The transition of hotel art from decorative to thought-provoking is an opportunity to increase social responsibility while also showcasing local culture – and potentially boosting business.
Jonathan Morris, co-owner of the new Hotel Dryce, sees contemporary photography in his lobby as a metaphor for the role of art in building bridges and giving voice. His favorite image on the Fort Worth property shows a protester with a microphone leading a group over an overpass, allowing the viewer to imagine what the boy is saying.
“I’m looking for opportunities to build voices for those who haven’t always had them,” Morris said. “Historically in Fort Worth, I don’t think people of color – people like me – have always been represented or felt involved or welcomed. I want to be a place for those people.”
Other eye-catching depictions on the Dryce include black and Hispanic ranch hands, who make up more than a quarter of the region’s cowboys. However, they are rarely depicted, says Morris, who sees himself as something of a cowboy.
“We have our big hotels here, with their ‘standard art,'” he said. “But our location is unique: we are the only hotel in the cultural district. And we’re a boutique, which gives us the opportunity to tell stories through art and showcase something unique to Fort Worth.”
He is not the only motivated hotelier. Properties across the country are making a more conscientious effort to showcase different perspectives and artists, giving them a platform not only for representation, but also for expression.
At the Kimpton EPIC Hotel in Miami, that push has helped create a new artist-in-residency program, with works on display in a gallery open to guests and the general public. Each exhibitor must commit to a platform linked to diversity and inclusion, an initiative developed during the Martin Luther King holiday weekend in 2021.
“It’s important that we as hotels help create that advocacy. We want to represent all our employees’, says general manager Ericka Nelson. “We want to represent all our guests. And a hotel is often a visitor’s first glimpse into the diversity and beauty of a neighborhood.”
Whether subtle or splashy, the methods in which advocacy manifests itself vary. At the new Kimpton Banneker Hotel in Washington, DC, contemporary interior design pays tribute — through displays of artwork by creators of color — to the eponymous 18th-century scientist and civil rights leader Benjamin Banneker. History comes alive with works by the likes of Aziza Claudia Gibson-Hunter, co-founder of Black Artists of DC, and Nigerian-American muralist Victor Ekpuk.
Meanwhile, launch parties at EPIC for each quarterly exhibition provide exposure for emerging creatives. That’s amplified during Black Music Month in June, when the hotel hosts pop-ups featuring local musicians of color. Nelson believes the performances by a diverse group of performers during the wine hour nightly have contributed significantly to fostering interest in the local culture.
Providing opportunities for such immersion is a cornerstone at 21C, the Accor-owned boutique hotel chain, with contemporary art museums open to the public. Chief Curator and Museum Director Alice Gray Stites says the company has spent the past two years developing ways to increase the visibility of the artworks in the collection, including hosting hybrid events with artists.
The curator says social responsibility comes in many forms, including displaying trending media such as non-replaceable tokens. “You can come across traditional media here, such as sculpture, film, painting, as well as works created with augmented and virtual reality,” says Gray Stites.
“I even show NFTs about pop stars, about how culture is created. We have a responsibility to investigate and talk about what those platforms are and how they are shared and consumed.”