Art surrounds Emily Shanny everywhere she goes. From the schools and studios in which she teaches yoga, to the recording studio in Brooklyn where she makes music, down to the notebooks that contain her etchings. More than a hobby, art is a lifestyle for the Northeastern graduate.
When she’s not performing on stage, she’s painting and drawing, and when she’s not doing that, she’s producing, writing, and performing music. But regardless of the form, Shanny uses the craft to raise awareness about her personal journey and issues that matter to her. A number of her songs touch upon the themes of belonging and independence.
“I’m working on utilizing art as the medium to dialogue on social justice and different events that are going on in the world, and utilizing art as a voice for talking about topics that are sometimes more difficult to discuss,” she says.
Shanny has recorded an album that weaves tales about loss, loneliness, and love throughout 11 tracks that are infused with a sound the artist describes as “experimental soul with hip-hop and jazz influences.” The album was released on all streaming platforms, including Spotify, in February.
Working closely with bass player and fellow Northeastern graduate Jason Smith, Shanny wrote and produced the album, titled Swirl Diet, in between intensive improv sessions over the course of three years in Brooklyn at various venues, including Elsewhere, Sofar Sounds, and the Bowery Electric.
Her personal favorite track on the album is “Don’t Make Me Move.” The tune, which she penned with Smith, was composed when she was deciding whether to pursue her passion in a competitive environment such as New York City, and “trying not to be afraid or scared of all that would unleash if I chose to do that.”
“And also,” she adds, “being unafraid of any pushback that I was going to receive and trying to be OK with whatever is going to come.”
One way she has tried to distinguish herself from the myriad artists in the Big Apple is by improvising in live shows and ensuring that no two performances are the same. Sometimes she’ll pull up members of her audience to freestyle with her.
“In live performance, to be able to be very present with the performer, and also as a performer with the audience, it’s really unique for them to see me creating on the spot, because they know that every time they come, it’s going to be different,” Shanny says.
Although neither she or Smith majored in music, Shanny credits her alma mater for providing them with the resources to develop their creative chops, along with opportunities to build relationships and gather international work experience. While taking courses for her economics degree at Northeastern, she was a member of the Nor’easters a cappella group, winning several international competitions with them.
“Even though I didn’t take music or theater courses at Northeastern, those resources of being able to use studio time and being able to practice and have opportunities to perform through Northeastern definitely have been invaluable,” Shanny says.
Shanny also uses art to educate. Last year, she helped curate a film screening and photography exhibit in New York City to raise money for social entrepreneurs in Nepal. This summer, she will be heading to London to perform music and exhibit her artwork in a program at the Royal College for Art.
“My short-term goals are definitely to continue to grow as an artist and as a facilitator and creator of utilizing art as a form of social dialogue,” she says.