Attorney, advocate, arbitrator and artist, Qiana Mitchell Watson grew up in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn. Although she dropped out of high school sophomore year, Qiana earned her GED at the age of 15 and went straight to college. She received a bachelor’s degree in sociology from SJC Brooklyn in 2001, and she went on to earn a juris doctor from Temple University’s Beasley School of Law. But it was much earlier that she realized she also had a creative side.
“When I was 15 years old, a friend was drawing a comic book illustration and suggested I try,” Watson says. “I told him I didn’t know how to draw, but after trying, we were both amazed by my results. I realized there was something worth exploring there, but I didn’t quite know what.”
I don’t generally look for inspiration. When inspiration finds me and opportunity presents, art happens.”
Watson credits her mother Sylvia for inspiring her to become a visual artist. Although she was a single mother, Sylvia strove to make the time she spent with her daughter memorable. She would sacrifice time and money to save up for Broadway performances, and if she couldn’t afford that, she and Watson would go to Off-Broadway plays. The stories and elaborate theatrical sets helped to inspire Watson’s love for the arts.
Sometimes there is one defining moment or person that influences a career path for an individual. For Watson, it was the character of Claire Huxtable from “The Cosby Show.”
“She was/is beautiful. Her character was an attorney, mother and wife, and she loved jazz and art,” Watson explained. ”I didn’t have any real-life examples of women that ‘had it all,’ so she was it for me.” Later, Watson attended a talk by actress Phylicia Rashad while at St. John’s, and found that she was just as fabulous in real life as she was on television. It’s one of Watson’s dreams to meet and thank her for being such a wonderful influence.
“I don’t generally look for inspiration,” Watson says. “When inspiration finds me and opportunity presents, art happens.”
One thing that makes Watson a unique, bold individual and artist is her view on artistic influences. “There are so many painters that have created work I admire, but I can’t say there are any I want to be like,” she says. “Forfeiting unique individual expression would make the practice of art pointless for me.”
Last year, Watson taught her first self-esteem visual arts workshop for teen girls, titled “I’m a Peacock; What Are You?” Through this workshop, each participant created a unique piece based on an animal she chose to represent an aspect of her personality. Not only did it give the group an opportunity to learn about each other, it gave them a new way to place a voice to their self-images. She also completed a commissioned piece for Majority Whip/ Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown, and she is also on the board of a nonprofit called Art-Reach.
Art-Reach brings art opportunities to 17,000 underrepresented patrons. As a board member, Watson has reviewed contracts for artists, acted as a liaison between public figures and art executives to help create services and programs, and helps to raise awareness of the importance of equal access to the arts through fundraisers and marketing events. Her goal is to continue bringing art opportunities to people that are marginalized.
“I don’t have as much time to paint or for the business of painting as I would like,” she says. “But I’m excited that through Art-Reach, I’m helping to launch a new program in Philadelphia to ensure people with access cards can enjoy museum experiences for $1. There are few greater gifts than sharing experiences that broaden outlooks and spark imaginations.”
She also hopes to receive grants to create public art that a wider audience can experience for free.
In addition to being a visual artist, Watson is a practicing attorney in Pennsylvania. She is a certified arbitrator who resolves contract, employment, civil rights and consumer disputes. She also sits on four different panels when called upon, and is a volunteer attorney for Philadelphia Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts. She was recently offered the position of Acting HR Labor Relations Manager of York College (CUNY).
Watson thanks St. Joseph’s for all the help and support she received during her time at the College.
“I wanted to thank St. Joseph’s and Professor Raymond D’Angelo (Ph.D.) especially,” she says. “When I was 20, I got married, and 11 months later, I gave birth to our son, Malachi. “Six weeks after I gave birth, I started at St. Joseph’s to finish my degree. Sometimes I had to bring my son to class with me. My recollection is foggy because I was so sincerely tired, but I remember the support.
“During my final semester, I had to get approval to take over 18 credits. The dean was apprehensive, but she believed in me; Dr. D’Angelo believed in me. There isn’t much more you can expect from an institution than the commitment to the promise of its students. For that, I say thank you.”
These days, it is rare to hear about a married couple that has been together since they were teenagers, but that is not the case for Qiana and her high school sweetheart, Temu Watson. The couple met at their former high school, Edward R. Murrow, in Brooklyn. Mr. and Mrs. Watson reside in Philadelphia with their son, Malachi.
As a wife to her sweetheart for 19 years thus far, and as a mother, Watson’s plan is to continue loving as long as she is fortunate to, while as an individual, her plan is to continue growing and learning.