Beyond Words

Hotels create unique guest experiences with local art

Asend, a Chicago street artist, wanted guests at the Hotel Chicago West Loop to experience a piece of the Windy City through his mural. Asend recently won a contest with this work and will paint a mural on an exterior wall of the four-story boutique hotel. The hotel is making a name beyond its rooms as it has turned its floors, rooms and lobby into an art annex that features works by local creatives as well as clients of the nearby Shirley Ryan Ability Lab.

When a Chicago hotel opened its doors and its walls to local street artists, it was not sure what it was going to get.

But owner Helmut Horn, executive chairman of Portfolio Hotels & Resorts and an artist himself, trusted the creative process.

Three years later, the Hotel Chicago West Loop is emerging as an art gallery with guest rooms, attracting customers from all walks of life with varied interpretations of the art featured throughout the 116-room property.

Helmut Horn was born in Germany and raised in the hospitality business. He is a well-known environmental photographer whose art hangs in the Annex at the Hotel Chicago West Loop. This piece is titled “Carmel Tree.”

Despite the public attention, most guests are surprised by the hotel’s art annex and mural project.

The Annex at Hotel Chicago West Loop includes the lobby, the halls on the first three floors and select guestrooms. The hotel has more than 100 pieces of 2-D media, both permanent works and rotating exhibits.

“Literally letting them immerse inside the art and sleep and live inside this room for 24 to 48 hours seeing this whole art exhibit around them, we’re just getting positive reviews.” Jean-Luc Laramie, GM, Hotel Chicago West Loop

Customers who posted online reviews note they were there because of a sports event at the United Center or a visit to Rush Hospital. A few posts mention the artwork in the halls and lobby.

Jean-Luc Laramie, general manager of the Hotel Chicago West Loop, said the hotel makes it a point to ask about its art program in its customer surveys. “We’re starting to notice more people coming into the property knowing about it beforehand,” he said. “When it first started, a lot of people were coming in who were just pleasantly surprised; we still get those guests.”

The hotel aims to pump up the volume on its art amenity.

Art work by clients of the Shirley Ryan Ability Lab hangs in the halls of the Hotel Chicago West Loop. The lab’s art therapy program features works by survivors of traumatic spinal cord and head trauma.

Art Lessons

The hotel has on three occasions opened rooms to artists to paint murals, allowing them freedom to craft their own stories using brushes, rollers and spray paint.

In November, the hotel held a contest, selecting graffiti or urban artists Asend, Mosher, Feral Grin, Tom Perkowitz, Louis Barak, Mr. Sandford, Quintero and a collective of three muralists from Colindres Art. The creatives painted murals in eight hotel rooms.

Asend won the juried program, receiving $20,000 and a contract to paint a mural on the exterior of the four-story hotel starting in the spring.

Horn is an outdoor photographer and environmentalist who has over the decades captured images of oceans – both on shore and underwater – as well as landscapes and landmark structures. His work is displayed in the halls throughout the hotel.

A third installation features rotating works by patients at the nearby Shirley Ryan Ability Lab, which has an art therapy program to care for survivors of traumatic spinal cord and brain injuries.

A wall mural by Brandin Hurley is one of 100 pieces of artwork on display in the Hotel Chicago West Loop. Hurley and other muralists painted images in 10 of the hotel’s rooms.

Laramie has gained a newfound appreciation of art, thanks to Horn’s tutelage and front-row exposure to art therapy pieces and the work of street artists. Hotel employees are also schooled about the program and the pieces to help them engage with guests and create a positive experience.

WATCH: A quick tour of the Hotel Chicago West Loop

The Hotel Chicago West Loop is an adaptive reuse of a former apartment building. It is shaped like the capital letter I and its rooms are small. It has no meeting rooms or lounge, so the art annex makes up for the lack of such amenities, filling the building’s nooks and crannies with art from the bottom up.

Laramie said he gets feedback from guests surprised and delighted by the artwork, especially the mural rooms. “Literally letting them immerse inside the art and sleep and live inside this room for 24 to 48 hours seeing this whole art exhibit around them, we’re just getting positive reviews,” Laramie said.

“I wanted to find a happy medium that when they walk into a room they feel comfortable but when they see a mural it feels colorful happy but not too loud.” Asend, muralist

Winning Work

Ten years or so ago, artist Asend would have been arrested for spray painting graffiti on city walls. Today, he’s one of Chicago’s premier street artists and is involved with the innovative art program at the Hotel Chicago West Loop.

Though, he’s driven by his personal vision, Asend keeps in mind that his work is in a hotel that attracts all sorts of folks for myriad reasons. He works to come up with pieces that tie visitors to Chicago and give them a sense of belonging.

“I think it should be a perfect marriage,” he says of art and hospitality. “I do take into account, obviously, what I’m going to do but also who walks into a hotel and what they’re going to do. Not everybody is going to a hotel for a concert at United Center; not everybody is going to a hotel for maybe someone at Rush Hospital or for business downtown.

“So with all three images that I painted I wanted to find a happy medium that when they walk into a room they feel comfortable but when they see a mural it feels colorful happy but not too loud.”

To find artists that understand what the hotel is looking for in its mural program, it sent out RFPs to local creatives.

“We gave a few guidelines, but not a lot,” Laramie said. “No nudity or anything that will cause big debates. We have a very wide variety of guests.”

Overall, the hotel invited the artists to be themselves and gave them relative free rein. “We have to trust the fact that they’re professionals,” Laramie said.

Eaton Fine Art commissioned this art installation called “Full Court Press” from Chris Vorhees for the Hyatt Place / Hyatt House Indianapolis Downtown. It’s a nod to the Indiana Pacers, the NBA team with its home court near the hotel. (Photo: Taggart Sorensen)

Locally Curated

While the Hotel Chicago West Loop puts out the call for artwork to local artists, an Austin, Texas, art curator works with hotels throughout the U.S. and the world to develop meaningful art programs that define their brands, enhance customer appreciation and generate new business.

Terry Eaton and Robert Williams founded Eaton Fine Art Inc. 28 years ago solely to serve the hospitality industry. They have curated nearly 13,000 pieces of artwork for hotels.

No matter where their business takes them, Eaton said they first look in the hotel’s backyard for creatives to either buy from or commission a piece.

Eaton Fine Art commissioned this sculpture titled “Solaris” by Lee Seung-gu for The Phoenician Resort in Scottsdale, Arizona.

A hotel’s art should tell its story, said Eaton. And price should not be a barrier to entry – hotels and their guests.

“The projects that our firm is curating range from five star to the midscale,” he said.

“The developers and the brands that we’re collaborating on in midscale, they still find that art is important. So we’re curating really amazing pieces.

“They may not have the budget of a luxury property or a five-star property but it still needs to be a well-thought-out, well-executed artistic moment that is still going to engage the viewer, the guest and again reinforce that brand directive and narrative.”


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