Transitioning hotel art from decorative to thought-provoking is an opportunity to enhance social responsibility while showcasing local culture — and possibly boost business.
Jonathan Morris, co-owner of the new Hotel Dryce, sees the contemporary photography in his lobby as a metaphor for art’s role in building bridges and providing a voice. His favorite image at the Fort Worth property depicts a protester with a microphone leading a group across an overpass, leaving 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 included or welcome. I want to be a space for those people.”
Other eye-catching images at the Dryce include Black and Hispanic ranch hands, who comprise more than a quarter of the region’s cowboys. However, they’re rarely depicted, says Morris, who sees himself as a cowboy of sorts.
“We have our big-box hotels here, with their ‘standard art,’” he said. “But our location is unique — we’re the only hotel in the Cultural District. And we’re boutique, which gives us a chance to do some storytelling through art and show something that’s uniquely Fort Worth.”
He’s not the only motivated hotelier. Properties across the country are making a more conscientious effort to spotlight diverse perspectives and artists, giving them a platform not only for representation — but expression.
At Kimpton EPIC Hotel in Miami, that push has helped create a new artist-in-residency program, which features works on display in a gallery open to guests and the general public. Each exhibitor is required to commit to a platform tied to diversity and inclusion, an initiative that was developed during the Martin Luther King holiday weekend in 2021.
“It’s important that we as hotels are helping to create that advocacy. We want to represent all of our employees,” General Manager Ericka Nelson said. “We want to represent all of our guests. And a hotel is often a visitor’s first glimpse into the diversity and beauty of a neighborhood.”
Whether it’s subtle or splashy, the methods in which advocacy manifests itself vary. At the new Kimpton Banneker Hotel in Washington, D.C., contemporary interior design pays homage — via displays of artwork by creators of color — to its eponymous 18th century scientist and civil rights leader Benjamin Banneker. History comes to life thanks to works from artists including Aziza Claudia Gibson-Hunter, a co-founding member of Black Artists of D.C., and Nigerian-American muralist Victor Ekpuk.
Meanwhile, at EPIC, launch parties for each quarterly exhibit provide exposure for up-and-coming creatives. That’s amplified during Black Music Month in June, when the hotel hosts popups with local musicians of color. Nelson believes those performances by a diverse group of artists during the nightly wine hour have contributed significantly to driving up interest in local culture.
Offering 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 developed ways over the past two years to increase exposure for the art pieces in the collection, including conducting hybrid events with artists.
The curator says social responsibility comes in many forms, including representation of trending media like non-fungible tokens. “You can encounter traditional media here, like sculpture, film, painting, but also works that are made with augmented and virtual reality,” said Gray Stites.
“I’m even showing NFTs about pop stars, talking about how culture is created. We have a responsibility to be exploring and talking about what those platforms are and how they’re being shared, and consumed.”