SC Exhibitions Magazine 2016 23 The 21c Museum Hotels chain takes the concept of the art hotel to new heights by combining large contemporary art collections with overnight stays Anyone who has stayed in a hotel knows that the art on the walls is almost uniformly terrible Upon checking in a guest will usually be confronted with insipid watercolour landscapes blown up shots of orange gerbera daisies on plastic canvasses or that old favourite a black and white photograph of three peb bles in a pile But what if your hotel contained inspiring modern pieces of art instead And what if your hotel wasn t really a hotel at all rather you were staying in an art gallery This is the thinking behind 21c Museum Hotels a small US chain of renovated buildings that combines overnight stays with a large contemporary art collection of paintings sculpture pho tography film video and digital art With 21c it is not merely about hotels having better art on the walls The art is integral to the endeavour Set up in 2006 by collectors Laura Lee Brown and Steve Wil son the first hotel in Louisville Kentucky was inspired by their concerns about urban sprawl and involved refurbishing several 19th century warehouses In creating the museum hotel they wanted to introduce a cultural destination to their hometown a focal point that enables contemporary art to be a part of people s daily lives while also revitalising the local economy There are now 21c hotels in Cincinnati Ohio Durham North Carolina and Bentonville Arkansas and a new hotel in Lexington Kentucky will open in spring 2016 The 88 room downtown Lexington property with doubles from 199 a night is in the Fayette National Bank Building the city s first sky scraper The building was originally designed by McKim Mead White the architects who drafted the former Pennsylvania Station in New York and Boston Public Library The hotel museums are perhaps not places that non locals would immediately associate with a vibrant cultural scene but the galleries have been a huge success and unlike most Amer ican galleries they are free for the public to visit There are site specific permanent installations and temporary exhibitions a roster of cultural events talks and performances and a cen tral collection of art that is distributed throughout the different branches The galleries also borrow pieces from other museums and from local artists The paying hotel guests are essentially subsidising free art for the local community These must be the only hotel lobbies in the world that are of interest to tour groups of local schoolchildren The hotel staff are trained so they can inform guests about the art Each hotel also has a restaurant with an emphasis on farm to table food The group hopes to open 15 new properties in the next five to ten years and guests can rest assured that there won t be an ugly watercolour in sight This article was first published in The Guardian 21c Museum Hotels Since opening their first hotel in Louisville in 2006 21c Museum Hotels have opened four more properties in Cincinnati Durham Bentonville and most recently Lexington opened in early 2016 Each has its own schedule of contemporary art exhibitions and events including tours of the collections As well as aiming to bring contemporary art to visitors and local people 21c Museum Hotels are also dedicated to true hospitality and offer fine dining in their restaurants For more information visit 21cmuseumhotels com A Night at the Museum By RHIANNON LUCY COSSLETT The lobby at 21c Durham 21c Museum Hotels

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