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Shannon Downey on artistic/activist 'craftivism,' other feats
by Carrie Maxwell, Windy City Times
2018-02-07

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Activism has always been a part of Shannon Downey's life, going back to her childhood outside of Boston.

"In elementary school, our home was the union organizing center for the labor movement," said Downey. "For months our house was filled with people strategizing, making signs, mapping out districts and planning protests for the fight against an anti-labor ballot measure. I remember how exciting it felt to be standing on the side of the road with a 'Vote No on #2' sign as people drove by and beeped to show their support. Having a voice felt good and I was hooked."

Largely in response to Trump's election win, Downey closed down her marketing company this past July after ten years and took on the role of Director of Development at Asian American Advancing Justice | Chicago, an organization working for racial equity. Downey is also adjunct faculty at Columbia College and DePaul University where she teaches business and leisure theory classes.

In addition to her day jobs, Downey has channeled her activism into "craftivism."

"Craftivism is hand-made representation of one's activism in engaging and unexpected ways for an intended goal and cause and my medium is embroidery," said Downey. "My personal brand of craftivism is built around action and outcomes. I create art to inspire, instigate, engage, inflame, empower and incite people into action. I want everyone to use their creativity to find their voice and then use it."

Downey's fiancee, Pearl Dick, is also an artist and co-founded Project FIRE ( projectfirechi.com/ ) where she works with young people who have been injured by gun violence. Dick teaches them glass blowing and entrepreneurship. Last year, Downey launched a craftivism project around gun violence that included over 200 embroidery pieces from around the world and hosted a gallery show in collaboration with Project FIRE. The event had over 500 people attend the opening and through the sale of the art, Downey raised over $5,000 to fund Project FIRE's next semester.

"The most moving part was the letters I received with the submissions," said Downey. "Folks were so happy to have a way to do something that would have a real impact, an opportunity to take action. That is the very definition of craftivism for me."

Downey showcases her work on her website, Badass Cross Stitch ( BadassCrossStitch.com ). "Badass" is Downey's favorite word, she said.

"I love associating embroidery and cross stitching with the term badass because it creates a real sense of cognitive dissonance," said Downey. "I want folks to stop thinking about it as some precious or easily dismissed 'women's craft.' I started Badass Cross Stitch to inspire other people to join me on a journey to find digital/analog balance so they would put down their devices and create something meaningful, express themselves and say something powerful. I want an army of stitchers."

Her "Boys Will Be Boys" embroidery ( that she made the night the Trump Access Hollywood tape was released ) went viral and has been shared by celebrities such as Rose McGowan, Tracee Ellis Ross, Zoe Kravitz, Colin Hanks, Dita Von TeaseAmy Sedaris, Willow Smith, Padma Lakshmi and others.

"I thought for sure, this video was the smoking gun and he would never get elected after it was made public," said Downey. "My piece got some traction then but it got new life when a few celebrities shared it in response to Harvey Weinstein. It then became the illustration that hundreds of thousands of women used to share their #MeToo stories.

"That so many people around the world have used my art as the illustration to their own narratives is … well, a feeling that is beyond words. To have created something that spoke so strongly to so many is a testament to our shared experience as female-identified people. They are finding ways to stand up and raise their voices. I want to do anything and everything I can to keep that momentum going."

Downey also has a blog called "Seriously Badaass Women" ( SeriouslyBadassWomen.com ) that features the diverse, interesting, badass women she meets every day sharing who they are and what they believe in.

When asked which Chicago artists inspire her, Downey highlighted the work Dick does as well as feminist artist Judy Chicago, Matthew Hoffman ( the "You Are Beautiful" project ), Natalie Boyett ( Chicago Weaving School founder ), Francine Turk and Shawn Smith.

Downey also did a The View-like queer-focused webseries, The Gay Agenda, with co-hosts Mary Morten, Jim Bennett and Tony Alvarado Rivera a few years ago, which she said was a rowdy good time.

When she is not working on her own craftivism or other work endeavors, Downey leads many free community embroidery/craftivism workshops.

"I am about to launch a bunch more for 2018 around the giant global craftivism project I have cooked up ( www.badassherstory.com/ )," said Downey. "My goals are to teach one million people to embroider and get over a million female-identified and gender non-binary folks to participate in my craftivism project. So everyone should go sign up right now."


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