Art meets academics

Art meets academics

Taylor Fagnant, a sophomore, applies a touch of green to her creation Thursday, April 13. Tape Artist Michael Townsend worked with students to create large-scale collaborative drawings on the walks of North Smithfield High School by creating art with tape. The theme this year is interpretation and students had to create a mural that would shed light onto a modern day social or political issue. (Breeze photos by Robert Emerson)

NORTH SMITHFIELD – A program that aims to connect curriculum with art has added color and life to the hallways of North Smithfield High School, teaching students some lessons that just might stick.

Tape art – images created with pieces of the sticky stuff – were used to enhance lessons from Spanish, Sociology, English and Fashion Design classes thanks to this year’s Arts Talk Project, a program funded by Rhode Island State Council on the Arts.

Artists Michael Townsend and Leah Smith, members of the Providence-based Tape Art Crew worked with the students, using drawing tape to illustrate varying assignments. Founded in 1989, the tape art movement has brought more than 500 temporary murals to public spaces across the globe. The group focuses on creating large-scale drawings collaboratively in public spaces, typically removing the work within 24 hours.

“One of the things that allows us to survive as artists is the material is cheap,” Townsend, one of the founders of the movement, told the students this week.

Townsend and Smith work with a group of around 10 artists to create, assemble and document the pieces.

“We’re from the world of public art and street art, which means we get to travel the world and disrupt spaces,” he said.

“Tape art was a response to figuring out a way for me and my friends to do what we want to do all the time,” Townsend said. “We want to hang out together and we want to be outside.”

The use of tape, he explained, allows the artists to create the murals wherever they want without fear of getting into trouble. The drawing tape is easily removed from almost any surface without damage, and does not leave a residue behind. Townsend said that graffiti art, by comparison, often looks rushed, as creators must work fast.

“If this is a problem, we can remove it really quickly,” he said.

The crew’s work has included a rogue 9/11 memorial, in which the artists made figures representing every fireman and airline passenger who died at the World Trade Center on walls throughout New York City. During a visit to Hong Kong, the artists helped to draw attention to the plight of store owners whose building was slated for demolition by covering the building with flowers made of tape.

They’ve done commissioned pieces as well, like a temporary mural covering the Providence Skating Rink, where the artists created an image related to Roger Williams, and the public was invited to take it apart.

They’ve also worked with at hospitals like Hasbro, creating more than 1,000 pieces on walls of the rooms of terminally ill children.

“It will be there with them for the last leg of their journey, giving them a sense of control over their environment when they have no control over their health,” Townsend said. “A lot of our work is dedicated to art’s role in healing.”

The Tape Art Crew has taught the skill in schools, community centers, nursing homes, psych wards, correctional facilities, and corporations for the past two decades.

In North Smithfield, participating teachers were challenged to develop curriculum connecting classwork to this year’s Arts Talks theme of “interpretation,” and then design an assignment that could be created on the school walls.

In teacher Linda Milner’s Spanish classes, that meant studying the Mexican Pictorial Movement, a 20th century movement focused on utilizing art for political ends.

Spanish students were asked to think of a present day political problem that they felt passionate about, and work together to create a mural expressing their views. One class focused on the environment, with a mural titled “Un día nuevo” or A Brand New Day, which illustrated consequences for the future of the planet.

Another created a mural depicting President Donald Trump’s and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s role in the ongoing Syrian Civil War.

In Sociology teacher Richard Whitehouse’s classes, the project meant studying global interconnectivity. Using the idea of global economics, students were asked to observe items in their everyday world, and trace their development back to their initial point of origin. The work highlighted economic, political, educational and philosophical disparities between communities and cultures around the world and how they can lead to the exploitation of its people, according to Whitehouse.

Students were tasked with expressing the issues in their tape art presentation, and created a work titled “The Material World,” where the central character was a young man holding a cellphone. On one side, students illustrated the cellphone’s journey to completion and the human cost of its production. On the other, they did the same for the man’s clothes and shoes.

English students studied Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer’s Night Dream” and “The Wizard of Oz” and used painter’s tape to create monsters that could inhabit the fantasy worlds depicted in the books, also interpreting one another’s work and creating a visual narrative around the fictional tape beasts.

And in teacher Pat Kolanko’s Fashion Design Class, the students created summer casual wear with a floral theme. Before the year is through, they’ll also be tasked with creating a usable accessory from duct tape.

North Smithfield High School has participated in the Arts Talk Program for the past 15 years.

Students work on their artwork around a first-floor staircase on Thursday, April 13. Tape Artist Michael Townsend worked with students to create large-scale collaborative drawings on the walks of North Smithfield High School by creating art with tape. The theme this year is interpretation and students had to create a mural that would shed light onto a modern day social or political issue.
Junior Nick Gesualdi working on an animal that somewhat resembled a lion on Thursday, April 13. Tape Artist Michael Townsend worked with students to create large-scale collaborative drawings on the walks of North Smithfield High School by creating art with tape. The theme this year is interpretation and students had to create a mural that would shed light on to a modern day social or political issue.
Tape Artist Michael Townsend gives advice to one of the student artists on Thursday, April 13. Tape Artist Michael Townsend worked with students to create large-scale collaborative drawings on the walks of North Smithfield High School by creating art with tape. The theme this year is interpretation and students had to create a mural that would shed light onto a modern day social or political issue.
Keith Fineout, a junior, applies tape to a corridor wall last Thursday, April 13. Tape Artist Michael Townsend worked with students to create large-scale collaborative drawings on the walks of North Smithfield High School by creating art with tape. The theme this year is interpretation and students had to create a mural that would shed light onto a modern day social or political issue.