Aquil Charlton is an intuitive musician who leverages his skills in visual art, education, and community organizing to help shape a more just society. In 1999, Aquil, a nineteen-year-old graffiti writer, took his first teaching artist job assisting a muralist at Umoja Student Development Corporation. The muralist introduced him to the Public Allies nonprofit apprenticeship, through which he led a school-based mentoring program for Big Brothers Big Sisters and helped organize an intergenerational mural project in the Woodlawn neighborhood before graduating in 2001.
Aquil and two other Public Allies engaged several youth in founding a social entrepreneurship organization called The Crib Collective in 2002, while he wrote curricula and coordinated nature programs for Chicago Park District. Starting in 2004 he directed The Crib Collective full-time for five years while recording and touring with hip hop band, Animate Objects, winners of the 2008 Independent Music Award for Best Hip Hop Song. The Crib Collective dissolved by consensus in 2009, after which Aquil enrolled at North Park University and joined the Executive Fellowship cohort at IMAN, a culturally-based social service organization.
Aquil received his degree in nonprofit administration in 2011. He was invited on a tour through Pakistan by the U.S. Department of State to teach and perform hip hop as a cultural ambassador just months after graduation. Aquil was awarded a domestic music fellowship with OneBeat in 2012, where he collaborated with musicians from 21 different countries during a residency and music and social engagement tour along the east coast of the United States. In 2013 Aquil was invited by Chicago Public Schools to direct ALT-City, the first contemporary ensemble in the district’s All City Arts program.
Aquil is currently an Urban Gateways teaching artist and artist-in-residence at the University of Chicago, through the Arts and Public Life Initiative and Center for the Study of Race, Politics, and Culture. He is also one of nine artists to receive the inaugural John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts Citizen Artist Fellowship. Founder of the Mobile Music Box, a traveling production studio and instrument workshop, Aquil has been invited to present on his innovative approach to cultural education at the Kennedy Center’s Arts Summit and Aspen Institute’s Aspen Ideas Festival. He performs as AQ, writing and rapping with his band, Simpson X, and playing electronics and producing live mixed media works with experimental group Wheat Paste Viaducts.