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Each edition of the Fitchburg, Massachusetts, newspaper this month has one of 26 typographers designing a letter from the alphabet, and writers contributing poetry and stories inspired by that letter. The Alphabet is the creation of artist Anna Schuleit Haber, who launched the project on July 13. “The front page resembles Main Street, in a way,” Schuleit Haber told Hyperallergic. “And handing it over to an artist for 26 days is very gutsy.”
The Alphabet was commissioned by the Fitchburg Art Museum, and is a collaboration with the Sentinel & Enterprise newspaper and its editor Charles St. Amand, along with students and faculty at Fitchburg State University. Amsterdam-based designer Felix Salut started things off with a red sans-serif “A” that stretched across the A1 front page like a sketch of a big house. Alongside was text including a poem by Andrea Cohen called “Ajar,” an essay by Adrian Nicole Leblanc titled “Ancestry,” and an article on a 1909 dirigible sighting in Fitchburg called “Airship” by Anna Farwell.
“The newspaper has a specific feel and a smell to it, a physicality, which is part of the life of its community,” Schuleit Haber stated. “Its tireless reoccurrence is really a modern miracle, if seen over the decades — coming out with a new issue every day!”
The German-born artist is based in New Orleans, but as a MacDowell Colony fellow in New Hampshire and creator of other projects in Massachusetts, Schuleit Haber has explored the history of the area and different interactions in its public space. Back in 2003, she flooded the Massachusetts Mental Health Center with flowers prior to its demolition in an installation titled “Bloom,” referencing the flowers that tend to be lacking in mental health facilities. In 2007 at the MacDowell Colony, she installed 72 telephone lines in a forest for conversations between visitors and long-distance calling artists.
Each newspaper is printed in a run of 14,000, and out-of-towners can check out the daily stories and covers online at the Sentinel & Enterprise. Felix Salut’s “A” was followed by an elegant cursive “B” with typographical direction arrows by the Basel, Switzerland-based Andreas Schenk; then a composite of old Fitchburg company logos by Dan Keleher of Hadley, Massachusetts for “C”; and an India ink on scratchboard drawing of “D” from 1966, shared by Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Matthew Carter, a designer legendary for creating web typefaces Verdana and Georgia. The newspaper designs vary vastly in style, such as the playful grinning “G” by Providence, Rhode Island designer Cyrus Highsmith, and the muted colored blocks forming an “E” by Tim Ahrens and Shoko Mugikura of Just Another Foundry in Garching, Germany.
Print media has declined across the United States, with ad revenues plunging and perpetual layoffs. The local newspaper, however, has the potential to thrive beyond the nationals, as it represents a tangible opportunity for community engagement along with local news that doesn’t get covered elsewhere. The Alphabet is going a step further and demonstrating how creative design and artist collaboration can invigorate the format, even if its nature as newsprint makes the work somewhat disposable.
“As soon as the public becomes the owner of something, it’s out of the hands of the artists, we will see what remains,” Schuleit Haber said. “It’s a newspaper, after all, marvelously prone to expire by day’s end, every day again.”