Remote Design Students Turn Attention to a New Medium: Masks

There’s not much that COVID-19 hasn’t impacted in some way.  But Matt Bonvino ’20 is somewhat familiar with transition. He started at Bethel intending to go into medicine, but three years in, took an art class and fell in love. He’s since made the official switch to a studio art […]

There’s not much that COVID-19 hasn’t impacted in some way. 

But Matt Bonvino ’20 is somewhat familiar with transition. He started at Bethel intending to go into medicine, but three years in, took an art class and fell in love. He’s since made the official switch to a studio art major inspired creatively, in part, by experiences he had as a kid going to museums with his family. 

“Those designs made a giant impact on me,” he says, adding that he’s hoping to pursue a career in museum fabrication or some kind of kid-centric design after graduation. This spring, he’s gaining practical experience as a warehouse and production volunteer at Gemini Athletic Wear in Edina. But work came to a screeching halt as sports seasons were cancelled and games postponed in response to the coronavirus pandemic. 

As he began seeing reports of hospitals overcrowding and the medical world struggling to respond, another memory came to mind: this time of his sister as an eighth-grader diagnosed with a serious digestive condition that landed her at Children’s Hospital for months on end. He was transported to a time when his family was stretched and things seemed scary. 

“But the people there made a huge difference for her and made her feel safe, comfortable, and reassured,” Bonvino recalls. He felt for the young patients at Children’s right now, and imagined that even routine treatments and appointments were likely becoming much scarier because of precautions taken to fight the spread of COVID-19. 

Bonvino realized that he and his fellow students had extra time on their hands, and that they could make use of Gemini’s sublimation printing and garment production facilities to help make a difference. He made a few phone calls and with permission and a little logistical help from University Professor of Art Ken Steinbach, he and a group of fellow students pivoted with the direction of their spring sculpture class community art project and turned to a medium none of them had worked with until a month ago: clinical masks. 

The students obtained a template for a standard 9-by-6 inch mask and created an entire line of whimsical, colorful designs, getting a little creative when supply chain challenges have come up. 

“The market’s evolving so fast right now, and we can’t predict what’s going to happen,” Bonvino explains, mentioning that many products are “held up in Southeast Asia.” For instance, there’s been a run on elastic as companies have rushed to mass-produce masks for clinical settings, schools, and other places where people come in contact with groups of others. So the students have experimented with using bra straps in place of elastic bands. They’ve been able to bring together practical themes from their art and design classes—considering supply and demand, wholesale pricing and production, product regulations, and creative development—in order to quickly bring a product to life. 

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