Responses by Fritz Klaetke, design director, Visual Dialogue
Background: Despite its location being just over the bridge from Boston, the city of Chelsea, Massachusetts, hasn’t seen the same economic growth as the rest of the area. The state economic development agency, MassDevelopment, brought us in to help jump-start the main business district through a placemaking initiative. Our primary audiences were local business owners, local residents and visitors.
Reasoning: Although the City of Chelsea has the greatest population of Central and South American immigrants in Massachusetts, we didn’t see these cultures represented in the city. So, with our naming, messaging, branding and hand-painting by Steez Design we looked to infuse a contemporary Latinx vibe into the historic New England location. The main C mark was based on the octagonal shape of the gazebo that marks the entrance to the area—and the C happens to work phonetically as ¡Sí!.
Challenges: Giving up control. Placemaking involves planting the seeds but trusting others to help make our ideas blossom. For example, while we created concepts for street art and other visual interventions that corresponded to the brand we developed, we didn’t have a direct role in curating the artists or artwork that started to appear throughout the city.
Favorite details: One of the aha moments happened when one of our designers, Tatiana Gomez, was interviewing a shop owner in the district, who described her store using the common Spanish expression “Bueno, Bonito, Barato.” We thought this aptly described Chelsea as well.
Visual influences: Researching visual references that connected a diverse range of South and Central American cultures—including El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico—was an interesting exercise. The colors, mosaics, flora, textiles, street art and typography are all referenced in our designs—and they happen to work quite well against the often drab New England streetscape of brick and granite.
Alternative approaches: There isn’t much we would do differently, but we are interested to see how the project continues to develop and evolve. The next implementations on tap include a large-scale type mural and the conversion of a parking lot into a combination basketball and soccer court made up of our colors and angles. Stay tuned!