The Artist Is In: Hotel Artist Residency Programs Provide Exposure for Artists and Interest for Guests

The Savoy Hotel in London has been doing it since the beginning of the twentieth century, back when artists like Claude Monet painted the Thames River from their balconies: Artist-in-Residence programs, located right alongside bustling life at some of the finest, and busiest, hotels in the world. Not only do the artists feature their work in these hotels, but they often live and create under the same roof as the guests and staff. In some hotels, the artist-in-residence’s studio remains open to a curious public, giving them the opportunity to get a rare first-hand look at the creative process as it unfolds before their eyes.

Odd juxtaposition? Creating art is often seen as a solitary and contemplative endeavor, best done while the mind and surroundings quiet. However, that notion of how an artist creates is antiquated at best. In fact, many artists like to rub elbows with the public, to allow scrutiny and to feed on it for inspiration. Furthermore, it’s a win-win for both the artist and the public. The artist is able to expose a whole new, previously-untapped group of potential buyers of their work, and the public can learn more about how art is made in a studio, as well as becoming more aware of the art world in general, thereby broadening their cultural horizons.

The world of hotel Artists-in-Residence programs doesn’t just begin and end with visual arts. Some hotels, such as the Corinthia Hotel in London, turn their entire hotel into a studio for their artists-in-residence. The theater company Look Left Look Right is the Corinthia’s artist-in-residence, and during their production of Above & Beyond, the hotel itself becomes stage, backdrop, and character. The audience, too, are transformed from passive, uninvolved on-lookers to the daily functions of a busy luxury hotel into integral participants in the action.

All over the globe, other hotels are catching on and starting their own artist-in-residence programs. Fairmont Hotels and Resorts have just welcomed graffiti artist The Dose One into their burgeoning program in Dallas, while the Fairmont in Banff Springs, the hotel has artists-in-residence lined up on a per-month basis. Conversely, other hotels have been enlisting artists-in-residence for years, like the legendary Swatch Art Peace Hotel in Shanghai. Almost as much gallery as it is hotel, the Swatch is taking applications to be among the eighteen artists in their live/work program, lasting between three to six months.

Oklahoma visual artist Romy Owens is currently taking her year-long turn as the artist-in-residence at the Skirvin Hilton, a Marcus Hotel and Resort, in Oklahoma City. Owens works in several media, including photography and sewing. She intermingles these two passions into abstract works that not only delight the eye, but force the viewer to look for deeper meaning in pieces that are based on a number of influences, including the world of pop culture. Her current studio at Skirvin is a four-wall space with three of those walls as full windows, exposing her work to traffic in and around the hotel. The level of exposure forced her to get more creative with her studio space. “When I moved into this space where actual hanging wall space is not abundant,” explained Owens, “I immediately placed larger sewn constructions in the windows. It allowed me more wall space in which to hang work I have made, provided me with some sense of privacy so I am not feeling like I’m in a fishbowl, and presented work to people on the street, either on foot or in cars, that there is something art-related happening in this space.”

Additionally, the hotel’s studio gave her license to explore other materials, such as vellum, to create translucency. “I might have moved in that direction eventually without being in this space, but I’m not sure I would have, since I have always been a photo-based artist,” Owens said. Although Owens doesn’t live at the hotel during her continuing residency, she spends a healthy amount of time in her studio.

Skirvin Hilton General Manager Martin Van Der Laan understands the importance of hotel artist-in-residence programs in getting guests in touch with the art world. “For decades,” said Van Der Laan, “our owner company has been hugely committed to promoting the arts in the communities [in which] we do business. This has resulted in multiple [artist-in-residence] programs in several of our hotels, starting with the independent Pfister Hotel in Milwaukee.” He continued: “We are committed to providing a platform to an emerging artist so that he/she can showcase their art in a setting that allows them great gallery/studio space to work in and interact with the hotel staff, hotel guests, the extended hotel community, and the community at large.”

Are hotel residency programs a boon to the creative world, or are they just another amenity for guests to enjoy? According to Owens, indeed, it is an amenity, and some guests may look at it as exactly that, “like the bar, or the Sunday brunch classical guitarist.” However, she went on to explain, “It is a symbiotic relationship. I get something out of it, the hotel gets something out of it, and the audience gets something out of it. And I’m okay with that.”