Hotels emphasize visual arts to position brands as cultural centers

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The Adolphus in Dallas hosts cultural conversations in its art-filled French Salon Room.

NEW YORK -- As hotels seek to better position themselves as cultural hubs and experiential hot spots, properties across the U.S. are increasingly placing an emphasis on art.

For example, the Conrad New York's lobby is home to a dramatic, 13-story Sol LeWitt painting titled "Loopy Doopy."

"Art in a hotel is no longer just for decoration," said the Conrad's general manager, Marlene Poynder. "It is now a voice that builds a hotel's identity and sets it apart from the rest."  

While the trend has been on the upswing for years, it came further into focus in August, when AccorHotels acquired a majority stake in the 21c Museum Hotel brand for $51 million. 

Alice Gray Stites, 21c Museum's director and chief curator, said, "Today's travelers seek more than just a comfortable bed and warm meal. They are looking for meaningful experiences that connect them to communities and engage them with new ideas. Learning is the new luxury."

The 21c concept, which combines a contemporary art museum with a boutique hotel, has eight locations in Arkansas, Ohio, North Carolina, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee and Oklahoma, indicating that demand for art-centric properties has spread far beyond traditional cultural capitals such as New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, where luxury and boutique hotels have long leveraged their proximity and access to culture and the arts.

That's not to say hotels in those cities have lost any of their cultural cachet. Along with "Loopy Doopy," the Conrad New York features more than 2,000 pieces of contemporary art across its public spaces and guestrooms. It also hosts a series of rotating exhibitions, with the most recent highlighting the work of Los Angeles-based street artist Morley. 

Likewise, the newly opened CitizenM New York Bowery hotel garnered buzz with its Museum of Street Art. The museum features work by a collective of artists involved with 5 Pointz, the factory complex and graffiti mural site in Long Island City, Queens, which was demolished in 2013. Spanning 21 stories of internal stairwell, guests can access the Museum of Street Art with their keycards, while the public can make free reservations to tour the museum through Resy, the online restaurant reservation app. 

Meres One at work on CitizenM New York Bowery's Museum of Street Art.
Meres One at work on CitizenM New York Bowery's Museum of Street Art.

For the fourth consecutive year, the Peninsula Chicago this fall hosted an art exhibit concurrent with the annual Expo Chicago art exposition. This year's show, titled "But I'm on The Guest List!," was curated by the nonprofit FLAG Art Foundation and included works by artists such as Jennifer Dalton, Elmgreen & Dragset, Ewan Gibbs and Carlos Rolon, among others. 

Perhaps nowhere is the art-hotel connection more apparent than in Miami Beach in December, when the annual Art Basel Miami Beach festival transforms the city into one of the world's art meccas. Hotels morph into showcases for art, and artists, dealers and buyers congregate in lobby bars and pool grounds.

One of the most buzzed-about, art-centric properties is the Faena Hotel Miami Beach. Concurrent with this year's Art Basel, the hotel played host to an array of artistic programming during its first Faena Festival. Billed as a multidisciplinary art event, the "This is Not America" exhibit featured commissions, installations and performances by artists such as Derrick Adams, Cecilia Bengolea, Alfredo Jaar, Isabel Lewis and Luna Paiva.

Another mainstay of the Miami art scene is the Sagamore hotel, which mounts a new exhibit every 60 days year-round. During Art Basel, the Sagamore's resident art adviser, Sebastien Laboureau, curated an exhibit highlighting work by Grammy-winning musician Jason Newsted and other creatives.

Nowadays, East Coast properties stretching from Sarasota, Fla., to the Jersey Shore are upping the ante when it comes to art curation.

Artist and photographer Nicole Cohen was recently tapped by Long Branch, N.J.-based boutique Bungalow hotel to spearhead an interior redesign of the property and curate an in-house collection of her work. 

"In general, there's been a shift toward people's attitudes toward art in the mainstream," Cohen said. "Art used to be seen as something untouchable, but I think social media and the internet have democratized it, and as the general public has been exposed to better design, it's created a wider audience for great art. The hospitality industry has realized that it's a growing niche."

The Bungalow recently bolstered its art-centric offerings with the opening of Bungalounge, a bar and gallery that will house rotating collections by local artists.

The Art Ovation Hotel in Sarasota, which opened in April and is part of Marriott's Autograph Collection, similarly seeks to showcase regional talent, but it also makes efforts to highlight artists from far-flung locales. In addition to offering guests the opportunity to mingle with local artists and watch them work in the in-lobby art studio, Art Ovation's latest rotating exhibition features artists from Venezuela, Germany and Cuba. 

Art Ovation also hosts free art-and-wine tours daily and encourages guests to embark on their own creative journeys, equipping each guestroom with sketchbooks, art supplies and even ukuleles. Guests can opt to borrow other musical instruments, including an acoustic guitar, cello, steel guitar or banjo. 

According to Lisa DiFranza, Art Ovation's cultural curator, the hotel's robust programming attracts not only art enthusiasts but also those who have never stepped foot in a gallery. 

"Galleries and museums can be intimidating or stuffy, while hotels are more of an everyday space that's public, and people are familiar with hotel lobbies," DiFranza said. "So this allows people to connect with art in a fresh way. Sometimes during the tours people will say, 'Wow! I've never spent an hour looking at art before.'"

While not explicitly branded as an "art hotel" group, Provenance Hotels' portfolio of 12 properties has also made art central to its boutique positioning. Among its more art-focused concepts is Old No. 77 Hotel & Chandlery in New Orleans, which collaborated with local gallery Where Y'Art to create "artist loft" suites curated by New Orleans artists Saegan Swanson, Tish Douzart and Leroy Miranda Jr. 

Other initiatives at the Old No. 77 include an exhibit from Where Y'Art this December and a partnership with the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts.

Meanwhile, the Autograph Collection's Adolphus Hotel in downtown Dallas, which boasts a substantial in-house collection, is looking to further enhance its cultural programming. 

The historic property recently debuted the Salon, a series of cultural conversations centered on art, philosophy and literature. Developed by artist Lucia Simek, the program is billed as a modern take on the traditional French salons of the 17th and 18th centuries and is held monthly in the hotel's French Salon Room, which houses artwork curated by Simek. 

"Hotels are capitalizing on the fact that visitors coming into their cities are often already interested in art and culture," said Simek. "If a hotel is also able to present itself as a cultural destination, it's smart. And cultural tourism is such a huge thing globally right now, so it makes sense for the hospitality industry to move further in that direction."

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