Students and Alums Across the Country Create Protective Masks

When CalArts closed its campus in March due to Covid-19, students in the School of Theater’s Costume Design Program scattered across the country. Many were without sewing machines. By May, Costume Design students, along with a multidisciplinary group of alums, launched an initiative to make protective face masks–but first, they had to acquire a fleet of sewing machines.

Camille Benda, head of CalArts’ Costume Design Program, reached out to a number of companies. Sewing machine manufacturer Singer answered the call with a donation of 40 machines.

“When CalArts asked Singer to support their student-led Mask Making Initiative, we jumped into action,” said Dean Brindle, Singer’s SVP Worldwide CMO. “Singer is supporting various PPE [personal protective equipment] initiatives by donating machines to hospitals and organizations that are making masks for frontline health care workers. CalArts students are some of the most talented we’ve seen. Their creative spirit is shining through in this uncertain time, and it is an inspiration. Singer is proud to support our health care workers and especially students sewing masks and PPE that are in critical supply.”

It took a group effort to launch the project. Thanks to a grant from the Office of the Provost, machines were shipped to students in the US and overseas. Ellen McCartney, director of the School of Theater’s Experience Design and Production Program, offered academic credit to costume students who constructed masks. The interconnected network of CalArts mask makers used patterns and guidelines from the Costume Designers Guild. Others created their own designs. Now, across the country, colorful masks are being completed. To get the PPE to those in need, CalArtian mask makers are connecting with groups that donate masks in their home regions.

“This alum- and student-led project is a brilliant example of how artists have always adapted to changing times–and transferring their stage and screen skills to provide masks for essential workers during this crisis,” noted Benda. “Think of costume designers throughout history adapting their craft from classic art forms like opera to brand new silent film and now cutting-edge VR! Our students and alums are showing how artists and designers have pivoted their talents to serve in times of need.” 

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