For hoteliers, few assets can match the versatility and impact of a thoughtfully conceived art program.

Picture lobbies, common areas, guest rooms and meeting spaces without—then with—art. As a painting or photograph instantly transforms a blank wall, the difference is profound.

Art can provide a compelling calling card and distinct identity in the crowded hospitality marketplace. Creating ambience and atmosphere that engages the mind and senses upon arrival, art offers its own welcome while declaring the hotel’s personality and values. Supplying visual and emotional rewards while anchoring on-site engagements such as tours, themed events and wellness activities, art creates enhanced guest experiences, talking points and memories.

For meetings and events with artistic appeal, here are some North American and international masters of the “art” of hospitality.

Museum Quality
Offering the most dimension and truest interpretation of the “art hotel” are properties that integrate the character of a museum. Offering 600,000-plus square feet of meeting space, the 1,606-room Hilton Anatole in Dallas is a paragon example.

Opened in 1979, the property was developed by late Dallas real estate magnate Trammell Crow, whose free-admission Crow Collection of Asian Art, housing the singular collection assembled by Crow and his late wife Margaret in the 1960s, is known as the “Jewel Box” of the Dallas Arts District.

The couple also installed many of their global treasures in the Anatole, creating America’s largest in-hotel collection. Highlights include a 10-foot marble statue of Gandhi; twin life-size carved wooden elephants from Thailand; two 12-foot Berlin Wall sections; and in the outdoor sculpture garden, the 15-ton propeller from the British ocean liner RMS Lusitania, torpedoed by a German submarine in 1915.

Programs include art scavenger hunts; audio- and print-guided Top Art Treasures and One-Mile Art Walk tours; and the Anatole Art Dine-Around, which pairs 15 of the hotel’s top pieces with culinary items from its country of origin. The Berlin Wall menu, for example, features mini bratwurst, German potato salad, strudel and beer.

“Could art and commerce coexist in harmony?” That question faced Louisville, Ky.-based preservationists and contemporary art collectors Laura Lee Brown and Steve Wilson (also see Zoom In Q&A,) more than a decade ago, as they sought to accomplish the dual vision of downtown revitalization and broadening the reach of contemporary art into public life.

In 2006, partnering with renowned architect Deborah Berke, the pair transformed several 19th century tobacco and bourbon warehouses in downtown Louisville into their first 21c Museum Hotel.

Their celebrated concept quickly became a unique hospitality brand, integrating “North America’s first museum dedicated solely to collecting and exhibiting the art of the 21st century” within boutique hotels created from downtown revitalization projects.

The group-capable 21c line expanded to other cities, including Cincinnati; Bentonville, Ark.; Durham, N.C.; and Oklahoma City. Last month, Brown and Wilson hosted a reception at Berke’s Manhattan studio, announcing the opening of their seventh property, located in Nashville, Tenn.

With Kansas City, Mo., Indianapolis and future destinations in the pipeline, groups have increasing geographic opportunities to combine meetings and events with 21c’s permanent commissioned installations, group and solo exhibitions by emerging and established artists, and other cultural programming.

Another singular “integrated art hotel experience” awaits at the acclaimed Alfond Inn in Winter Park, Fla. Offering 10,000 square feet of versatile space, including the glass-domed Conservatory, the 112-room boutique is the only hotel in the U.S. that serves as the extension of a fine arts museum. Owned by private liberal arts school Rollins College, the hotel showcases the Alfond Collection of Contemporary Art, which forms part of the college’s Cornell Fine Arts Museum.

1968 Rollins’ graduates Barbara and Theodore Alfond’s donated collection of nearly 300 paintings, photographs, sculptures and mixed media works, rotated each April, brings the museum into the hotel and guest experience. Programs include audio tours, curated walking tours and monthly happy hour events.