Shauna Smith is an artist and community builder. As a third-year graduate student in the MFA program for visual studies, Shauna keeps busy educating undergraduates and working in the university art galleries. And while her graduate work keeps her very occupied, she still makes time to engage in the community– bolstering unity and creative solutions.
Shauna is the first member of her family to venture from home, let alone go to college and earn multiple degrees. Transitioning into life at Missouri State was a trying time for her. Shauna said, “When I moved here, I experienced being disconnected from my community for the first time. I felt a very innately human desire to belong to my community and find purpose within it.” Enduring this propelled Shauna to create meaningful solutions, not only for herself, but for everyone around her.
Her engagement in the Springfield, MO area is largely beyond that of most people, let alone college students. “My process starts with seeing what’s going on in the world and wanting to offer something. I’m solution oriented,” said Shauna. Her work includes, but is not limited to, projects entitled How We Are Feeling, LAWN, Slow Viewing, and multiple art exhibitions.
How We Are Feeling was conceptualized following the COVID-19 stay-at-home orders. Shauna safely brought diverse groups of people together to speak on the complex emotions induced by the state of global affairs at the time. Unity is a common thread throughout Shauna’s efforts. LAWN is another project initiated in pursuance of connection. It stands for Lawn Art with Neighbors. Created as a unique solution to an increasingly divided society, LAWN is a county-wide, front-lawn art exhibition that is accessible to all ages and abilities. This annual program touts over 100 participants each year. LAWN is designed to be approachable to the public rather than an event only artists would feel comfortable participating in. Shauna is especially proud of the acute dedication to inclusion attached to LAWN.
Slow Viewing is a monthly gallery-based gathering where community members endeavor together in an extensive exploration of one art object per event. Community members are invited to interpret a work of art for 30 minutes and then discuss their revelations as a group. According to Shauna, “On the surface it’s about connecting to the art, but what’s most important to me is the connections between the people as they discuss different issues and emotions.”
The curation of two art exhibitions for Missouri State University is another of her more fulfilling undertakings. Her first exhibition was titled “Socially Distanced”. It featured the work of 25 artists, national and international, who each interpreted the theme through their own distinct lens. Shauna works tirelessly to be, not only a maker of art, but of interrelatedness. She spoke of a desire to build new pathways that allow people to identify with one another. This ambition is representative of a larger movement in society and college students, in particular.
The other exhibition is titled “Mapping Awareness: Social Objects and Detritus.” This installation showcases artwork from Catherine Reinhart and Giovanni Valderas. Reinhart is an Iowa-based artist focused on domestic labor done by women and mothers. Valderas is a Texas-based artist who creates guerilla installations for the Latinx community. These artworks center on issues like gentrification and housing displacement. Reinhart and Valderas’ works in collaboration communicate how artists can use their talent to raise awareness and create social change for the systematically repressed. This exhibition is installed at Carolla Arts Exhibition Center, Missouri State University’s newest gallery.
Shauna’s work has caught the attention of many individuals and organizations. She has been nominated for the Missouri State University Board of Governor’s Citizen Scholar Award which is an incredible achievement. And her aptitude doesn’t end with art. Shauna is also passionate about gardening, hand-making paper, and attending to her dog.
When asked what motivates Shauna, she shared the insight she’s gathered over the past few years. Her world view has evolved from a top-down mentality into an understanding that we are all designers of the world. Shauna expressed how feelings of powerlessness often plague us all, but that more recently, she’s become empowered to use the tools and connections at her disposal to make a difference. “If there is something we want, we are the ones that have to make it happen. And that’s what energizes me.”
Shauna is a spectacular role model for students interested in improving their community. Her work exemplifies community engagement as well as cultural competence and ethical leadership. Support Shauna and the project’s she facilitates at the following entities:
Socials: @shaunaleannsmith and @slowviewing
Event: Thesis exhibition at Springfield Art Museum in May 2023