Fostering a sense of purpose can do wonders for an artist trying to develop an identity. For Brent Greenwood of Urban Indian 5, the inspiration to hone in on his artistic vision came with the group's partnership with the Oklahoma City Indian Clinic, and the results will be displayed Saturday at the clinic's annual fund-raiser, the Red Feather Gala.
Urban Indian 5 formed when five prominent Oklahoma American Indian artists met at the Red Feather Gala three years ago and began discussing the idea of art as a tool for healing. Ever since, the group raises money and creates awareness for the clinic. That higher calling helped Greenwood emulate his biggest artistic influence, abstract impressionist Mark Rothko.
"People have been known to look at his work and just weep, and trying to bring out that kind of emotion is the approach I've taken in my career," Greenwood said. "The clinic has given me a reason to really focus on that. It has always been a part of my work, but it has pushed me to really pursue that."
The group, whose name is a takeoff of the Kiowa Five, is currently comprised of Greenwood, Thomas Poolaw, Shan Goshorn, Holly Wilson and Gerald Cournoyer. The artists work independently, but sharing an interest in the clinic's cause has kept them intact, even after a few lineup changes.
Steve Barse, the clinic's community liaison, said the art component of the gala has been amplified this year with a silent auction, including the work of the Urban Indian 5, as well as a series of 10-by-10-inch paintings donated by artists nationwide.
"When we contacted the artists, we invited them to be part of a new art movement that will wage war on diabetes, heart disease and historical trauma," Barse said. "That resonated in people's minds."
Greenwood agreed that the response from the American Indian art community has been surprising.
"It's all through the generosity of the artists, because all the proceeds go back to the clinic," he said. "At first, I was wondering how good the response would be, but once the artists found out it was for the clinic, then they were more than willing to donate their time and efforts."
Barse said Saturday's fund-raiser is more important than ever, because the clinic's resources have not kept pace with the massive demand for services.
"We are literally busting out at the seams with the flow of traffic we already have. It takes upwards of three months just to start a chart," he said. "That puts us in a position where we have to turn away patients."
Barse said the clinic offers "one-stop shopping" for medical services, including optometry and dentistry. Over the years, the Red Feather Gala has been a major tool in helping the clinic expand its care.
Greenwood said tethering the Urban Indian 5 mission to that of the clinic makes the best use of the artists' professional diversity.
"We are all prolific artists and have shows and connections throughout the country and gallery representation," he said. "It's cool that we've managed to tie it all together here in Oklahoma where we are all located."
Red Feather Gala takes place at 7 p.m. Saturday at National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, 1700 N.E. 63rd