August 4, 2016

Pride, Work and Necessity of Side Projects: Shannon Downey’s Seriously Badass Women and Badass Cross Stitch

What are you working on—on the side?

I have two substantive side projects.

The first is my website/community Seriously Badass Women, which I created to celebrate the seriously badass women that I meet every day who are doing unbelievable things with their lives. I wanted to provide these women with an opportunity to talk about what they do, but more importantly, share who they are and what they believe. They are complex humans and their success lies far deeper than their careers. More than just inspiration, I want visitors to connect with these incredible people and find ways to work and play together. As a group, we get together at least once a year so that everyone can meet each other in real life and find ways to collaborate to take over the world.

The second is my fiber art + stitching community Badass Cross Stitch, which I created as I struggled to find digital/analog balance. I use that platform to not only share my work but to teach others how to embroider and to engage them in different projects in order to help them find some digital/analog balance too. Our current project is a community craftivism project around gun violence. Fiber artists from all over the world are creating fiber-based guns and sending them to me (sample above). They will be part of a collaborative gallery show with Project FIRE, an organization that is working with youth who have been victims of gun violence in Chicago. One of the ways they work with these young people is by teaching them to blow glass. The show will be a combination of the fiber art and their glass art. All of the pieces will be for sale, and all funds will go to support the next session of Project FIRE.

Clearly, I love the term “Badass.”

How do you manage to work
on your side project(s)?

I think one of my super powers is time management. To that end, I create space for what I love. Contributing and human connection are the top priorities in my life AND I ask for and accept help when I need it. It helps that I own my own business and can be flexible with what my “work day” looks like.

Logistically, Mondays are dedicated to my passion projects. I weave for 4 hours at the studio and then come home and work on all of the other things I want and need to, related to the aforementioned projects. Then, I pepper in time to create art almost every day.

While I do all the work for Badass Cross Stitch, I have loads of help with Seriously Badass Women, because badass women help each other. A year into the blog, Jamie Davis approached me and offered to take new photos of everyone I featured. It was stunning. Prior to that, everyone just sent me a photo they had. She elevated the site and the offerings of Seriously Badass Women to a level I couldn’t have imagined. When I mentioned to the group that I was going to take the project off Tumblr and build a real website, Jenille Ramos offered to take my wireframe and build the site that week. I thought we needed a mark for our secret club and Jessica Jacobs created our amazing seal. When we needed a venue for our annual gathering, Pearl Dick and Karen Benita Reyes offered up their community art studio, including glass blowing demonstrations, bead making and clay play. I have a million of these stories. At first, it was difficult for me to accept the help, until it dawned on me that that was the whole freaking point. This is a community and communitiess work together to create something far bigger than the individuals. I love these women.

Why have a side project?

A story:

I took a summer sabbatical last year and ran a summer art camp for young people (it was awesome). One morning, I was sitting at the picnic table with a young girl and she asked me why I could speak Spanish. I responded with, “I wish I spoke every language so that I could talk to everyone in the whole world.”

She looked at me all cynical and said, “That’s impossible.” Her young cynicism made me sad so I replied, “I want to go everywhere, meet everyone and learn everything.”

She laughed at me and told me (much louder this time), “SHANNON, THAT. IS. IMPOSSIBLE!” I looked at her and said, “Well darling. It’s not going to stop me from trying!”

She considered that for a moment and giggled and said, “Ok. I’ll help you. Have you ever played double dutch?” And that day, she taught me how to play double dutch and she decided maybe my plan wasn’t so crazy after all.

That is to say that all of the things that I do are simply to make sure that I live a life that is fun and weird and beneficial to both my soul and my world.

I guess my question back would be, how can you NOT have side projects?

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Images courtesy of Shannon Downey.

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Read more about the joy of side projects.

This series, devoted to side projects, is delivered in association with Chicago creative agency 50,000feet—dedicated to helping brands and businesses soar.

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