SchoolArts Room

Playing with Tape: A Public Art Residency

By Nancy Walkup, posted on Mar 25, 2019

It is starting to get dark and we have been working on this small Tape Art mural for almost an hour. It is the fourth one of the day and the twelfth one so far this week. The irony of this mural is that we are working on the side of a local middle school, drawing a drone with a spray paint can attached to it and painting an image of an elephant.

Tape Art: A tape art public residency in a small town.
Michael Townsend and Leah Smith

We are technically doing graffiti about drones doing graffiti on the side of a school building. And everyone in town loves it.

A Public Art Residency
The location is Canadian, Texas, a Panhandle town with 2,600 inhabitants that takes its name from the nearby Canadian River. The town’s civic pride expresses itself in a rodeo stadium, the renovation of historic main street buildings, and a high school noted statewide for its football, band, and theatre. 

Nestled at the center of this town is the innovative Citadelle Art Foundation, whose director Wendie Cook has made it her mission to bring high quality art experiences to the Texas panhandle. She has presented exhibits of Art Nouveau, art of the western paperback, Rube Goldberg, Marc Chagall, and an exquisite collection of Rembrandt etchings with offerings of workshops to neighboring schools. Neighboring can often mean a two-hour drive one way.  

Director Cook’s most recent vision was to introduce street art to the community, perhaps a tough sell in a town where the only graffiti is where the train bridge crosses the river on the outskirts of town. Our Tape Art mural on the facade of the Brooks Museum in Memphis, Tennessee, caught her eye and, an email and phone call later, we were hatching a plan for a public art residency. The goal of this project would be to give every single resident of Canadian the opportunity to either see a Tape Art drawing or directly participate in one's creation. 

The Tape Art Crew
The Tape Art Crew gave birth to the process of drawing collaboratively with tape and has worked exclusively with the medium for over 25 years. The origins of the medium's application can be traced back to a collection of nightly tape drawings made on sidewalks, courtyards, public spaces, and abandoned buildings throughout Providence, Rhode Island starting in the late 80's. To this day, the tradition of drawing collaboratively, life-sized and with an intention of removing the work after its completion continue to be some of the trademarks of Tape Art.

Act One
The first act of the plan was surprising the town with seventeen temporary mini-murals on a variety of walls around town so that, unless you walked around with your eyes closed, you would eventually see one. The reports were that people were spending evenings and time on the weekend to drive or walk around town to find every drawing and sharing their findings with friends and family. 

Act Two
The second act involved a marathon twelve days of collaborative mural making and workshops for students from elementary school to high school, both in Canadian and surrounding towns. Students made murals on the walls of their schools, as well as in public spaces where the community could watch the art being made in real time. Over 500 students participated. Some of the most successful community outreach drawings were done at local senior homes. 

By the end of our time in Canadian, the goal of saturating the town with art was achieved. For the past 30 years, we have striven to use the medium of Tape Art to demystify the art making process, to make it inclusive, and to strengthen the connection between art and the community. That connection is easier to grasp when it is visible. When making work, we prioritize transparency. Viewers can see the bag of tape, witness exactly how we produce the work in real time, contribute to its creation, and help us remove it upon completion. 

Talking to spectators about art and answering questions can take up to fifty percent of our time on any given day. All of this expands the public’s sense that they understand art, that art serves a community purpose, and that keeping art in the community is a priority even when funding is tight.