Shannon McEvoy '12

Where are you currently living?

I am currently living in Valparaíso, Chile, the sister city to Viña del Mar, where I studied abroad in 2010.  Valparaíso is famous for its graffiti and murals, and when I first saw them in 2010, they inspired me to become a muralist myself.

What you are you currently doing?  What is a normal day like for you?

I have done a variety of jobs during my time living in Chile.  I started out doing graphic design and translation for a startup tech company, and during my time there, I pitched the company, in Spanish, to a board of potential investors. I have also taught English, both in private lessons and in classroom settings.  One of my favorite experiences teaching English was my position as camp counselor for high schoolers through the English Opens Doors Summer Camp in January 2013.

Artistically speaking, I have continued my passion for muralism, a path I started doing my Honors Thesis project at CSB/SJU in 2011, when I organized my first community mural in Cold Spring, Minnesota, with Casa Guadalupe Multicultural Community.  Since then, I have co-led two other murals in Minnesota; and in 2014, I was invited to participate in two international mural events, in Chile and in Colombia.  The murals I created for these events were mosaics.  

Since 2014, I have also been working on a mosaic mural in partnership with a high school in Valparaíso, Chile.  The process for this mural has been quite comprehensive: it has involved the areas of design, education, fundraising, and community organizing.

When we first had the idea early on last year, the high school was excited about the mural, but they didn't have a way to fund it.  After presenting the project to a variety of government departments, NGOs, and private businesses, we have succeeded in obtaining official support (albeit not financial) from the National Council of Culture and the Arts; small donations from a few local hardware stores; small collaborations with two local NGOs; a substantial donation of 100 square meters of ceramic tile from a nationally-known company.  We keep moving the project forward, and hope to finish in the summer of 2015.  

During the workshops I have organized with the high school students, we have brainstormed ideas for our mural's design, and we have gone on field trips to see murals and mosaics in Valparaíso and Santiago.  The students, who have learned the basic technique of mosaic, are now working together on the sections of the mural.  The mural will be between approximately 550 and 800 square feet, and the theme is the history of the high school and Valparaíso, through the perspective of healthy lifestyles. Some of the imagery includes fruits and vegetables from the local market, youth running, and the sacred Canelo tree of the Mapuche people.  

Mosaic is a slow process, but it is accessible to many students, especially those who don't consider themselves artistic.  Involving students in participatory art projects like this empowers them — in addition to learning a new skill, they get to see their work and ideas expressed in a big way through public art.

What would you say are some of the key things you learned while at CSB/SJU?
  • My biggest takeaways from my years at CSB/SJU come from my Honors Thesis Project organizing a collaborative community mural in Cold Spring, Minnesota. My advisors in this project were Bruce Campbell and Elaine Rutherford.  The written thesis that came out of this is called Latino/Latin American Muralism and Social Change: A Reflection on the Social Significance of the Cold Spring Mural (it can be found on the CSB/SJU Digital Commons).
  • Don't be afraid to start something big: The Honors Thesis Program at CSB/SJU encourages students to engage in research projects that are experiential and involved in the real world. During my thesis I confronted several challenges, and my advisors were incredible in their support.  I think that at Saint Ben's/Saint John's, the environment is such that students feel comfortable to dream up big projects. Being surrounded by such supportive professors gives students the confidence to achieve their goals, a confidence that endures long after graduation.  Since graduating, I have continued to organize collaborative art projects in both Minnesota and Chile, thanks to my Honors Thesis experience at CSB/SJU.
  • Listen with the Ear of Your Heart: I have always considered myself a fairly good listener, but my time at CSB/SJU really emphasized the importance of this. In collaborative mural projects, listening to input from community members is key to making a relevant design that will resonate with the community for years to come.
  • The Benedictine Value of Hospitality: In the community mural projects I have worked on, I have come to realize more and more that this Benedictine Value is key in generating trust and a sense of community with the people you are working with. If you want people to open up and share their stories, you have to provide a space for that. Something as simple as sitting together during a quick snack break during a day of painting can help foster community and make volunteers feel more connected to the project.
What are you future plans?

In the future, I hope to continue organizing community murals in the U.S. and in South America.  Ideally I'd like to also continue calling both Chile and the U.S. my homes, living in each place for several months at a time. After finishing the mosaic mural in Valparaíso, I plan to return to Minnesota for a while. I am keeping my eyes open for mural opportunities there!

Anything else you would like to share with us?

This past spring, Mary Fahlstrom, fellow CSB alumna and Chile study-abroad compañera, invited me to speak with three of her high school Spanish classes via Skype.  They are studying Chile's dictatorship, and so I shared with her students my knowledge of Chile's muralist brigade, the Brigada Ramona Parra (BRP).  The BRP was part of my research for my Honors Thesis on Latino/Latin American muralism and social change.  It was so fun to share my research again, and to inspire these students!  Now they are going to paint a mural for their school in the BRP's style.