen in the mid-90’s. Bad ass feminist girl group that emerged from the core of DIY and Riot Grrrl. I to this day carry these sensibilities with me in my work as a creative laborer, educator, and writer.


The Diamond Sea, Sonic Youth

This was the song that really started a practice of deep listening for me. I remember nightly for years in high school listening to this song on repeat.


I’m Going to Live the Life I Sing About In My Song, Mahalia Jackson

I came across this song in 2005. I was in graduate school at the time and was trying to make sense of what I found so valuable in music and why I kept drawing from it for my work. I came across this song and it was so moving. What she sang about was exactly what I was striving for in my own creative practice, to live in a way that supports the values of the work I put out in the world. I have come back to this song title recently as the title for my current book project. I’m Going to Live the Life I Sing About in my Song: How Artists Make and Live Lives of Meaning, a book that will provide inspiration for readers to creatively shape their own lives with purpose and meaning. It looks at how artists have used their creativity to shape the world they want to see and taken steps towards creating the lives they want to live.

inspired living // jen delos reyes

IMAGE: Live the Life book mock up, 2014.


Name one or two of your heroes and let us know why they mean so much to you.

Kim Gordon has been a hero for me since I was a young teen playing in bands. But what is amazing is that she continues to be someone I look up to today beyond how inspiring it was to see her rock the bass guitar. Like many creative people in my generation I held Kim and Thurston up as a model of what a perfect creative couple could be. As my relationships got more serious with age, I had a vision of what I thought life could be like with a creative equal, what it would be like to collaborate with one another, and have that kind of support from my partner. Now in my thirties I am struggling with my own marriage, and uncertainty around whether or not I should stay. While I have not yet made a decision for myself, seeing how she publicly handled her divorce was so empowering. It meant so much to me to have someone I respect so deeply talking that honestly about something I was myself grappling with.

When the affair came to light in my marriage the betrayal radiated out beyond the immediate relationship. There was this feeling of deep disappointment in the ideas I had of Feminism, and Sisterhood. Having another woman acting out of insecurity
and competition create such a damaging situation was just as hard for me to process. I fought to have it not close me off to being the kind of woman that I want to be, who supports other women, that fosters creativity, and community. Reading Kathleen Hannah reflect on the significance of Kim Gordon’s gestures toward her as an emerging musician was an important reminder to not let a situation outside of my control negatively impact how I treat others.

Kim Gordon continues to be an inspiration and a figure of strength at all stages of my life. While I once looked to her as one half of the most creative power couple of my generation I now see her even more clearly, and am even more amazed by all she does and how she moves through the world. I actually recently wrote her a letter as part of an exhibition in Japan called Sheros to thank her for all of this and for her integrity, work, drive, creativity, vulnerability, courage, and truth.

inspired living // jen delos reyes

IMAGE: Letter to Kim, 2014.


Buckminster Fuller embarked on a lifelong “experiment to discover what the little, penniless, unknown individual might be able to do effectively on behalf of all humanity.” He truly believed that each one of us could make the difference. Our lives, and our experiences are our gifts to each other and universe. His life and work serve as an important reminder to in his own words, “Never forget that you are one of a kind. Never forget that if there weren’t any need for you in all your uniqueness to be on this earth, you wouldn’t be here in the first place. And never forget, no matter how overwhelming life’s challenges and problems seem to be, that one person can make a difference in the world. In fact, it is always because of one person that all the changes that matter in the world come about. So be that one person.” I appreciate how much of what made Buckminster Fuller so interesting came from him sharing the personal traumas and struggles of his life, and how that then led to some of his most important philosophies.

I also love his epitaph, “Call me trimtab,”and how that relates to his idea that even the smallest contribution makes a big impact.


inspired living // jen delos reyes

IMAGE: Dome days, photo taken on site at an interview with artist Fritz Haeg in his Los Angeles home, 2014.


How do you create community?
I make space for it to emerge. I mean this on a variety of scales. I do a lot of work that is about creating a platform to highlight the work of others and to bring people together. That happens on a large scale through the annual conference on socially engaged art that I direct, Open Engagement.

inspired living // jen delos reyes

IMAGE: Backyard social scene, July 2014.


In smaller ways I do this through making my home a gathering point for friends and the creative community in Portland I have
yet to meet. This summer in collaboration with Caitlin Moore the gallery manager of PDX Contemporary (in addition she is also my good friend and neighbor!), and Blake Shell, the curator of the Art Gym, we hosted a weekly open event on my patio called Drinks and Leisure. The tag line was, “It is what it sounds like.” Every week through doing this with friends I got to meet so many interesting people, who were literally right in my own backyard!

What are you most grateful for?
I mean it when I say too much to list here, but in short friendship.

Photos: All images taken from @jendelosreyes. For more you can follow her on Instagram


  • Corina

    Hi Ashley, I like your interviews, they are so inspiring! :-) Corina

    • ashley

      Thanks Cornia! I’m so happy to know you are enjoying them.
      Lots of love,

  • lauren

    LOVE this one!!!!

    Jen is rad!!!

    thank you Jen for sharing so openly, very inspiring!


    • ashley

      So glad you loved it Lauren! I totally had a feeling you would. I am also really happy to have introduced you to her, two of my favorite women connecting!

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