ORLEANS — As a choreographer, educator, hair stylist, and planning board member, Andrea Shaw Reed has looked to bring out the beauty in people and places. Now she wants to bring what she’s learned to another board, where she hopes to learn more.
“The board of selectmen is five people,” she said in a recent interview. “You have to wrestle with ideas, to listen to the people you’re talking to so you can move forward. If you don’t get the approval of town meeting, you’re not successful. The benchmark for success is not whether you put on a good show.”
Reed is one of three hopefuls to take out papers for two selectman seats up for election in May. Incumbents David Currier and Mefford Runyon have done so as well.
It was a decision by the selectmen in 2010 to set up a series of work groups on the town’s future that drew Reed, with her background in arts education and the non-profit community, into the world of planning. Out of the groups’ recommendations to the selectmen, the Village Center study and Village Center and Main Street design plans “took off,” she said. As did her civic involvement after Chet Crabtree urged her to join the planning board.
“I watched Ken McKusick, Chet, and John Fallender, how they talked to each other,” she recalled. “Ken McKusick was a statesman. There was divergence of opinion. I wasn’t sure I had the skill set, but I knew I could study leadership here. He was building consensus.”
Nine years later, Reed, now its chairman, is completing her third term on the board. It’s a full circle, given that she and her husband, Dr. Timothy Reed, chose to locate here more than 22 years ago in part because Orleans had decided to hire a town planner. It was a sign, she said, “that this town was investing in its future.”
Reed was already familiar with this end of the Cape, where she enjoyed girlhood summers at the house her parents rented with friends in Wellfleet. She was raised in Chevy Chase near Washington, D.C., where her father was head of research and development for the Atomic Energy Commission. “When you grow up with someone thinking about the country in your house, it changes the conversation at the dinner table,” Reed said. Her mother and her mother’s father were both social workers, and her aunt is still teaching dance at age 86. “It’s your obligation,” she said of the lessons she learned. “If you see something you can do and make better in the world, you’re obligated to do it.”
While earning a bachelor’s in theatre and dance at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, Reed made visits to Wellfleet to paint and have her work critiqued by artist Walter Dorrell, former owner of the Kendall Gallery. After graduation, Reed performed a jete across the county to land at UCLA, with NYU one of the two top programs for dance in the U.S. “I had lived in the New York area,” she said. “LA was a lot scarier and the program was bigger and tougher. I had to prove something to myself, that I could cut it.” The choreography and performance major thrived, enjoying the cultural mix.
When she returned to the D.C. area with her master’s degree, she freelanced as a dance educator, using her art “to connect people back to something alive and vibrant in themselves,” she said. “I did not become a dance therapist, because I valued the art form more than the therapeutic. I think the art form has something to offer that can be healing, but that’s not the primary reason. It makes me very respectful of good design and process.”
Reed went on to work at St. Andrew’s Episcopal School in Washington, where she “rehabbed the art department” and the school built a studio for her. A comfortable berth, but husband Tim had gotten a match for his medical residency in Cleveland and the couple decided to move to Ohio. After teaching dance and exercise there, Reed got involved with a program in the public schools, one that continues to this day. “We were training artists to go into classrooms with core education for math, social studies, and science and translate their skill set to get kids up and on their feet,” she said. “It’s what’s now called performance assessment. How do we know the kids learned what we thought we taught them? They could demonstrate that through the performing arts.”
While living in Cleveland and beginning a family, the couple continued to vacation in Wellfleet. Tim, who had talked about being an independent practitioner on the Cape, opened the Yellow Pages one day and called up Dr. John Eten of Orleans Medical to get the lay of the land. Their lunch conversation turned into a job offer; Eten had been looking for someone to run his practice while he went sailing for three months in a boat he’d been building.
“That’s what I got for my birthday present in 1998,” Reed said. “We were moving to the Cape.” Wonderful as that sounded, she had concerns.
“I was worried about the education the kids would get,” she said. “I didn’t know much about the community college and the quality of the schools. I was stupid. I had no idea that kids here were treated like an endangered species.” She credits Nauset Superintendent Tom Conrad, then principal of Nauset High, for “insisting on excellence. He brought the model of the scholar athlete and built the arts.”
As outreach director of the Academy of Performing Arts, she was deeply involved in building those arts programs with a coalition that included the Academy, the Nauset schools, and the Arts Foundation of Cape Cod. But three years into a five-year state program, “their funding got gutted,” Reed said. “The Academy didn’t have the infrastructure to keep me.” There was a job offer to teach in Boston, but she had school-aged children here.
While cutting Reed’s hair, Judy Perez, owner of N.Y. Hair Co. and Spa, gave her some good advice. “‘You’re not paying attention to where you are,’” Reed recalled Perez telling her. “‘What pays here is cleaning houses, real estate, and cutting hair. With your fine arts background, you should go to hair school. I’ll hire you the minute you get out.’” True to her word, Perez did just that. Reed has worked with her for 15 years, also aiding the business as its strategic planner. She still cuts hair one day a week.
“Something else kept me there,” Reed said. “She required continuing education. You had to be in school and keep learning. She was an artist… She’s very intuitive. Her mission was to find something beautiful about each person and bring that out. Every person has some connection to beauty.”
Reed’s first house after moving to the Cape was near the Community of Jesus, which held another surprise. “The Tapestry Dance Company was over there,” she said. “I was amazed that in this little tiny town there was a dance company affiliated with Paul Taylor, having Paul Taylor dancers come and set dances on them… I got invited to do choreography and improvisational workshops for them.”
When Reed asked why the Community devoted such attention to the arts, she was told it was “basic to the celebration of their religious values. They have an obligation to create beauty in the world. (They) may call it the presence of the Holy Ghost. I can look at it secularly. We both knew beauty when we saw it.”
That perspective has guided her service on the planning board. “Ken McKusick set the tone as the godfather,” she said. “Steve Bornemeier, Chet, all the guys on the board set this tone: ‘Let’s rethink. Let’s look at what we have and build on the cool stuff. We value what we have, but the world is changing around us. Let’s identify what we have and leverage it.’”
She said the town is fortunate to have some “really smart” department managers, and cites Director of Planning and Community Development George Meservey’s work in obtaining a state grant for the majority of funds for the Main Street redesign. The chamber of commerce refers to it as a “beautification” effort. Reed is pleased with the lighting enhancements that are promised. “We’re championing pedestrians, people riding bikes,” she said. The idea is to encourage use of the village center by making sure it’s “safe and beautiful.”
As a cancer survivor, Reed said, she’s “very mindful of how much time I have left and how I want to spend it.” That time may include learning more about the complex choreography of being a select board member, with the goal of pulling the community together.
“Let’s steer in the right direction,” she said, “with everyone in the boat – or at least as many as want to be in the boat.”