Tuesday, December 23, 2008

An Art Hotel?!

This morning on the radio I heard a segment about a hotel in Louisville, KY that features contemporary art as the bedrock of its amenities package. I resolved to check out the Internet for more information whenever I got the chance. I used to have a friend who loved to stay at a place in Toronto that had rooms customized by individual local and regional artists. I loved that idea when I first heard about it. It's difficult for art to find its way in the marketplace (especially stuff created in the last couple decades), and its integration in lodging seemed like a unique but appropriate marriage. How many times have you commented on the generic and bland wall furnishings in the rooms that you've stayed in over the years?

Instead of being surrounded by the typical designs aimed at the lowest common denominator, how would you like to sleep beneath an original painting produced by an actual struggling artist? There are plenty of places that you could patronize that make every effort to achieve complete anonymity. Why must depersonalization be such a large part of the hospitality industry? Do people really want to travel to a destination only to be sheltered in an environment that is completely interchangeable with anyplace else? Well, I know for a fact that there is a demographic that appreciates local and unique flavors. There are genuinely curious and adventuresome folk that seek experiences during their vacations that they can't find anywhere else.

Based on these criteria I thought I might like to visit the 21c Hotel/Museum in Louisville. The city is approximately 335 miles from Pittsburgh, and it's one of the few major destinations within a day's drive that I haven't yet visited. I've never even made an extended stop in Kentucky, and I'm hard-pressed to remember an occasion I had to drive through it. As far as Louisville is concerned, I only have a single association with the city- the Kentucky Derby. While I enjoy the idea of horseracing, I can't see myself traveling to that mess. But if I can find things to enjoy about Buffalo, Erie, and Cleveland, I'm sure I could find some amusement in a mid-size town in Kentucky. With a little bit of research ahead of time, I'd probably enjoy myself.

It wasn't hard to find the 21C site. As soon as I did, I realized that its offerings were on a scale that I hadn't anticipated. Apparently a non-profit entity controls the art display operations separately from the hotel. It bills itself as "North America's first museum dedicated solely to collecting and exhibiting contemporary art of the 21st century". It's not limited to American art, but rather includes work from a variety of international sources. From the website, I found it rather difficult to determine to what degree the art itself is incorporated into the accomodations. It seems as if there are galleries simply attached to the hotel, with a few pieces scattered about the public spaces of the building.

One thing that quickly becomes obvious is that the 21c is a luxury spot. Its Spring rates exceed $200 a night (and progress to $800 at the upper reaches). The 91 rooms do seem well appointed- with flatscreen television, minibars, iPods, poster art, silver mint julep cups, and "500 thread count Egyptian cotton sheets imported from Italy crowning the exquisite bedding". If that's not enough, you can avail yourself of their in-house spa, or high-priced luxury dining restaurant. "After all", as they explain in a description of their Got Art? Package, "being a starving artist is so passé". Of course that means that I probably won't ever be crashing at the 21c. Maybe I can book a night in the stables at the Churchill Downs?

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Check out the art in some of the better chains Marriott Hotels have very good designers. I have stayed in several with signed limited edition prints in the guest rooms - all well chosen with the clientel in mind. I hope that the new hotels in the city will choose a designer who will use more Pittsburgh art. Struggling has nothing to do with it. JM

7:43 PM  
Blogger matthew said...

we already had talks with a developer about this! Stay tuned for details...

1:28 PM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...


Thanks for the tip. I don't know when I'll see the inside of a Marriott again.


I'll be looking forward to chatting about that with you whenever the time is right.

5:02 PM  

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