The Sentinel & Enterprise — a 15,031-circulation daily in Fitchburg, Mass. — is running an interesting experiment on page one this month.
The normal front page pushes inside to page three while the front is taken over by a community art project, spearheaded by a German-born artist, illustrated by more than two dozen artists around the world and supported by a team of six interns from Fitchburg State University.
What’s more: This little project displaces the front page for 26 days.
The project launched more than a week ago: Monday, July 13. Here was the front page of the Sentinel & Enterprise that morning:
That’s right. The theme for Day One was the letter A. Note how the three stories — actually, two stories and a poem — each have headlines that begin with the letter A.
The theme for Day Two? The letter B.
Now, who out there can guess what the theme was for Day Three?
That’s right: The project will depict one letter of the alphabet per day.
The project was commissioned by the Fitchburg Art Museum with an “Our Town” grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.
You’ll notice the museum looks a lot like the artwork for Day One typographical illustration. I’d have to believe that was intentional.
Born in Germany but now based in New Orleans, project leader Anna Schuleit Haber…
…has been working for months with her team of interns on “the Alphabet.”
A profile the paper ran earlier this month described Schuleit Haber as…
…a visual artist whose work lies at the intersection of painting, drawing, installation art, architecture and community. Her works have ranged from museum installations made with paint, to large-scale projects in forests, on uninhabited islands, and in psychiatric institutions using extensive sound systems, live sod, thousands of flowers, mirrors, antique telephones, bodies of water and neuroscience technologies.
She studied painting at the Rhode Island School of Design, creative writing at Dartmouth, and was a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Studies at Harvard. She was named a MacArthur Fellow for work that has “conceptual clarity, compassion, and beauty.”
Current projects revolve around seriality and memory, and include a body of 104 paintings based on Thomas Bernhard’s short fiction, as well as large-scale drawing commissions for architecture.
Ready for another couple of pages? Here was Thursday’s Day Four…
…and this was Friday’s Day Five:
The list of contributors is suitably eclectic for a project of this nature:
A – Felix Salut
Specialty: Multimedia artist
B – Andreas Schenk
C – Dan Keleher
Based: Hadley, Mass., near Amherst
D – Matthew Carter
Based: Cambridge, Mass.
A story about the contributors says Carter is…
… the creator of web fonts Georgia, Verdana, Tahoma and Bell Centennial. He has designed type for publications such as Time, The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Boston Globe and Newsweek, and has won numerous awards for his contributions to typography and design, including an honorary doctorate from the Art Institute of Boston.
E – Shoko Mugikura and Tim Ahrens
F – Nina Stoessinger
Assisting Schuleit Haber on this effort are six interns from the local college. From yet another story published earlier this month by the Sentinel & Enterprise:
Townsend resident Justin Keohane is the graphic design intern, and is helping Schuleit Haber lay out each of the 26 front pages.
Jarad Nelson of Leominster is handling public relations, and will work on the project website, draft press releases and make phone calls.
Fitchburg native Ariana Garcia, Orange resident Shannon Gugarty, who grew up in Fitchburg, and Pepperell resident Johnathan Jena are writing short pieces on Fitchburg and Leominster for the front pages. Each piece will be somewhere between 100 and 600 words, and will focus on history and local culture, looking into things like the history of street names or old buildings in the city.
Jonathan Berglind of Leominster and Anthony Earabino, who recently moved to Fitchburg, will film all aspects of the project, from meetings between Schuleit Haber and community members, to interviews for the written pieces, to the other interns at work.
“Anything that happens while Anna is in Fitchburg,” Earabino said.
“We’re going to put footage up on the website as we go,” Berglind added, “and then hopefully end up with a 10- or 15-minute documentary.”
My favorite of the nine pages published so far was the letter G, which ran Monday:
G – Cyrus Highsmith
Specialty: Typography and illustration
Based: Providence, R.I.
His “G,” Highsmith said, came about when he was sketching and doodling.
“I was fooling around, imagining it printed big,” he said. “I wanted to do something fun, something to catch people’s eye.”
He initially sketched his design with paper and pencil, then filled in the letter with ripped paper to make a sort of collage. The coloring and precise lines he did on the computer, he said.
Here was Tuesday’s page:
H – Laura Meseguer
Specialty: Typography, logos and book design
And here is today’s page:
I – Therese Schuleit, sister of project leader Anna Schuleit Haber
Specialty: Visual and audio artist
If you’re like me, you have two burning questions at this point. Sentinel & Enterprise editor Charles St. Amand took a few minutes this week answer them for us:
Q. Do you have a conventional front page on the inside of each day’s paper? On page three, perhaps?
A. Page 3 has our “regular” front page. Page 2 contains any jumps from the Alphabet Page 1, a brief “About ‘The Alphabet'” explainer, a story about the designer and writers who contributed to the project that day, a profile of the artist leading the project, and photos taken by her interns, my staff and submissions from readers. We’re also going to include some reader feedback.
Oh, and “The Alphabet” takes Sundays off.
Q. Do you have a contingency plan for a day you have breaking news? Might the letter of the day get pushed off page one for some reason? What happens then?
A. We can delay the project for a huge story that must get out front. We haven’t come close to that having to happen — yet. As I mentioned in a Page 1 column to readers the day before the letters began appearing, giving up the front page for 26 straight days would not have been possible without our digital-first mission. We don’t hold breaking news for print.
We’ll know when we have to put “The Alphabet” on hiatus. I hope we don’t have to.
There is much more about The Alphabet project on the paper’s web site. Caution, though: The Sentinel & Enterprise uses a metered paywall that allows you to see only five or six stories before you’re hit up to buy a subscription. So take a moment and choose which of these stories you’d like to see before you start clicking:
- The web home of the Alphabet project is not behind the paywall. But the rest of these are:
- A brief introductory piece about the project
- A profile of the project leader, Anna Schuleit Haber
- Even more about Schuleit Haber
- More about the interns
- More about the 26 contributing artists
- Editor Charles St. Amand’s column that kicked off the project
- And all the individual stories that support each day’s illustration are strung along the bottom of this page.
All of the photos illustrating this blog post were shot by the Sentinel & Enterprise staff and Schuleit Haber’s team of interns. Many thanks to Charles St. Amand for making this archive available to us.
Thanks to Dave Dombrowski for the tip.