Guests at the Saint Kate hotel in Milwaukee can opt to stay in one of four ’canvas rooms,’ including Lon Michels’s ’Leopard Room.’ Picture: Noah Wolf
Guests at the Saint Kate hotel in Milwaukee can opt to stay in one of four ’canvas rooms,’ including Lon Michels’s ’Leopard Room.’ Picture: Noah Wolf

Why more hotels are making galleries part of the guest experience

By The Washington Post Time of article published Nov 10, 2021

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By Bailey Berg

More and more hotels across the US are striving to bring the gallery into the guest experience, in an effort to share and start conversations, to make art accessible, to educate and to inspire.

Many of the art-forward hotels, such as the Art in Denver and the Alexander in Indianapolis, work with local artists to either showcase their portfolio for a specific amount of time or commission one-of-a-kind pieces to display on-site indefinitely.

Lifting local talent has also been part of the lifeblood for Saint Kate, a hotel in Milwaukee in Wisconsin. Curator Samantha Timm said that the owners have long been patrons of the area's art scene and that they wanted to share their passions with others.

"We believe that the arts encourage conversations with others and that everyone should be able to find something that they connect with," Timm said, adding that her job is to make the art in the hotel fun, exciting and accessible for everyone, including both hardcore fans and casual observers.

In addition to the permanent collection, found in all public spaces on the first and second floors, six different gallery spaces rotate in new art every three months or so, all of which are free and open to the public. Although there are works from very established artists, such as sculptor Deborah Butterfield, many exhibits are meant to showcase and uplift early-career Midwestern artists.

For a deeper dive into the collection, guests can opt to stay in one of the four "canvas rooms." Each was commissioned to a local artist to decorate as they saw fit.

Whenever a guest stays in one of the canvas rooms, the hotel donates a percentage of the profits to local art organisations.

Although actual museums can carry a hefty price tag, the vast majority of art hotel collections are free and open to the public.

The Aspen Meadows Resort, like Saint Kate, also has curators on staff to oversee the resort's numerous art pieces within the hotel (including various outdoor sculptures) and help answer questions.

Guests can arrange for a private tour with a curator or take a self-guided tour of the open galleries, as well as the outdoor art installations spread throughout the 40-acre campus in Aspen following routes listed in pamphlets available throughout the grounds.

Much of the resort's Resnick Art Gallery focuses on the work of Herbert Bayer, who also designed Aspen Meadows in the 1950s, whereas the Paepcke Art Gallery displays a rotating collection. Construction is also under way on the new Resnick Centre for Herbert Bayer Studies, which is scheduled to open in 2022 and will include 11 galleries.

Other hotels that help make art appreciation more attainable include Hotel Indigo in Santa Barbara, California, which serves as a satellite space for the Museum of Contemporary Art, and 21c Museum Hotels.

Perhaps what is most notable about the art hotels is that, very often, there aren't the "do not touch" signs you would see in a traditional museum. (However, that's not always the case, especially with fragile pieces.)

"When we were coming up with the concept for what the Gordon guest experience would be like, I wanted the hotel to be a place where art could not only be displayed but made," said Brian Obie, president and principal owner of Obie Companies, which includes the Gordon Hotel in Eugene, Oregon. "I believe anyone can be an artist if they just have a chance to tap into their creativity and are given the tools, and sometimes the permission, to sit down and make something."

One of the ways that manifest at the Gordon Hotel is in the lobby Art Bar. Hotel visitors can create their own masterpieces. The bar isn't just stocked with Jack, Jim and Jose, but also myriad supplies, such as pencils and watercolours, along with an all-important industrial sink for cleaning up afterwards. Similarly, each of Saint Kate's 200-plus rooms contains a ukulele, a record player and coloured pencils.

Also in the lobby of the Gordon Hotel is the large-scale digital art installation titled "The Great Wall." That installation is 21 constantly changing pieces on television screens and was undertaken in partnership with the Harmonic Laboratory. Obie said he hopes all these mediums and makings inspire the work of his guests, even if it's only for the short time they're within the hotel's walls.

"When we're travelling, we're often more open to trying new things," Obie said. "I think having a guest experience that not only shows people art and visually stimulates them, but also actively encourages them to tap into their own individualistic expression is important."

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