Local artist Allison Hunsley finds professional success without a college degree

After dropping out of her product design program, Allison Hunsley is finding a path and hitting her stride as a muralist.


Image by Ethan Fine

Artist Allison Hunsley poses in front of the logo she painted for Forgotten Star Brewing Company on Tuesday, Oct. 5. Hunsley also painted a mural alongside the back wall of the brewery.

by James Schaak

About two years ago Allison Hunsley made the decision to drop out of the University of Minnesota halfway through her third year. Now she’s a full-time artist with a focus on murals — and she’s embarking on a year-long trip around the country later this month.

Before she goes, she has one more mural to paint at the Monticello Care Center . Hunsley has painted a few murals both at the Care Center and its connecting hospital, usually on walls that face patients’ windows.

“One guy opened his window the other day and was like ‘I love watching you, I have nothing to do all day,’” Hunsley said. “It’s super rewarding.”

Hunsley’s other work at the facility includes images of waterfalls and hot air balloons, and the newest one is a floral piece. These murals serve as bright escapism for the patients who are often undergoing immense health problems and long stays in the hospital’s facilities. Hunsley pays close attention to the needs of her clients. For example, the hot air balloon mural features bright colors in some parts with more relaxed tones in others in order to accommodate patients with cognitive conditions who cannot be overstimulated.

Growing up in Albertville, Hunsley was always artistically inclined. In high school she won a Scholastic Gold Key award for her drawing. It was not until college, however, that she found her current artistic passion: murals.

Throughout her first two years, she felt overwhelmed with managing both her academic and professional life. During the summer before her junior year, she began to float the idea of leaving school completely past her parents and professors. Between friends cheering her on from the sidelines and the authority figures in her life encouraging her to strike while the iron’s hot, Hunsley finally made the decision to leave school in December 2019.

Since then, Hunsley has been nothing less than booked and busy, constantly working to progress her career however possible.

In addition to hospital patients, Hunsley aims to entertain revelers with her mural as well. Another recent Hunsley mural is on display at the Forgotten Star Brewery in Fridley.

“The mural really ties the place together,” Andy Risvold, one of Forgotten Star’s owners, said. “It gives people not just something to look at, but it tells the story of this building that has been here for 100 years.”

Risvold explained that during World War II, the building that is now Forgotten Star was an award-winning manufacturing plant that led the nation in productivity. Hunsley’s mural reflects this history by showing both a man shoveling coal in black-and-white on one side and a modern-day laborer brewing beer on the other.

Hunsley’s own work ethic is comparable to that of her mural’s subjects according to Risvold.

“She’s salt of the earth,” Risvold said. “There’s an unbelievable work ethic.”

Isaac Bushong, a personal friend of Hunsley, agrees with Risvold that Hunsley is a hard worker. He says that he often compares his schedule as a fourth-year Minnesota student with Hunsley’s full-time artist schedule.

“You got to pull teeth to get me to do my homework,” Bushong said. Whereas Hunsley, he says, readily continues to work on her side projects and the logistical facets of her job at night after long days of painting murals.

Bushong and Hunsley met as freshmen when they were product design majors. Now, neither of them are pursuing the major but continue to stay close. Bushong has also been unsure of his academic future and left the University as well. When Hunsley began to float the idea of dropping out and pursuing art, it was support from friends like Bushong that reassured her.

“I know one of her dreams is to do a mural in all 50 states, which is really cool,” Bushong said.

Yet, in general, Hunsley says she does not think much about her future and aims to always live in the present.

“I’m kind of just flying by the seat of my pants, I guess,” Hunsley said of her upcoming trip. Her plan is to spend the year in various Airbnbs, first in North Carolina, then California and lastly New York.

“I don’t know if I’ll always be doing murals,” Hunsley said. One thing is for certain though: “I know I will always be doing art.” @allisonhunsleyart