Keeping the City Center #NBcreative

By Steven Froias

contributing writer

New Bedford, MA — If you’re a group that literally leaps tall buildings in a single bound – with the help of a lift – a pandemic isn’t going to keep you down. That’s why during June, SUPERFLAT NB, the public art mural group, will be hitting the streets with a new project appropriately titled “Postcards to New Bedford.”

“The artists have been selected, and they will be working from a design by the artist Greg Penniston,” one of the group’s founders, Dena Haden says. Penniston is the muralist for “Winds of Change,” executed last summer overlooking Custom House Square. He and dynamic artists Kailey Barrows, Alex Jardin, Lena McCarthy, and Eden Soares will each contribute separate panels to the mural, to be located behind 672 Pleasant Street overlooking Purchase Street.

Of course, the work will be executed in accordance with proper social distancing guidelines  – one of the many adjustments city artists are making in recognition of the reality that is COVID-19 in the year 2020.

Fortunately for the public art group, their intense effort to grow over the course of the past year has left them with a solid foundation to build upon. All the planning, meetings, and fundraising are now being mobilized when it is needed most; supplies can be purchased and artists can be paid due to the hard work accomplished in 2019.

Like so many, creatives in New Bedford are adapting to the moment. Actually, it is a defining characteristic of the members of downtown’s Co-Creative Center (CO+) on Union Street. It’s where SUPERFLAT NB is based, and like that group shares the gifts of Dena Haden, who is the director of the facility.

Though it is essentially in lockdown at the moment, Haden and its members have managed to recreate the CO+ community in a variety of ways. A new podcast series and YouTube channel have been launched – accessible to all, not just members – and virtual Happy Hours are regularly scheduled to help keep everyone connected while following “stay-at-home” guidelines.

Still, there’s no question that many members are on creative journeys all on their own, forced by circumstances to be alone rather than in the warm embrace of the CO+. That is leading some to discover new priorities for the journey ahead for themselves, and the greater creative collective which constitutes South Coast society.

Behind The Mask

CO+ member Nicole Pupillo quickly seized on an opportunity that was all about meeting the current crisis with a task that suited her can-do attitude and savvy on a laptop. She’s an IT specialist by trade.

In addition to keeping up with her day job, since April 11 she has made over 40 face shield visors (and counting) for medical professionals utilizing 3-D printing technology. She explains that she bought two printers from Walmart online and quickly got to work.

“One of my printers makes one every 6.5 hours so I’ve been averaging about 4-6 per day once I got into the swing of things. I’m making them via a group called Masks For Docs that has local chapters all over the world. I’m collaborating with the Massachusetts and Rhode Island chapters so mine get distributed through coordinators on the SouthCoast, and in Providence and Boston. They are free of charge to all frontline workers who are requesting them.”

Pupillo began the project at home – but soon the round-the-clock printing got a bit overwhelming. Thus, she has been one of the very few people still able to take advantage of the CO+ when she set up shop there, turning the facility better known for art, music, and performance into a creative mask factory in New Bedford’s downtown.

The ABC’s of Tomorrow

CO+ member Chelsea Arruda found her beautiful hand-lettering in high demand creating sandwich boards, signage, and menus for downtown eateries – pre-coronavirus. Her skill was also employed on behalf of the CO+ on its once full upcoming events chalkboard. In fact, on April 4, she was set to help organize an event there herself: a pop-up shop featuring her work and the artisan work of many others throughout the area.

Obviously, that didn’t happen. And, the bars, coffee shops and restaurants who valued her exquisite lettering and graphics are mostly closed. Arruda did, however, finish up one last menu design commission within the last few weeks, before changing her focus to a new vision for her immediate future.

In addition to the lettering, she also maintains a clothing line – electrikkclothing.com. Operating on different spheres comes naturally to her and she prefers to look upon a change in direction as a new opportunity to explore different aspects of creativity.

She will soon take all her design skills to the online platform, Society6.com, she says, as well as dive deeper into photography – which has always helped define her as an aesthetically unique professional. Follow her journey at ChelseaArruda.com.

Going Virtual with Art

Finally, Dena Haden is happy to share the fact that, in spite of being physically distant, artists are still able to share their work in a critique group that has been ongoing virtually, arranged by Midori Evans of Midori Creativity. It’s a useful check-in and, as with other CO+ online happenings, open to all who wish to participate. (Follow the Co-Creative Center on Facebook to keep up with all virtual events: Facebook.com/cocreativecenter.)

Haden herself went virtual in a big way during this past month with her own artwork. Originally scheduled to participate in a gallery show in Philadelphia, PA, the show has been postponed. However, she conducted an online tour of her home studio, publicized by the gallery in lieu of an opening reception, that was well attended in cyberspace.

Though being challenged as never before, New Bedford creatives, individually, at the Co-Creative Center or through SUPERFLAT NB, are finding new ways to fulfill their traditional defining role in civic life.

A superhero maxim states that with great power comes great responsibility.

Creativity comes with its own responsibility – and New Bedford artists are meeting and exceeding that responsibility with innovation, aplomb, and fierce determination.

That’s the super in SUPERFLAT NB.

About New Bedford Creative

-The New Bedford Creative Consortium is the leadership group whose purpose is overseeing the execution of the citywide strategic Arts and Culture Plan entitled New Bedford Creative: our art, our culture, our future. The Arts and Culture Plan is a huge step forward in building a thriving creative ecosystem in our city, and these are the people dedicated to implementing it. This volunteer group is facilitated by the Creative Strategist, meets quarterly and is divided into three Squads: Public Art + Facilities, Placemaking + Community, and Fundraising + Distribution.