Networking

ARTichokes Painting Events: The Art of Doing Good Business

ARTichokes painting events are ingenious and offer teambuilding opportunities to corporate clients looking to boost creativity and morale.

Defining, shaping and expressing culture is a high-level thought paradigm in corporations around the globe. Corporate cultures allow company values to be personified through employees, vendors and even the customers.

Camaraderie among colleagues working in the trenches together is a high-value intangible for any business.

Certainly, day-in and day-out tasks, issues and problems create a level of kinship. But, there’s often a random nature to the workplace where reorganization, mergers, acquisitions and buyouts bring together teams that are expected to complement the talents of their coworkers, even before they’re able to develop a sense of kinship.

Identifying and addressing this paradox is a fundamental goal of ARTichokes, LLC. The company, which facilitates painting events, is rooted in Leawood but plans to set up shop in Kansas City sometime this month. Sisters Becky Pashia and Laurie Barling launched the venture in 2007. An amalgamation of Pashia’s artistic gifts with Barling’s administrative and marketing talents, ARTichokes offers special-event art classes for corporate teambuilding activities.

Because art is meant to be shared, the sisters made ARTichokes a mobile enterprise. Offering classes at locations like Urban Table and YaYa’s in Leawood, Pashia carries art supplies to any number of locations. This amounts to booking various spaces around town or utilizing her own studio in Kansas City.

ARTichokes’ new location—13th and Hickory Streets behind Good Ju Ju in the West Bottoms—is a slight change of strategy for Pashia and Barling. Initially operating out of a shop in Leawood’s Mission Farms, the sisters’ assessment of their business model—a substantial portion of which includes off-site events—combined with the high overhead factored into their decision to relocate.

“We are very excited about this,” Pashia says. She describes the new location as “my personal art studio, a place for classes and definitely a place for groups to come and be creative.” Nevertheless, the mobile formula is still a part of ARTichokes’ business plan. “While we are happy to still go to businesses and parties around town,” Pashia says it’s even more beneficial to have a location that offers group events to clients of all stripes.

The issue of corporate team building—and how art can be applied to it—was spotted by Barling, a savvy businesswoman with a knack for identifying niches and knowing how to fill them. A lifetime fan of her sister’s artistic talent, Barling developed the ARTichokes business model and takes responsibility for nearly all of its support activities. A large part of that support role is the company website, artichokeskc.com. As to whether the artistic touches on the site is based on family genetics, Barling demurs. She acknowledges a “hint” of natural artistic finesse but says, “It’s much more pronounced in Becky.”

ARTichokes corporate events are meant to level out the playing field among colleagues. As artistic bents are often lacking inside corporate walls, an event designed to let employees work together to create a painting is a foresighted way to create team cohesion. Since art creation is foreign to most participants, the situation, in certain ways, presents a problem to be jointly solved.

Naturally, Pashia doesn’t just open up a can of paint and hand out brushes. The idea of art being a foreign modality suited only to those with a particular gift is a misconception ARTichokes works hard to dispel, she says. In that vein, Pashia emphasizes, “We don’t draw.” The sisters characterize the end products as “abstract.” But rather than random and disjointed, abstract in the ARTichokes sense centers on “softer edges” akin to paintings done by French Impressionist Claude Monet.

Depending on the event, the painting either takes place on a single canvas or across multiple, large canvases. Pashia says it’s inevitable that when multiple canvasses are involved, the so-called art teams working on each masterpiece tend to be competitive. And voila! A seed of kinship develops.

While decisions made in executive offices often come with a clear set of objectives, goals and measurements, ARTichokes is a distinctly different experience for those accustomed to the c-suite office environment. Starting with basic visualizations around size, shape and color, Pashia says it’s best to let the artwork unfold rather than to impose a predetermined piece. “It just comes out,” she remarks.

Pashia’s tilt toward offering a helping hand of guidance—as opposed to hard-and-fast direction—comes from her own recognition of the difference between artists and corporate types. Recalling one of her earliest corporate events, “In comes 11 guys in three-piece suits,” she says. And with a note of pensiveness, adds, “It’s hard to break those in.” Analytical types, “tend to think in terms of graphs and numbers,” she admits.

Without too much pressing, Pashia confesses a kind of guilty pleasure when she works with a group of hardcore button-down types. “They’re just sure they don’t have an artistic bone in their body,” she says with a grin. When asked about the paradox of artists actively pursuing a position in the business realm, Pashia is taken aback. “I haven’t thought about it like that,” she says. “But I love attacking the corporate world.”

Based on the success of her and Barling’s business, the corporate world is responding to this “attack” with open arms. In the past three years, ARTichokes has facilitated more than 100 art events for corporate clients. These clients, the sisters say, represent the full range, from art and design companies like Leawood-based DEMDACO to executive leadership teams from tractor and mowing company John Deere. In the event sponsored by Moline, Ill.-based Deere & Co., executives flew in from operations around the globe for the opportunity to participate in this teambuilding exercise.

Through a community outreach/business development effort, Rhonda Harrelson, senior vice president of Enterprise Bank in Overland Park, brought in ARTichokes to host a private class for a group of 20 participants followed by a cocktail party for 50. The setup provided the bonding experience that carried over to the larger party. In other words, the stage was set for easy conversation to flow among guests. “None of us knew what to expect,” recollects Harrelson. As it turns out, “It’s one of the best events we’ve ever done for clients and potential clients,” she says.

Story by Ramona Paden