There’s a big difference between a hotel with art and an “arts hotel.” Even a hotel with great, museum-quality art on view doesn’t necessarily make it an “arts hotel.”
A true arts hotel strives to play an essential role in its local arts community, continually taking action to achieve that goal.
A true arts hotel can become as important to the art scene of a place as a museum or gallery.
The Saint Kate hotel in Milwaukee is a true arts hotel.
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Named after Saint Catherine, the patron saint of artists, Saint Kate offers an experience unlike any other hotel through its celebration of the arts—in particular, Wisconsin art. The 219-room hotel features art-inspired guestrooms, a theatre for plays, lectures, classes and performances, an artist-in-residence studio, special event space and more.
Highlighting the program is a satellite location of The Museum of Wisconsin Art (MOWA). Officially called MOWA | DTN, a reference to the downtown Milwaukee location, the space is a 1,700-square-foot gallery located on the first floor of Saint Kate, offering travelers and guests access to the highest caliber of Wisconsin art in Milwaukee’s newest experiential artistic platform.
A museum experience within the hotel, visitors enjoy exposure to emerging and contemporary artists in new media through changing exhibitions, artist talks and curator talks. Exhibitions at MOWA | DTN will be free and open to the public.
The Saint Kate, however, wants visitors to do more than look, it wants them to participate.
“In every room, (guests will) find drawing paper and colored pencils as well as a ukulele and record player,” said Erin Levzow, Vice President of Marketing at Marcus Hotels & Resorts, which owns and manages Saint Kate. “(We) invite our guests to create their own works of art, whether it’s visually, musically or something completely different.”
Opened in early June and located in the hub of Milwaukee’s theatre district, Saint Kate is a short walk from numerous restaurants and galleries, as well as the city’s new entertainment district. Forcing yourself to leave the property to enjoy the surrounding neighborhood won’t be easy.
Beyond MOWA | DTN, Saint Kate houses The Cube, a traditional white, cube gallery space. There’s also The Space, home of Saint Kate’s rotating visual arts exhibits and The Closet, an immersive installation room on the second floor of Saint Kate.
In fact, you may not even want to leave your room.
“We have more than 10 local artists who have contributed to numerous details throughout each room. from the lampshades, which were hand letter-pressed by a local printing company, to the sinks and tiles in the bathroom,” Levzow said.
Those bathroom tiles focus on the lines of energy of a dancer’s body in motion. Bed scarves take inspiration from a design for the American Batik Design Competition for the Indonesian Embassy.
Even the soap has an artistic soul. It’s been molded in the shape of an eraser, allowing the user to “erase their mistakes while washing away the dirt on their hands,” according to the hotel.
Those touches can be found in every room. The Saint Kate turns artistry up several notches with five “Canvas Rooms,” guest rooms functioning as one-of-a-kind living, breathing works of art each designed completely by a different artist. A portion of the proceeds from each stay in a “Canvas Room” benefits local and state-wide arts initiatives.
Visual arts, art programs, galleries, exhibits, talks, custom rooms. You can find that in hotels elsewhere. What breaks new ground is Saint Kate’s performing arts programs.
Saint Kate is a home for dancers, comedians, singers, actors and musicians. Led by programming director John Price, the hotel’s own Arc Theatre, a 90-seat black box theatre, serves as the heart—and main stage—for a variety of artful entertainment that will be home to some of the area’s most talented creative citizens.
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Stepping inside The Arc Theatre, guests find Milwaukee’s first resident company of performers, ARCo, or the Artist-in-Residence Company. This ensemble of professional actors, dancers, comedians, musicians, jugglers and acrobats features a core group of locally established artists.
ARCo members may be found individually, in duos or as a small group throughout the hotel performing and helping bring theater to life. What’s more, guests walking through the second-floor halls or stopping at the Bar for a handcrafted cocktail may find a pop-up rehearsal for a local band or a DJ riffing on a new track.
These opportunities do more than benefit the hotel’s guests.
“For years, Milwaukee was seen as a stepping-stone for artists who would stay and work for a period of time, but then frequently leave,” Levzow said. “With the help of a few key community leaders—gallery owners, arts organizations and companies like The Marcus Corporation—we have seen more and more artists stay in the city and create careers here.”
That’s all before mentioning the Saint Kate’s exceptional restaurant options.
Aria Café & Bar on-site introduces out-of-towners to a Milwaukee culinary icon: Big Boy Burgers. Giggly Champagne & Wine Bar is the city’s first wine bar. Located adjacent to Saint Kate is Proof Pizza, Milwaukee’s newest neighborhood pizza joint. Build-your-own hand-made Neapolitan-style pizzas featuring 48-hour slow-rise dough and homemade tomato sauce, all cooked in under two minutes in a handcrafted 800-degree brick oven.
With such a deep emphasis on art, you may wonder if Saint Kate risks losing sight of its first mission as a hotel for hospitality. Quite the contrary. Saint Kate, in fact, approaches the arts from a foundation of hospitality.
“Frequently, we’ve seen that the arts can feel exclusive, out of reach, or even intimidating; Saint Kate is here to dismantle barriers and expand the definition of art,” Levzow said. “Whether you’re walking through one of our four galleries or watching a performance at The Arc Theatre, we want art to feel inclusive, diverse and collaborative.”