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Professor Malcolm Mobutu Smith commissioned to create ‘Cloud Busting’ piece for health center’s art program

Wall-art M Smith


April 16, 2014

Guest post courtesy of IU Communications colleague Brittany Aders:

“It is now proven through medical research that access to art and nature aid in the healing process.”

– Michael Kaufmann, director of special projects and civic investment, Health and Hospital Corporation of Marion County.

The Sidney & Lois Eskenazi Hospital located in Marion County officially opened its doors to patients on Dec 7, 2013.

The new facility replaces Wishard hospital, one of Indianapolis’ oldest hospitals established in 1859. Just as Wishard displayed murals of many Hoosier artists throughout the hospital to create a healing environment, the Eskenazi Health campus sought to do the same by building off of this 100-year legacy of their historic art collection, said Michael Kaufmann with Eskenazi Health campus.

“We knew that we needed to respect that tradition by carrying it forward into the new campus,” said Kaufmann.

The health center’s art program consists of 19 artists, over half of which are from Indiana. Murals, textiles, poetry and photographs are just some of the artworks that are on display for both patients and the public alike.

“The art program does not operate in isolation, but is part of a larger vision that utilizes good design that is both inspirational and environmentally responsible and includes access to garden spaces, and an emphasis on the full spectrum of well-being,” Kaufmann said. “This includes social, psychological, emotional and physical.”

Each area of the hospital is centered on a destination piece of art, guiding visitors through the artworks instead of by floors.

“We worked very hard to match mood and theme to the programmatic use of the space,” Kaufmann said.

“For instance, art in the hospital tower tends to be more of natural scenery and landscapes, creating a soothing and calming environment. Art in the outpatient waiting areas are playful and utilize rich, bold colors. We also wanted to select a body of work that was rich with diversity to reflect our diverse client-base.”

Malcolm Mobutu Smith, associate professor of ceramic art at the School of Fine Arts at IU Bloomington, is one such artist whose work lines the walls of the outpatient area.

His inspiration for the piece came from the notion of cloud busting, a term often used to describe the activity of looking up at the sky and creating imagery in the clouds.

“It’s about inventing what you see in clouds, and so it’s getting at that ethic of our constant sense of innovation or desire as human beings to create or manifest stuff out of the ether of the world around us,” said Smith.

The tiles on the wall and painted motif directly behind represent this experience of opening creative links through form, or cloud busting, in that they hold no specified meaning but are there for the interpretation and discovery of each visitor.

“The painted motif doesn’t directly link to what’s in the tiles and no two tiles have the same system or pattern except for the fact that their borders, contour and exterior outlines are handled similarly,” Smith said. “You get to make your own linkages between both the painting and the tiles, between any number of tiles together, and the whole system of eight.”

Through the efforts of the Eskenazi Health campus and artists work, the environment has been warmly received by patients and visitors alike.

“We have had an incredible response from the community in general, as well as the arts community, patients, staff and physicians,” Kaufmann said. “It is common to see patients snapping photos of the art.”

He said that most of the art is so significantly integrated with the Eskenazi hospital, that the installation will likely remain the same. However, they will work with the Herron School of Art at IUPUI to make additional purchases for other areas of the hospital in the future.

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