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Noemi Zelanski Kearns, a Guilford mom of three and founding principal and creative director of Ink&Pixel (formerly How2Designs) of Guilford, is giving back to her community by providing the pro bono services of her agency to create and brand Guilford High School’s (GHS) new Grizzlies mascot, and develop a plan so school-based sales of official sports merchandise will channel back to GHS to offset costs for new uniforms and more.(Photo by Lanny Nagler Photography )
Noemi Zelanski Kearns is giving the new GHS Grizzlies mascot a creative assist. (Photo by Lanny Nagler Photography )
When it comes to navigating the needs of creating and branding Guilford High School's (GHS) new Grizzlies mascot, and developing a plan so school-based sales of official sports merchandise will channel back to GHS to offset costs for new uniforms and customizing a gym floor graphic, perhaps there's no better person for the job than Noemi Zelanski Kearns.
The Guilford mom of three is also founding principal and creative director of Ink&Pixel (formerly How2Designs) of Guilford. The full-service creative agency has a deep bench of very satisfied (and impressive) local, national and global clients which can be viewed at inkandpixelagency.com
Offering Ink&Pixel's services pro bono to design and brand the new GHS mascot was important to Noemi. She understands the process, strategy and business behind design and merchandising; and also recognizes the importance of continuing to involve students in the process, and possibly even inspiring a few to pursue a creative career of their own.
"As a parent, I was thrilled that they took the approach of asking the students what they wanted. Because the high school mascot is for the students – it's something that they want to own and be proud of, and I thought that was a brilliant approach," says Noemi. "As a business owner who's been a designer and in advertising and marketing for more than 30 years, and a business owner for 26, I wanted to make sure that we could, pro bono, share our experience as an agency in helping create a mascot that was unique to Guilford and to work with the students to create fundraising campaigns where the money would channel directly to the school to offset the cost of implementation of a new brand identity."
That work involves developing a thorough understanding of the clients' objectives and needs, understanding the audience, recognizing how an identity is going to be used, and many other layers.
For example, "...one of the things that's really exciting is that for the first time in a very long time, we can personify the mascot," says Noemi. "And so we can have a student in a bear costume; and then a lot of the ideas that we have around that is a way to make this unique."
Of course, there is a bit of a grizzly bear in the room – while students have chosen and embraced the Grizzlies as their new GHS mascot, those bears are not found around here. Challenge accepted, says Noemi.
"There aren't grizzly bears in Connecticut, but there are a lot of things that we can conceptually bring to the process that can ground some history of Guilford or some components of where we are in the state. So we have some fun ideas that we want to present that can be additive to being the Guilford Grizzlies," she says.
The hope is to have the official mascot and branding completed in just about two months' time. This week, Noemi presented a comprehensive set of creative ideas for the project to Superintendent of Schools Dr. Paul Freeman and Lorri Hahn, Guilford Public Schools Communications Coordinator.
"We've worked up a lot of opportunities to add some conceptual strategies to this, beyond just an illustration of a grizzly bear," says Noemi of the approximately 45-page presentation shared with Dr. Freeman and Hahn.
The opportunity to think about ideas and concepts, develop strong narratives and story-telling, and figuring out surprises for the audience – what Noemi calls "...those little ah ha moments" – are among the things she finds most exciting, and compelling, about being a designer.
Top it off with the chance to give back to her community and its students, and this project checks off all the boxes, says Noemi. She's also excited about expanding the concept so that it reflects the many interests of GHS students.
"When you have the opportunity to introduce something new to a community, how do you engage the broadest community?" asks Noemi. "Guilford [high school] has amazing athletes, but they also have amazing artists and musicians and they have quiet kids who have lunch in the library. I want everyone to feel included in this process. And so that's what we're hoping to do with the thoroughness of the approach that we're taking for this project."
With COVID-19 safety in mind, agency members have been working remotely and within pandemic protocol parameters, as have students and staff at GHS. Noemi looks forward to working GHS principal Julia Chaffe and GHS Athletic Director Jake Jarvis to involve the GHS student community. She also wants to strengthen the agency-school relationship so that it might help inspire students in their career thinking.
"It is something that we want to do," she says. "Because another part of giving back is sharing and showcasing the process and the opportunity for a career in design and marketing and communications and advertising; whether or not students feel like they may love it but [think] they can't draw – that's fine, because we're an agency of thinkers and it's all about ideas."
It's also about coming to projects with input from disciplines ranging from sociology to psychology to writing.
"Everyone plays a role and there's a lot that you can do in marketing and advertising very successfully coming from a lot of different components," says Noemi. "There are a lot of different ways to be a creative person. And that's what I want to share with the students. I want to bridge that gap, to show kids just how amazing this career path has been for me."
Noemi's parents, both educators, helped inspire her to find her way in her field.
"My parents gifted me with the idea of finding something you love and make that work," says Noemi. "And so from that, I've discovered a career that's brought me so much joy; from the moment I set foot on campus and took my first graphic design class."
Noemi earned her BFA in Graphic Design from UCONN, where her dad, the late Paul Zelanski, a well-known artist, educator and author, was her design professor for four semesters.
Her very first job interview out of UCONN in 1989 brought Noemi to Guilford, where she was hired by Newman Design Associates, which had just moved out of New York City to a new home at the Guilford marina.
The Connecticut native says she'll never forget her first view of Guilford, which ten years later became the town where she and husband, Ted, would move to raise their three children, Nolan, Zophia and Sadie Bea.
"I'll never forget coming around the corner of the Green and saying, 'Oh my God, this is the most beautiful town I have ever seen. What an incredible place.' That literally was the thought that went through my mind, at 21 years old – what an incredible place to live and have a family," says Noemi.
She later went on to work for Peter Good Graphic Design and WYD Design before opening her own agency in 1994 in Guilford; later moving to Madison and then Middletown. Noemi brought her agency back to Guilford in 1999, moving in to the beautiful 1840's carriage house building on North River Street which is home to Ink&Pixel today.
As a Guilford resident, Noemi's enjoyed many opportunities to give back to her community. Her campaign and creative efforts have assisted Community Nursery School, Guilford Art Center and GHS (providing the revised GHS feather and "G" logo used with the opening of the new high school facility). She also provided her time and talent for five years as Cultural Enrichment Chair at AW Cox Elementary School, introducing new artistic experiences to young students. Noemi also volunteered five years as head coach of her daughter's basketball team (the team won the league championship in 2019).
Noemi says she's just one among so many in this community who love to give back to their town.
"That's what makes Guilford so special," she says. "The people in this community, and their capacity to give back, and the schools and the school community. We have an incredible community, and an incredible town; and I couldn't imagine being anywhere else to work and live."