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State of the Art

May 4, 2016

IIDA members and experts discuss the trends influencing art in interior design.

No longer an afterthought of commercial design projects, art plays a significant and integral role in how interior environments are experienced by users. Research, particularly in the realm of healthcare, has elevated art from the purely decorative to the highly functional. It can provide stress relief, serve as a wayfinding tool, support a corporate culture, and present an opportunity for companies to connect with local communities.

Here, three IIDA Member-experts, whose experiences bridge the gap between interior design and art consultancy, offer insight into the trends that are shaping how art informs the design process and vice versa.

From Consultants to Creators

Louise Nicholson Carter, IIDA, CHID, EDAC, RID, principal of Skyline Art Services

The accessibility of digital technology has changed everything, everywhere, and art for interior environments is no different. According to Carter, who worked as a healthcare designer prior to joining Skyline Art Services in 1996, technology is allowing art consultants to think differently about sourcing and production, providing them with opportunities to create pieces that otherwise wouldn’t be possible or financially viable. Technology is now a driving force in the art business, influencing the collaboration between artists, designers, and consultants.

“Twenty years ago, art consultants were flipping through catalogues and selecting pieces of art. You could only order what you saw. Now, the collaborative process broadens the depth, diversity, and outcomes of our art projects,” said Carter.

The accessibility and cost-effectiveness of customized art is converging with a new wave of architects and designers who are more likely to begin considering the art program for a project in the planning phase. Art consultants like Carter help inform the interior architecture and play a more hands-on role in determining creative opportunities and solutions for maintaining and supporting art installations.

Carter’s work on the Saint Francis Health System illustrates this collaboration. “Our team worked with Page Architects in Dallas and the health system’s art committee. They had developed a concept involving a 50- by 10-feet area of ceiling with glass platters in the main lobby,” said Carter. “We commissioned over 300 glass platters with this gorgeous play of color and lighting. We had to figure out how it could be cleaned and how they would access the lighting. That’s serious integration with the structural side of the project, and it utilizes our background even more. It’s a very exciting time to be in the art world.”

Interpreting and Integrating Brand

Laura Grigsby, IIDA, owner of Laura Grigsby Art Consulting

In the age of startups, a corporate workspace that embodies a brand is now paramount to many company cultures and design goals. Grigsby believes the key to supporting that goal with art is by providing a visual interpretation of a company’s brand. But that doesn’t have to mean plastering the logo on every wall, she said.

“The younger a company, the more ‘brand’ drives the conversation about art selection,” said Grigsby, who provides art consulting services for technology companies in Silicon Valley, in addition to other corporate and residential clients. “They want to express the brand visually, and artwork can do that in a less literal way than logos and other brand images.”

Art can be inspired and informed by a company’s values or mission statement, and the selection process often includes a discussion with the marketing or branding department to help better understand how the company sees itself. But Grigsby maintains that art can and should communicate the brand in a different way and offers an opportunity to do something unexpected. For tech companies, this may mean finding artists who are inspired by science or math or working in new, innovative mediums.

“Visual artists are innovators and creative thinkers, just like engineers or entrepreneurs. But artists have a different language—color, shape, pattern, medium, texture. Their expression of ideas makes you slow down and think. There can be an affinity between art and brands,” said Grigsby. “I worked with a social media company that thinks of itself as storytellers and provides a platform that allows people to tell their stories. Their artwork interprets that and figuratively expresses ideas of communication, community, and interaction between people.”

A Holistic Approach

Peggy Noakes, FIIDA, CHID, LEED AP, EDAC, Interior Design Consultant

An art program can’t exist in a design bubble, said Noakes, who sees design teams recognizing the importance of collaboration more and more. Nowhere is this more critical than in healthcare design, where art can help patients and their families feel more at ease when facing potentially stressful situations.

Noakes, whose background includes art consulting as well as healthcare interior design, knows that this process goes beyond simply choosing art and hanging it on the wall. “With evidence-based design, the research gets into the nitty-gritty of choosing a piece of artwork, which makes sense, but the built environment is bigger than one piece,” she said. “Artwork is part of a program. You have to look at the environment as a whole. Bringing all the elements together and understanding how they play off each other—that’s what makes an art program successful. It can’t be an afterthought.”

In healthcare, considering the environment as a whole also means being cognizant of how spaces will be used and experienced. “There’s a vulnerability scale. If you are designing and placing art in a healthcare space, you have to pay attention to where you are,” Noakes explained. “If you’re in a lobby, the least vulnerable area, art can be more abstract. The most vulnerable rooms are examination and treatment rooms. In the patient rooms, you need something that’s more realistic—art that is familiar. Trying to figure out what something is can cause more anxiety.”

Beyond exam rooms, art can play multiple roles that ultimately serve to lessen stress, as long as all other design elements are working in harmony with one another. It’s a holistic view that requires the different teams to do their part.

“Clear graphics and intuitive wayfinding destresses as well—everything plays a role,” said Noakes. “Wayfinding can be part of the design, but then you have to layer in signage, which can support the design concept. We’ve gotten better at integrating the various disciplines; nothing is standalone.”

Louisa Fitzgerald is the senior writer and editor at IIDA, which can be reached at 1-888-799-4432, [email protected], or www.iida.org.

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