SKYLINE ART SERVICES
Choctaw Nation Health Services (CNHS) stated its purpose was “to provide high-quality healthcare in a culturally respectful and compassionate manner.” The goal of a healing art program at CNHS was not only to provide positive distraction but to reflect the unique Choctaw history, culture, and language, as well as to honor their ancestry.
Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma launched a project for its Health Services Division, a state-of-the-art 143,000-square-foot medical center and renovation of a network of outlying clinics and wellness centers across eastern Oklahoma. They sought to create “A Place of Healing,” or in Choctaw: “Ahlakofi.” The project imparted a strong and consistent identity to provide high-quality healthcare to the Choctaw community and recognized and honored the tribe’s unique culture and history. The art program was a departure from using typical evidence-based design guidelines for artwork considered to be appropriate for healthcare facilities to meet the goals for this unique environment of care.
To create an environment uniquely suited to the Choctaw community with design concepts that honored and reflected Choctaw visual culture, Skyline Art Services studied the culture, drawing first from the nation’s own historical and cultural resources. Additional review of the literature provided evidence that could be extrapolated or interpreted into design concepts and artwork commissions.
Artwork and design incorporated established evidenced-based design principals – positive distraction and recognizable, nature-based imagery. Designers also drew from Choctaw concepts not found in typical guidelines for art in healthcare. Research efforts to understand and develop concepts for artwork and design may draw from sources outside those directly addressing design interventions in the built environment. In this regard, the project could incorporate traditional and modern artistic practices, local knowledge, history, story-telling, and folklore, broadening the research agenda. Choctaw culture is unique among Native American tribes, and it was important to recognize and reflect that distinction wherever there were depictions of self-identity, costume, sport, craft, language, and especially of medicine.
A selective review of literature included scholarly journals and books in subjects as diverse as arts, literature, anthropology, folklore, and history, as well as books published by the Choctaw Nation itself. A knowledge base provided key concepts to inform art direction and design and served as a resource for commissioned artists and graphic designers.
Research practice also included identifying and locating Choctaw artists. CNHS leaders drew upon the tribe’s own talents, skills, and knowledge, commissioning artwork from Choctaw artists to benefit not only the patient population but also the health and well-being of the community. Choctaw artists were commissioned to create new works featuring imagery and subjects drawn from Choctaw visual culture in styles and media that were both traditional and contemporary. Many of the artists were registered in the Choctaw Nation’s Artist Registry, and others were found through a nationwide search in other artist networks. Utilizing talent from within the community helped to ensure that depictions of Choctaw culture were true.
It was hypothesized that a highly effective environment of care specifically for a population like the Choctaw people should reflect their unique visual culture and history. Choctaw artwork contributes to the attributes of positive distraction, a wayfinding strategy, educational enrichment, language instruction, tribal self-determination, and cultural preservation, and the art program tells a story about the advances of the tribe today.