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Art Programs Go Regional

Thematic art programming in hospitality interiors has given way to a regionalized approach that celebrates an area’s unique history and showcases its artists. Here’s what you need to know.

By Russell A. Glotfelty

Thematic art programming in hospitality interiors has given way to a regionalized approach that celebrates an area’s unique history and showcases its artists. Here’s what you need to know.

The artwork adorning the walls of public and guestroom spaces of large hospitality brand properties has traditionally been based on consistency from property-to-property. And while this approach still has its place in the development of hospitality art programs, it’s typically specified by limited-service hotel owners who benefit from incorporating the standards package.

From their perspective, hospitality art programs, developed with consistency in mind, reinforce the hotel’s signature brand and appeal to a distinctive target market: the repeat business traveler seeking out the familiar. For example, a focal point lobby mural appearing in a Dallas hotel will be replicated and positioned in exactly the same way across all of the company’s properties, no matter where they are found in the world.

But even with the push for standardization and familiarity, the concept of “sense of place,” which highlights characteristics unique to a geographic region while fostering the value of authentic human attachment and belonging, has created the demand for an alternative approach to hospitality art programs. 

This “destination-driven” or “regionalized” approach to designing art programs enhances the guest experience for both the corporate and leisure traveler looking to make a connection with the area’s history, culture and personality.

According to Pam Niemann, principal with Niemann Interiors in Winter Park, Fla., “Hoteliers do see the value of personalizing the art to their location, and are incorporating city-specific highlights into their art programs.” 

She comments about her experience with the process during her firm’s remodel of the Hampton Inn in downtown Denver. “Our concept was to meld traditional Denver architecture with modern … where classic meets edgy. The art program played a major role in furthering the new design concept by utilizing photography of established landmark buildings overlaid with color blocks to create an abstract effect.” This approach supports the value of a regionalized art program, as well as customized art solutions in furthering the image development efforts of limited-services brands.

According to Stacey Greene, vice president of project management with Inland American Lodging Advisor, “We’re seeing a proliferation of projects across multiple brands requesting that art programs are destination-driven. Travelers, whether it’s for business or pleasure, really seem to enjoy making the personal connection with a city’s historical landmarks, its culture and environment.”

For some guests, regionalized art programs have a global effect on the traveler’s experience, creating memories based on insights the program offers about the destination’s historical significance. “There is a sense of discovery that awaits the guest on arrival at their new destination. The art can create excitement, anticipation and further develop the guest’s total trip agenda and experience,” Niemann says.PageBreak

The Trend Grows

Of course, themed hospitality art programs have been around for many years—although these were typically limited to features that define the property’s native environment, with little emphasis on the area’s culture and history. A themed Key West property, for example, might incorporate relaxing, casual, ocean-related artwork featuring imagery of shells, sand, beach chairs and frozen margaritas, while a Santa Fe property might feature imagery of red clay, stucco, flat-roofed homes and cacti.

The trend of incorporating regionalized artwork into hospitality programs started to emerge a number of years back, with some designers stating they started specifying regionalized art programs going as far back as 8 or 9 years ago. It’s a natural evolution of the themed concept, but further tied to an area’s heritage.

It began as designers were turning to art consulting firms to introduce methods and products that would encourage the incorporation of local artists and local flavor into hospitality art programs. The regionalized approach and themed approach share common elements, as both not only consider the property’s setting but frequently incorporate local and indigenous materials into the final art product.

READ: I&S looks inside the process for the selection of art in public projects.

For example, in the case of our Key West property, whether it’s limited to a themed or more expansive regionalized program, both approaches might incorporate bamboo products in the framing and matting to reflect the area’s native vegetation. Conversely, an urban location might incorporate slick substrates such as metal, plexi and mirrors to reflect the contemporary feel of a bustling, modern city. 

With the advent of advanced production technologies, including the evolution of the flatbed printer, the creative options for digital customization of art programs are endless. These technologies have enabled the design of highly-innovative, cost-effective and efficient art programs. New flatbed printers can accept a variety of substrates, including everything from mirrors and wallcoverings to metal and wood. These production techniques lend themselves especially well to developing customized, regional hospitality art programs.

Niemann speaks to a project her firm designed for the SeaWorld Renaissance in Orlando. The project made use of advanced printing technology to couple interesting substrates with images that reflected the area’s natural environment. “Photography of local vegetation and sea images were printed on mirror, framed with a slight metal profile and mounted to create a dynamic floating effect. We also designed another piece that incorporated a compilation of layered images unfolding a story of sea, sand and life printed on acrylic and mounted over a larger image using standoffs,” she recalls.

Going Local

All hospitality art programs, whether they are tailored to limited- or full-service hotels, themed or regionalized, have a unified goal: enhancing the guest experience. The primary distinction between themed and regionalized approaches is that the regional concept delves into the distinctive and noteworthy aspects of the area’s culture and history, and encourages and supports local artists.

The benefits of incorporating local art into a program are multi-faceted. It enhances the guest experience; creates a personal connection with the community for the brand; and provides financial support to local artists through direct purchases by the hotel—and indirectly by guests.

Niemann says she is a big proponent of encouraging the incorporation of local artists into regionalized art programs. “I prefer to find local talent for each project. It fosters good will and alliance with the locals, and the property is praised for their inclusion.”

Whether art is specified for the traveler looking to find familiarity in the environment or the guest looking to connect with the locale, both themed and regional concepts speak to the personalization of the guest experience. From hotels and restaurants to residential spaces—and even some healthcare facilities—the trend in artwork toward personalization is on fire. An increasing number of brands at every service level are calling for a guest experience that incorporates a sense of place.

But how long will this last? While the future is impossible to predict, it’s safe to say that this trend, which started as early as 2004, has a long run ahead of it. “I believe the trend is very strong and will be here for an unlimited time,” Niemann says. “I find that regionalized artwork is requested in virtually all projects.”

On the other hand, it’s also common knowledge that trends are defined by today’s customer noted for an insatiable appetite for the newest and greatest. Based on that, everything is new until it’s deemed old.

Russell A. Glotfelty is president and CEO of HG Arts, an Orlando-based art consulting firm specializing in hospitality, healthcare and residential facilities worldwide. For more information, call (800) 393-2787 or email