At some hotels with artists-in-residence programs, the artists act as something of an additional concierge, giving tours of the property and talking about its art collection. Others leave their lasting impressions on interior and exterior spaces at the property.
REPORT FROM THE U.S.—For the most part, the “artists-in-residence” at The Pfister Hotel, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, don’t actually reside on property; that’s because they’ve been almost entirely locals from the Milwaukee area.
But the artists certainly make themselves at home during their yearlong residency.
In fact, each artist becomes so intimate with the hotel and its art collection—84 works on display, and between 10 and 15 other pieces in vaults—that they give tours to guests.
That highlights a trend at some hotels with artists-in-residence programs: The art is just the first of a few focuses.
“I look at the artists as actually being another associate of the hotel—another sales person, another security guard, another concierge, quite frankly,” The Pfister’s GM Tim Smith said.
“Lots of times, guests will walk into the gallery before they do the lobby of the hotel, and they’ll ask questions. … I have another associate with me for the entire year who can further benefit the customer experience at the hotel,” Smith added. “The artists integrate themselves very easily. They mingle with staff. A lot will do paintings of staff members. It becomes a pretty cool relationship over a 50- to 51-week timeframe.”
Unique perspective, relationship
Since its inception in 2009, The Pfister’s artist-In-residence program has tapped artists who specialize in anything from painting to glassworks to fashion design and fiber arts. Each artist has a perspective to offer on the hotel tours that is as unique as their artwork.
“It’s very much like wine,” Smith said. “You and I may drink the same glass of wine but like it for entirely different reasons. … That’s part of the reason we do have so many guests who come back year after year. They get to meet the new artist and see the new work; and they get to take the tour and hear opinions and background from an entirely different perspective.”
The Quin Hotel in New York City sees similar relationships develop between the guests and the artists who are chosen for its Quin Arts program.
This year’s artist-in-residence, Robert Malmberg, is a New Yorker who works in photography, and part of his commitment to the hotel will be to lead guests on walks through Central Park.
“He will come and stay with us, and get to have these really intimate moments with guests, who will have the opportunity to view his work in the lobby and to engage with him over coffee in the drawing room, where he can share his vision about the artwork on display and about his life story,” said Jacqueline Cox, The Quin’s director of sales and marketing and coordinator of the Quin Arts program.
Even on the Central Park walk, art is at the forefront.
“He’s a photographer, so the discussion is very much about how to capture the light, what his tips are,” Cox said. “And because he’s a local artist, his stories are about the quintessential New York experience.”
That’s what the Quin stands for—quintessential—and Cox said it’s the philosophy behind the artist-in-residence program.
“Guests get to not only live like a local, but they get to do some different things that sometimes even locals don’t have easy access to,” Cox said.
The first time
For the Goldmoor Inn in Galena, Illinois, an artist-in-residence program was devised as a way to draw guests in during January, when bookings are typically slow, said Birgit Radin, who owns the Goldmoor with her husband Slobo.
This was the first year for the program, which invited four artists to each spend a week on property, where a gazebo is transformed into a studio.
“Each artist paints each day outside as weather permits, or inside a gazebo we turn into their studio so they can enjoy natural light all day long,” Radin said. Guests were “free to meet and mingle with or observe the artist,” and at the end of the week, the artists each offered a class, followed by a champagne reception.
The experiment has been a success, Radin said, prompting discussion about offering longer residencies to artists in the future. The owners have also learned from the experience.
“After our first week, we immediately identified easy-to-fix logistical items, such as where and how to set up the classroom and gallery reception,” she said.
Carol Luc, a painter from Chicago and the Goldmoor’s first artist-in-residence, said that by the end of her week at the inn she was familiar with everyone on staff.
“The point of a residency is for the artist to relax and feel integrated into the environment in a positive way,” she said. “So a lengthier stay is a benefit.”
Luc advised that hoteliers should “give the artist room to breathe and keep expectations reasonable,” adding that “each artist is unique, which adds to the fabric of the experience for all.”
Finding the right fit
At The Pfister, the process is starting all over again, as a selection committee, which includes experts from the Milwaukee arts community, looks at candidates for the next artist-in-residence. The general public also will have a collective vote after a winter gallery night in downtown Milwaukee that showcases works from the six finalists.
The hotel’s GM also sits on the selection committee, and one of the committee’s criteria is the “30-second elevator speech.”
“Knowing that this person is going to be within the walls of the hotel 30 hours a week, for 51 weeks, we have to make sure it’s the right choice,” Smith said. “It’s not just who is the best artist, or has the best-looking stuff. If I’m a CEO and I get in the hotel elevator, and the artist-in-residence happens to be there … I’m going to say, ‘Tell me about your artwork.’”
During the “30-second elevator speech,” each finalist of the program is asked about what their work is all about.
“A lot of what determines who gets votes is based on how the person answers that,” Smith said. “They have to be able to represent themselves and the art they produce, but also the hotel and 150 years of heritage, and that’s a super important piece to the program.”
The Quin employs a curator, D.K. Johnston, who has been with the artist-in-residence program since the beginning, Cox said.
“He enables us to really connect with the right artists, and make sure that the artist also has a great experience and that their work really shines in our space.”
At The Quin, that space goes beyond the gallery. Last year, as part of the program, artists used classic guitars as their canvas, and some of those pieces have become part of The Quin’s permanent collection, displayed on the hotel’s second floor. Previously, street (or graffiti) artists created art on the hotel’s interior doors. Other creations have spilled into the outside spaces on the property.
“As guests walk around the hotel, they get to see some of this extraordinary art that seems very urbane right next to something very refined,” Cox said. “Within the core style and architecture, there’s this surprise you discovered.”
Much of the artwork created during the program is available for guests to buy—the exception is the pieces that become part of the hotel’s permanent collection. Guests also have exclusive access to the intimate artist talks, walks and other programs.
At The Pfister, the locals get to take part, Smith said.
“The grassroots base of the program is rooted in the local arts community,” Smith said. “Before brunch … or after church, people stop in at the gallery. They might head over to have brunch or lunch at one of our outlets. It just keeps life in the lobby of the hotel.”
The end benefit for the hotel, of course, is positive guest experience that generates loyalty, repeat visitors and word-of-mouth.
For The Pfister, it’s also about being “relevant to future guests … to all generations,” Smith said. “We have to make ourselves relevant to the next one, two and three generation.” That means sometimes having “something completely different … that attracts a younger demographic into the body of the hotel.”
Because of that approach, abstract art shares space in the hotel with what Smith said is “the largest collection of Victorian art anywhere in the world.” The Pfister’s 2012 artist-in-residence, former “Project Runway” contestant Timothy Westbrook, combined the two—creating Victorian-style gowns using the tape from cassette tapes for fabric.
The hotel’s permanent collection includes artwork commissioned from the artists-in-residence, which is displayed in 200 of the hotel’s guestrooms.
“Each artist, when they leave … leaves a legacy piece, a gift to the hotel for being the artist for the past year that is displayed in the lobby of the hotel,” Smith said. “That’s another piece of the puzzle that draws a lot of local attention.”