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April 6, 2021

Tch of the Week: CAHS Art Teacher Brian Mead

Chicago academy high school

School buildings can be hectic and Chicago Academy High School is no exception. When I am seeking a tranquil place, I head to Brian Mead’s art classroom and all the chaos fades away. Student centered creative work is taking place, and the atmosphere makes you want to sit down and find your inner Michelangelo.

Brian Mead is only in his second year as CAHS’s art instructor, but his impact on his students and the school makes it seem like he has been here so much longer.

Inside his classroom, Mr. Mead makes art accessible for students of all levels and abilities. He works extremely hard to meet students where they are in terms of artistic ability and has built systematic procedures in place for cooperative groups. The way in which he organizes materials and the physical space allows students to ease into their work. His goal is for each student to be visually literate through the experience of making something with their hands.  

He knows visual literacy is an important skill. In our modern world, students are bombarded with visual stimulation from iPhones, to weather charts to Youtube videos. He helps students make sense of all this visual stimulation and be critical of it. Those skills transfer to other subjects.

Mr meads logo

Mr. Mead’s Logo’s project is a great idea of how his class can be accessible and yet push all levels of students.

What sets Brian’s classroom apart from others is that his students not only become artists through fantastic artistic expression but also through organized writing and critical thinking. Ask  students in Brian’s classroom about their art and they will talk about more than inspiration.   They will include their design choices for color, texture, dimension, size, and style. They will talk about how the piece can make an observer think and feel.  They will talk about the history of similar artists and that style of art. This is because Brian has pushed them to research, write, and be involved in student directed-talks about those ideas. He really is creating visually literate students who are able to make sense of all images.

Mr. Mead’s influence reaches beyond the classroom and spills into the rest of our building. Brian has been a critical part of our “Look and Feel” committee whose purpose is  to bring the culture of our building to life. Here are a few examples of Mr. Mead’s student’s work you will see when visiting CAHS:

  • CAHS Cougars and logos spruce up campus culture
  • Paw prints with our CAHS Learner’s Life qualities written above let the Cougar flair pop
  • Countless individual student art pieces fill the hallways
  • Community art pieces brighten our building and inspire
  • Mr. Mead, along with English teacher, Daniel Lopez, has created a cafe night and student art magazine that showcases student’s visual, written, verbal, and musical talents

Brian is not only a great teacher, but he is a working artist as well. He is proud to still be creating pieces that add to the profession.  Maybe that is the secret to the vibe in the room. Students know he is always working on his own craft right along with them. I am not sure where he finds the time, but Brian is continuously involved with individual personal pieces as well as freelance work. Some items he has recently worked on include:

  • Environmental Protection Agency of Illinois freelance design
  • Special Olympics of Illinois freelance work and logo design
  • Book of poetry / comic book
  • Band /concert poster promotional posters
Artistic Beginning

I have found myself wondering where all of this drive came from. Recently Brian was kind enough to share a story with me about his artistic beginnings.  Brian always knew he wanted to be involved in art. And when he had exhausted every class his high school offered in art by the end of his sophomore year, he knew he would have to make a bold move.

So to push forward with his dream, he asked his parents if he could attend the The Chicago Academy of Fine Arts high school in downtown Chicago. Not only did it cost a great deal of money,  but it was two hours away, each way, from his home in Geneva, IL. His parents said yes under the following conditions:

  1. Wake up each morning at 4:45 am and take a train and bus to school
  2. Pay for a portion of the tuition himself
  3. Get straight A’s

“I would like to build a stronger online community. It can be so valuable to build on ideas. There is a small presence on TchAUSL for the art community, but I hope people will keep sharing because it is really helpful to push our thinking.”

With an alarm clock, a summer job at a roofing and decking company, and studying on those long  Metra train rides, Brian fulfilled his obligation. He was able to pursue his dream of being an artist and was accepted into the Maryland Institute College of Art.

The dedication to teaching, art, and critical thinking that Brian possesses is contagious.  He inspires not just me but all of his students to channel their inner Michelangelo.

Here are a few of Brian’s thoughts about education:

Why did you become a teacher?

“I have always been around teaching my whole life. I came from a family of teachers. The role of teachers in peoples lives stuck out for me. I have great respect for those that teach and it helped me value learning. I also had great teachers growing up and thinking about those teachers help me measure the milestone in my life. I wanted to do the same for my students.”

Who or what inspires you?

“I respect people who have goals and set out to achieve them in any work. People that do the due diligence and follow through  to get it done. I’m inspired by people looking for new ways to do things. As an artist, I appreciate thinking out of the box. The same  idea of trying to think differently and creatively works in education and I am always anxious to see what others are trying.”

What advice do you have for your fellow TchAUSL community members?

“I would like to build a stronger online community. It can be so valuable to build on ideas. There is a small presence on TchAUSL for the art community, but I hope people will keep sharing because it is really helpful to push our thinking.”


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