Placemaking with Purpose: Planning for a New Mural on Fish Island

Together with Chavez at the Co-Creative Center with SuperflatNB and DATMA.

For DATMA, placemaking is about more than just the creative use of environments; it is about art that inspires connection and community. When executed inclusively and with intention, public art can create memorable experiences for countless contributors behind the scenes — from engineers to business owners, students, local creatives, and beyond. After all, it takes a village to make a 100-foot 3D mural that can withstand nor’easter winds. Not to mention a talented artist, skilled at connecting people to their sense of place.

Silvia López Chavez is a Dominican-American artist whose community-centered murals form connections across disciplines and cultural boundaries. During our first collaboration in 2019, Silvia joined DATMA’s public opening for Water 2021, where she spoke about her work and (virtually) supported the live-mural making fun with our partners at 3rd EyE Youth Empowerment. Now, we’ve invited Silvia to make her permanent mark on New Bedford with a new piece of public artwork that will be installed on the Norpel Fishery exterior wall adjacent to a prominent New Bedford artery, the New Bedford- Fairhaven Bridge. In this process, New Bedford High School students will be taught to use STEAM technology, design innovation, and applied material research to support the creation of this mural to be featured in our Shelter 2023 program.

Silvia discusses building attachments with Norpel Dir. of Operations, Jimmy Lopes, DATMA Chair, Nicholas Sullivan, and local artist and fisherman, Brian Tillett.


This year has been all about planning and research for Silvia. During her November visit to New Bedford, she met with community stakeholders and program partners to start gathering feedback and insights to propel the project forward in a meaningful way. After touring some of the local murals downtown, our team took Silvia to meet with our partners at Norpel Fisheries. Along with their support in welcoming this creative project on Fish Island, their team will continue to work with DATMA and Silvia to execute this project throughout its creative and technical implementation.

Silvia’s next stop included meeting with New Bedford High School staff, Dr. Ron Ho, Science Content Instructional Leader, and Mr. Chris Cummings, CVTE Manager, who oversees the Robotics and Engineering Labs. Students will begin using these new STEAM-based spaces and resources at the high school during their collaboration with Silvia in January 2023. Through exploring her methods and goals on Fish Island together, students will not only be exposed to the behind-the-scenes processes of a practicing public artist, but will also play a crucial role in shaping the future look and lasting impact of the artwork.

Silvia pictured exploring the new fabrication spaces and equipment at New Bedford High School.


Exec. Director, Lindsay Miś, and Programs Manager, Amanda Hawkins, with Silvia López Chavez on Open Studio day at Mass MoCA.

This fall, DATMA staff also had the opportunity to visit Silvia during her artist residency at Mass MoCA, and discuss more of the process and intentions behind her work.

“I spent days exploring the multiplicity of my histories and identities, playing with textile patterns to tell personal stories about my upbringing in DR, my Afro-Caribbean ancestry, the complex immigration story, which shines light to the adaptation and assimilation that takes place in the deep need to be accepted and feel like you belong,” says Silvia when reflecting on her month-long residency.


See how Silvia’s mural developed with help from local high school students. HERE.


Authored by; Amanda Hawkins, Public Programs Manager