Rhode Island artist Kelly Milukas uses her art in public spaces like Intarcia Therapeutics to inspire employees and patients.
There aren’t many artists not named Dali or Chagall who have an entire building devoted to their artwork, but the South Boston headquarters of the biotech company Intarcia Therapeutics was built from the ground up to highlight the “Keys to the Cure” artwork of Rhode Island artist Kelly Milukas. Visitors to Intarcia, which neighbors Boston’s Institute for Contemporary Art, are greeted by a Milukas sculpture, and the artist worked closely with architect Vincenzo Giambertone to create exhibit spaces throughout the building, including custom niches for paintings and photos, pedestals for sculpture, and even details like lighting and paint-color choices.
Milukas began her signature work featuring the iconography of keys and locks back in 2010, when representatives of the International Regenerative Medicine Foundation—which advocates for stem-cell research—approached her to collaborate on a project to connect with the public through art. The brief: use the themes of keys, locks, and mysteries to “tell the story about how the body has the ability to heal itself,” says Milukas.
Milukas was reluctant to take on such a large public project at first, but an unplanned hospital stay convinced her to spend the next year creating her first Keys to the Cure series, now on display at the foundation’s Wellington, Florida, headquarters. “I became so impassioned by the scientists and patients that I met,” she says.
The artwork caught the eye of Intarcia CEO Kurt Graves, who was looking to inspire both the public and company employees as the company worked to bring an innovative type-2 diabetes treatment protocol to market. Milukas literally got in on the ground floor as Intarcia was planning a move to a new home on the South Boston waterfront, and her vision resonated strongly with Intarcia: “Keys are bodies—each one is an individual person, with a torso and head—so everyone in the office is a key,” she explains.
Milukas’ work can be seen everywhere at Intarcia, from lobbies to hallways to offices; company officials even lead new visitors on an ad hoc art tour. “They’ve really taken it into their entire corporate culture,” says Milukas, right down to awarding a series of “Keys” awards to employees who use their talents “to unlock progress and innovation.”
Intarcia has commissioned Milukas to create new works for three more company buildings. “The staff tell me how happy they are to have this inspiring art to come to work to every day,” she says. Thanks to her work for the regenerative medicine foundation and Intarcia, “Now when people come into my studio they ask me whether there is any good news, which is wonderful,” she says. “I’ve loved every minute of it.”
A series of personal health challenges over the last two years has made the work even more gratifying for Milukas. “I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, but being in so many care levels has helped me to understand what being a patient is about and what it means to be afraid to die,” she says. “So has that informed my work? Absolutely.”