As the “safer-at-home” orders were announced mid-March in Los Angeles, Southern California artists and art professors Ed Giardina and Devon Tsuno knew that simply staying at home was not enough to ensure the safety of their families. The two friends both have loved ones on the frontlines. Tsuno was acutely aware of the threat of the pandemic, watching his wife, Rieko Takamatsu, a registered nurse, leave for work each day as the number of people in L.A. County who were getting infected or dying from the disease rapidly increased.
Miles away in Huntington Beach, Giardina was shaken by the constant stream of news and personal stories reporting on the disturbing lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) at hospitals across the country. He reached out to Tsuno, who teaches at California State University, Dominguez Hills, to discuss what they could do to help. At Cypress College, where the artists first met, Giardina teaches his students how to produce art using 3D printers, so the answer was clear: they could produce face shields.
Giardina brought his 3D printer from campus back home, downloaded some shield designs, and he and Tsuno raised $1,500 through one donor Giardina knew from the art world, to purchase supplies and additional 3D printers to start production.
Initially, they produced shields for healthcare workers in their immediate circle, then Takamutsu posted on Facebook about her husband and Giardina’s project: “Within like 20 minutes, somebody was on my porch … a nurse from Hollywood Presbyterian whose boss, actually her charge nurse [Celia Marcos], died from coronavirus. I could see the panic on her face and how scared she was for herself and other people,” remembers Tsuno. “So, I gave her some and then it just snowballed.” Nurses started coming to pick up shields every day. “The first time I would give them five, the second time I would give them 20 ... then 100 … then 200. And they would find ways to distribute those to nurses who needed them.”
Tsuno then posted about their “small 3D factory” operation on his personal Instagram in April, asking for donations, and the 3D PPE Artist Network emerged. “Hundreds of people from all over the world got on board in terms of donating and encouraging us,” says Giardina, with artist friends, as well as current and former students supporting their efforts. The network continues to accept donations here.
“My students and Ed’s students were in lockdown at home … a lot of internships are dried up and there are no jobs [or] a lot of them lost employment,” explains Tsuno. “This was kind of an opportunity where they could do something good.” There are now 25 people in the 3D PPE Artist Network operating 35 3D printers (often 24/7) in more than 20 locations, with the majority across Southern California, but also in New York, Oaxaca, the Navajo Nation and the Cheyenne River Reservation, thanks to more than 400 individual donors and counting.
“When we first started out, the goal was never to leave the house,” notes Giardina, who early in the pandemic used an existing volunteer network of runners in Orange County to distribute his shields. “All I had to do was just make them and then put them on my porch.” Now he’s driven as far as Pasadena to deliver printing supplies and shields. The artist often feels “outraged that I’m getting a text message at 9:30 at night that there’s a nurse that works in Hollywood looking for a way to get somebody to my house 50 miles away by the morning to get a hundred face shields.” This reflects the failure of the government, healthcare system and other workplaces to adequately protect their workers and other vulnerable populations. On the other hand, he adds, “It really energizes me to look at all the different parts of the system and trying to figure out ways to help.”
To date, their network has produced and distributed more than 7,000 free face shields to some 60 locations, including hospitals, grocery stores, nursing homes, post offices, at local protests and even barber shops. “We have to do this, we don’t have a choice, or Rieko is going to get sick,” Tsuno recalls feeling, back in March. “When it blossomed out to people she knew were going to get sick … it made me feel even more responsible that we needed to make more. Originally, it wasn’t the idea to create a network of people … but as California has been reopening and people are out on the streets protesting, the need is just overwhelming.”
Top Image: Two nurses pick up face shields made by the 3D PPE Artist Network. | Courtesy 3D PPE Artist Network