STICKING TO IT: Providence-based Tape Art uses adhesive tape as its muse for its team-building and leadership exercises. Above, Michael Townsend, creative director and founder, works a leadership event.
When Michael Townsend, creative director and founder of Tape Art, works with a company like General Electric on leadership development, he draws images on adhesive tape stuck to walls or buildings that ultimately will be removed.
The work two of the six employees and four contractors, mostly artists, may do with a given company is unconventional, yet Tape Art has done this work for more than two decades, “leveling the playing field” amongst senior and lower-level corporate executives who are participating, Townsend said.
In one common situation, Townsend walked away from the drawing and another person took over with no verbal exchange. A GE employee asked, “Aren’t you mad he didn’t ask for permission?” But the shared responsibility to make the best work they can make is part of a mission that teaches leadership qualities like collaboration, attention to detail, ability to experiment and make mistakes, and empathy, Townsend explained.
“We take rooms of people who are experts in their field, the best of the best in a lot of cases, and we level the playing field and everybody gets to be a beginner at the same time,” he said. “The only thing standing between them and a great drawing are all the qualities that businesses are usually trying to reinforce in their employees.”
Based in Providence, Tape Art produces three types of artwork: temporary public art installations, community art practice and corporate and educational leadership development artwork. About 15 percent of its work is done locally, 15 percent overseas and the remaining 70 percent all over the United States, Townsend says.
Though fun is a byproduct, “we don’t do it for fun ever,” he said. “We take it super-seriously.”
While the cost for work literally ranges from $50 to $50,000, the more expensive leadership-development projects could cost between $50,000 and $70,000 a day, with between 10 and 350 people participating often in groups of about 50 or 80, Townsend said.
What is drawn also is not the point; process is, he said, and within 24 hours of completion, the work is gone, and becomes instead a part of the collective experience and memory of the participants, he said.
“It’s a social medium,” Townsend explained. “What tape art does in a corporate environment is give people an opportunity to interact for real. Tape art gives them a chance to genuinely build something. It’s a great way to see how it feels to accomplish something when the only resistance between you and finishing it is you. There’s no bureaucracy.”