The first thing you notice when you enter the Graduate Hotel Nashville is an 8 x 15-foot photograph depicting the star of the Grand Ole Opry Minnie Pearl. Although images of favorite towns are not out of the ordinary in Music City, the medium used for their likeness in this case is. It’s a hooked latch rug with a shaggy background in a bright pink.
“It’s definitely surprising,” said General Manager Greg Bradley. It’s hardly the property’s only unexpected piece of art. Art adds a storytelling element to the hotel. Its design is inspired by the journey of a fictional singer-songwriter trying to make it big in Nashville, from bumping into a friend’s sofa (hence the multitude of mismatched vintage-inspired sofas in the hallway) to the top of the charts (portrayed by Dolly Parton-inspired Fever Dream in pink The entirety is White Limozeen, the rooftop bar).
Although it may seem overkill to those who are used to crashing into hotels where every room features the same mass-produced painting or print, Graduate Nashville is actually in line with the growing trend. More and more hotels across the country are striving to bring the gallery into the guest experience in an effort to engage and initiate conversations, to make art accessible, and to educate and inspire.
Many design hotels, such as Art in Denver and Alexander in Indianapolis, work with local artists to either display their portfolio for a set period of time or commission one-of-a-kind pieces to display on site indefinitely.
Raising local talent was also part of the lifeblood of St. Kitt’s, a Milwaukee hotel. Curator Samantha Tim said the owners have long been patrons of the area’s art scene and that they want to share their passion with others.
“We believe that the arts encourage conversations with others and that everyone should be able to find something to connect with,” Tim said, adding that her job is to make art in the hotel interesting, interesting and accessible to everyone, including both hardcore fans and casual observers.
Tim said St. Kate is trying to celebrate the visual arts, performing arts, and everything in between. In addition to the permanent collection, located in all public spaces on the first and second floors, six different exhibition spaces are rotated into new art every three months or so, all of which are free and open to the public. Although there are works by very well-known artists, such as sculptor Deborah Butterfield, many of the exhibits are intended to showcase and promote early-career Midwestern artists such as current exhibitor Anwar Floyd Pruitt.
To delve into the collection, guests can choose to stay in one of the four “fabric rooms.” Each local artist was assigned to decorate as they saw fit. (For example, “Lon Michels’s Leopard Room” has floor-to-ceiling animal prints in many patterns and colors.) When a guest stays in one of the canvas rooms, the hotel donates a percentage of the profits to local art organizations.
Although actual museums can command a high price, the vast majority of hotel art collections are free and open to the public.
Aspen Meadows Resort, like Saint Kate, has custodians on staff to oversee the resort’s many art pieces within the hotel (including many outside sculptures) and help answer questions.
Guests can arrange a private tour with a curator or take a self-guided tour of the open air galleries, as well as the outdoor art installations scattered throughout the 40-acre campus in Aspen, Colorado, and the following routes are listed in brochures available throughout the grounds. (Saint Kate and Graduate Nashville also have self-guided tours, though these are related to apps.)
Much of the resort’s Resnick Art Gallery focuses on the work of Herbert Bayer, who also designed Aspen Meadows in the 1950s, while Paepcke Art Gallery displays a rotating collection. Work is also underway on the new Resnick Center for Herbert Bayer Studies, which is scheduled to open in 2022 and will include 11 galleries spread over approximately 7,500 square feet.
Other hotels that help make an appreciation for art more achievable include the Hotel Indigo in Santa Barbara, California, which serves as the space for the Museum of Contemporary Art, and 21C Museum Hotels. (There are nine of these in the United States, with two more in the pipeline.)
Perhaps the most characteristic of art hotels is that, often, there are no “no touch” signs that you would see in a traditional museum. (However, this is not always the case, especially with fragile pieces.)
“When we were coming up with a concept of what a 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 Obie of The Obie Companies. which includes the Gordon Hotel in Eugene, Ore. “I think anyone can be an artist if they have a chance to tap into their creativity and have the tools, and sometimes permission, to sit down and make something.”
One of the ways the Gordon Hotel is evident is in the Art Bar lobby. Visitors to the hotel can create their own masterpieces. Not only was the bar stocked with Jack, Jim, and Jose, but also a myriad of supplies like pencils and watercolors, along with a very important industrial sink to clean up afterwards. Likewise, each of Saint Kate’s 200+ rooms contains a harp, record player, and colored pencils.
Also in the lobby of the Gordon Hotel is a large-scale digital art installation titled “The Great Wall”. This installation is 21 ever-changing pieces (shown on TV) and made in partnership with Harmonic Laboratory, an award-winning art group also based in Eugene.
Many of the works on display have been created by art students from the University of Oregon. There are also over 160 pieces by 84 local artists (along with an additional 75 pieces created by employees of Obie companies). Obi said he hopes all of these mediums and industries will inspire the work of his guests, even if it’s only for a short time within the hotel’s walls.
“When we travel, we are often more open to trying new things,” said Obi. “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 individual expression is important.”