Photo courtesy of GLINTstudios Courtesy of 21c Museum HotelsWhat do you get when you cross an art museum with a hotel? 21c Museum Hotels. This one-of-a-kind boutique hotel chain is rapidly expanding adding locations in mid-size cities around the country. Based in Louisville, Kentucky, which is the home of their first hotel, the company currently has properties in Cincinnati, Ohio; Bentonville, Arkansas; and Durham, North Carolina, which opened in March 2015.
Most of their properties are rehabs of older buildings, such as a former bank in Durham and a 19th century bourbon warehouse in Louisville. The company tends to locate in secondary markets with either a vibrant or emerging art scene. Hotels in the works include Lexington, Kentucky; Kansas City, Kansas; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; Indianapolis, Indiana; and Nashville, Tennessee.
Photo courtesy of Photo by GLINTstudios Courtesy of 21c Museum Hotels21c Museum Hotels are distinguished by their focus on art, serving as a contemporary art museum in each community, which is open to the public 24/7 for free. Each property features both rotating and site-specific contemporary works of art. "Contemporary art is truly art of the moment," says Craig Greenberg, president of 21c Museum Hotels. "A lot of our art is very fun, whimsical and interactive, dealing with issues of today. We hope it might be the spark to get someone interested in art."
The chain also has a tongue-in-cheek sense of humor with different-colored human-size penguins scattered throughout each property (note: be sure to take a penguin selfie when visiting), a plan for a Zombie apocalypse in their in-room guide book and "I slept with art" T-shirts in the gift store.
While 21c has several new hotels in process, there are even more cities where we'd love to see them set up shop. Here are our picks for where 21c should land next.
Santa Barbara, California
With a gorgeous Southern California setting, Santa Barbara and its burgeoning Funk Zone district is the ideal spot to showcase the beauty of art. Formerly an industrial and manufacturing hub, the waterfront Funk Zone is home to the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, numerous art galleries, small restaurants, wine tasting rooms and eclectic craft workers and shops.
Described as the West Coast's capital of urban cool, Portland, Oregon, is screaming for a 21c hotel, perhaps in the city's West End. This once-dilapidated but now revitalized district hosts restaurants, hotels and chic boutiques. The city also boasts an continually-vibrant arts scene with a portion of the city budget allocated for public art, as well as the Portland Art Museum and plentiful art galleries.
Artsy, glam might be a good way to describe the unique vibe in this Rocky Mountain town. The new Aspen Art Museum, an architectural gem with its striking exterior wood lattice, puts it squarely on the hot list for 21c. Wander through Aspen and discover everything from struggling musicians singing for cash to celebrities strolling through town behind an elegant pair of sunglasses.
Greenville, South Carolina
Another alpine town, this one in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Greenville, South Carolina, evokes a similar mountain culture with natural beauty at every turn as a perfect complement to contemporary art. Greenville's charming downtown features a variety of public art and several art museums at Heritage Green, Furman University and Bob Jones University. The Pendleton Street Arts District is home to a palette of artists with opportunities to meet them on First Fridays.
Asheville, North Carolina
A little further north, nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains, is Asheville, North Carolina, a super artsy city steeped in Appalachian tradition yet with a a hippie vibe. With more than 30 art galleries, urban art murals dotting the streets, and traditions like a Friday night drum circle, art pulses through the funky and folksy Asheville.
New Haven, Connecticut
Best known as the home of Yale University, New Haven and its college-town feel seems the perfect fit for the 21c concept. From acclaimed restaurants and interesting shops to a busy live music and theater scene, the quaint town with its scholarly residents would likely welcome a museum hotel to complement the existing free public Yale University Art Gallery.
Ann Arbor, Michigan
Another college town, Ann Arbor, exudes charm and offers the energy of a youthful population. This friendly town is renowned for its cultural offerings and has 30 independent book stores, the summer Ann Arbor Art Fairs attracting half a million people, as well as abundant galleries. Plus, we're sure parents visiting their University of Michigan students would certainly appreciate accommodations that accentuate all things art.
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Named a UNESCO Creative City in 2005, Santa Fe, New Mexico, is a hub of all things creative. The city, located at the base of the Southern Rocky Mountains, has more than a dozen different museums focused on everything from folk art and Indian art to Georgia O'Keeffe works and Spanish Colonial art. Santa Fe also hosts many art markets during spring and summer, as well as art walks and gallery tours where 21c could make itself at home.
The Berkeley, California, tourism bureau explains that while this once-center of counter-culture in the sixties will forever have "flower power" and free speech as a part of its DNA, it has evolved into a spirited cultural and arts destination. Not far from San Francisco and home of the University of California, Berkeley, the city has successfully led an arts-focused downtown revitalization with its Berkeley’s Downtown Arts District where we'd love to see a 21c Museum Hotel.
With a population of just 100,000 and situated at the base of the Rocky Mountains just 40 minutes from Denver, Boulder, Colorado, is not just a haven for the outdoor enthusiast. The town also has a world-class restaurant scene, many along Pearl Street Mall, a four-block area closed to traffic. Also on Pearl Street are book stores, galleries and street theater aplenty, just the location for a 21c property.