The artwork installed at an increasing number of popular convention centers transforms these necessarily utilitarian buildings into magnificent galleries that rival some of the most inspired museums in the world.
Art stirs creativity within a convention-goer who may stop to look at a painting or a sculpture on the way to a meeting, and it also acts as a built-in icebreaker that sparks networking among attendees as they exchange ideas about a particular piece.
Convention centers with art on-site are essentially cultural centers for residents to enjoy, too, and community plays a major role. Resident arts organizations are often involved in selecting the art, and mainly local and regional artists create works that showcase local features so meeting attendees, often visiting from all over the world, may learn about the destination.
Planners realize these impressive venues are a strong selling point in capturing an audience, and therefore information about the convention center’s artwork should be included in the meeting’s marketing materials.
Following are several of the best examples of convention centers where meetings mingle with art for a meaningful and memorable attendee experience.
Oregon Convention Center, Portland
The $2 million-plus art collection inside the LEED Platinum-certified Oregon Convention Center is heavily themed around the Pacific Northwest, while other pieces are gifts from sister cities across the globe, according to Matt Pizzuti, the venue’s deputy director.
“Art makes our facility more than a space to hold events,” he said. “It feels like a gallery, and when no events are occurring the space is still interesting and educational.”
Among the Northwest-centric art on-site is River Song. Located on the lobby entrance wall, this energetic painting features images of leaping fish, swirling eddies and the cascading water of Oregon’s rivers.
Also in the main lobby is the impressive Principia, the world’s largest Foucault pendulum.
“On any given day you can find attendees smiling up at the 800-pound brass ball as it swings overhead in a continuous motion,” Pizzuti said.
Art representing the region extends outside to the plaza, where conventioneers will see Host Analog, a piece featuring sections of a large Douglas fir, Oregon’s state tree.
“It’s like a broken Greek column, ‘hosting’ new young trees and shrubs destined to become a small forest,” Pizzuti said.
The convention center works with a volunteer team to offer pre-arranged guided art tours for groups.
Another note of interest for planners is the current construction of the adjacent 600-room Hyatt Regency at the Oregon Convention Center, which is expected to open by late-2019.
Vancouver Convention Centre, Vancouver, British Columbia
Nearly the entire collection of artwork at the LEED Platinum-certified Vancouver Convention Centre was created by local artists, including B.C. playwright and novelist John MacLachlan Gray, who wrote the 65 interpretive story panels installed within the West building to showcase the province’s history.
“We often see attendees stopping to look at the artwork or to read an interpretive story panel,” said Jinny Wu, the venue’s communications manager. “We like to think that the art will inspire other ideas and allow delegates to return home knowing a little something they didn’t know about our city or province.”
Conversation-starters here include Digital Orca, a sculpture of a whale made from hundreds of cubes and situated on the terrace overlooking the ocean.
Located in the concourse connecting the East and West buildings is Human Spirit, a series of carved cedar panels that reflects the Salish tradition of welcoming visitors.
“As our facility rests upon traditional Coast Salish territory, a selection of the artwork was created by B.C. Coast Salish artists and pays tribute to the history of the site,” Wu said.
One of the most dramatic spaces here is the foyer outside the signature ballroom, where the ceiling reaches 55 feet and three stunning round sculptures called Floats appear to be suspended in midair.
“They are made from the branches of pine beetle-infected forests near Merritt, in B.C.’s interior,” Wu said. “This piece really enhances what is already a beautiful space with an ocean and mountain backdrop.”
Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center, San Antonio
Among the works of the many local artists who’ve contributed to Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center’s art collection, meeting delegates will find a variety of cultural expressions that reflect the authentic culture of San Antonio.
“The art collection, which brings the voice of San Antonio to the world stage, engages visitors visually and sparks conversations that bring people together,” said Patricia Muzquiz Cantor, interim director for City of San Antonio Convention & Sports Facilities.
Among the pieces that will have attendees talking is a Carlos Merida mural created for the 1968 World’s Fair that today greets visitors at the convention center’s new West Entry.
Another is one of the newest installations, Liquid Crystal, a 30-foot tower of LCD panels connected to motion sensors that allows it to reflect the activity in the new main lobby.
“While not technically a work of art, the new Stars at Night Ballroom is one-of-a-kind,” Muzquiz Cantor added.
She said at 54,000 square feet it’s the largest ballroom in Texas, and features 1,642 programmable LED lights that twinkle on the ceiling just like the Texas sky.
Cobo Center, Detroit
The art on-site at the Cobo Center, created by a diverse group of regional artists, offers insight into Detroit and Michigan state.
“We believe art makes Cobo Center special,” said Maureen Devine, the venue’s art curator. “The informational labels with many of the artworks will encourage visitors to go out and explore the city.”
For example, the label with the grouping of works by Tyree Guyton, including the car hood painting Detroit Now, may encourage attendees to visit Guyton’s famous Heidelberg Project displayed throughout an entire Detroit neighborhood.
Those intrigued by Robert Sestok’s Rock and Roll wall sculpture may like to visit a popular sculpture park in Midtown that features more of Sestok’s work.
“This collection, which is on view for all to see and is free to the public, will continue to expand,” Devine said.
For example, work on a large-scale fresco painting by Detroit-based artist Hubert Massey, inspired by Diego Rivera’s Detroit Industry Murals at the Detroit Institute of Arts, will be located at the riverside entrance to the grand ballroom when it’s completed later this spring.
Among the other noteworthy pieces here are the Spirit of Transportation sculpture, the first work displayed at Cobo Center, and nine paintings in the level-two meeting room hallway by the late beloved Detroit artist Gilda Snowden.
David L. Lawrence Convention Center, Pittsburgh
The $2 million art collection at the LEED Gold- and Platinum-certified David L. Lawrence Convention Center, which was assembled in order to complement the design of the building, mainly showcases works of local and regional artists.
Several artworks in various mediums tell the story of Pittsburgh, including Pittsburgh Magnolias and Pittsburgh, an Industrial Garden.
The public art on display here is meant to reflect the city’s downtown development in recent years, and convention-goers are encouraged to make time to take a closer look via a self-guided tour.
Planners should consider including the floor-by-floor art guide, which can be downloaded from the convention center’s website, with other pertinent convention info distributed to attendees before the event.
Walter E. Washington Convention Center, Washington, D.C.
The Walter E. Washington Convention Center, with more than 130 works of art worth $4 million, boasts the largest public art collection of any convention center in the country.
According to Jamilia Walker, communications and marketing specialist for Events DC, the artists exhibited here are from around the globe, including more than half from the Washington, D.C., community.
Artworks from sculpture and paintings to graphics and mixed media can be found throughout the building, including the grand lobby, the corridors of meeting rooms and even up and down various escalators and staircases.
Art at the Center, a free curator-led public art tour, is the best-kept secret in the nation’s capital, according to Walker. Attendees may also enjoy a self-guided tour.
Popular pieces here include Shaw Wall, which celebrates the historic Shaw community, one of D.C.’s oldest African American neighborhoods and home to the convention center, and Capital Stars, which combines history, geography and politics.
Click over to page two for profiles of facilities in Overland Park, Chicago and Philadelphia.