Shannon Downey is an adjunct professor in Columbia College Chicago’s Business and Entrepreneurship Department, teaching Business of Design this semester. She is also currently touring the continental U.S. in her R.V. while teaching hundreds online how to embroider and inspiring others to engage in art activism. She talked to us about how she has had to pivot and innovate during the coronavirus pandemic and what that has meant for her work so far.
Tell us more about your business, Badass Cross Stitch.
I don’t really think of it as a business so much as an identity. I am an artist, activist, craftivist, community builder, and general instigator. I blend my politics, activism, and art into projects that are designed to inspire others to take action, think, discuss, engage with democracy and their community, and find some digital/analog balance.
You had just moved your life into an RV and planned to tour the country while hosting craftivism events when a global pandemic shut everything down. What have you learned while living on the road during a pandemic?
What have I learned? Hmmmm. Some highlights:
- Always make sure to have at least 20 different income streams
- Pivot, innovate, pivot, innovate
- Have a vast and amazing community and ask for help when you need it
- Never put your sewer hose on backwards when emptying your black water tanks
- Everything breaks in an RV – even if it’s new – so have a lot of tools and duct tape
- Safety is an illusion
How have you had to shift your work and business during this pandemic?
I had over 100 events lined up and they were all cancelled. Super hard pill to swallow; but one must pivot and innovate to survive so I figured out how to teach my workshops for a digital audience. Since March, I’ve been able to teach over 1,400 people from all over the world to embroider via Zoom. I started a weekly stitching group (which may or may not have evolved into a cult). Since I am out here and I can’t be in community with people, it started to feel a little pointless which is when I came up with the idea to develop the country’s first Craftivist-in-Residence program. I wrote up a proposal and have been pitching it around. It looks like I’ll be developing the first program this fall. I’m excited to announce the details soon!
Here’s a link to the pitch: https://www.badasscrossstitch.com/craftivism-1/craftivistinresidence
You are also teaching a course at Columbia College Chicago this semester—what has that looked like for you?
I was really, really sad to think I wasn’t going to be able to teach this year because I was going to be on the road. The fact that the class went online and I am still able to teach is the only gift this darn pandemic delivered. I am so happy to be teaching! It’s weird not looking out over Lake Michigan but I like how my view changes every class. I love the synchronous teaching and being able to be in community with my students digitally. I involved a bunch of amazing guest speakers this semester and a lot more activities than usual to keep things exciting. I love the breakout rooms to keep things interesting. I am wildly impressed by the resiliency of my students and how they are showing up. All-in-all I think we are doing pretty great.
How can people follow your work and stay up to date?
That’s the spirit! Folks can visit my brand spanking new website www.BadassCrossStitch.com
They can follow my art activism on Instagram at @BadassCrossStitch and my RV adventures at @ShannonDowney2
I’m on twitter @ShannonDowney