In historic downtown Louisville, Ky., you might not expect to find a penguin, let alone 30 of them, but that’s exactly what you’ll encounter at the 21c Museum Hotel Louisville. The penguins, are kind of short, and come in around 4ft tall, but they have a big message concerning the environment and they’re a big to do among the guests. “They were intended to be a limited time exhibition but as they were on the property they began to take a life of their own and people began engaging with them,” explains Holly Weyler McKnight, Director, Public Relations and Events with 21c. “When we decided to take them out of show the people that frequented 21c were kind of up in arms, so that’s when we decided the penguins would be a permanent fixture of all 21c hotels.” The boutique hotel chain has six hotels – each with its own color penguins. The red penguins live at the Louisville property.
“Occasionally we’ll have a request that a guest wants a penguin in their room and we’re happy to oblige,” says McKnight. The penguins are allowed to travel anywhere within the hotel. “They can go for a visit to your room or they can sit and have dinner with you, they’re great companions.”
If the penguins could talk, they’d probably tell you they’re made of petroleum and they’re upset about how we use our natural resources. The penguins are a creation of the Cracking Art Group, whose mission is to raise awareness of environmental issues.
The penguins, cute, clever, and press-worthy as they may be, are just the tip of the iceberg. 21c Museum Hotel Louisville has a story of its own. The 90-room hotel opened in 2006, giving the property a new lease on life. The building was originally a 19th century tobacco and bourbon warehouse. It’s now a hotel and a full-fledged museum with a curator. It also houses Proof on Main, an award-winning restaurant that serves farm-to-table fusion amid more art.
Laura Lee Brown and Steve Wilson, a husband-and-wife team, who co-own the boutique hotel chain are contemporary art collectors and wanted to find a way to share art with more people. They also have a strong interest in preservation and believe that by preserving farmland one can make cities more interesting and help prevent urban sprawl. “The museum is open free of charge and 24-hours a day, 7-days a week because they didn’t want any barriers. They want to be open to the public at any time and felt contemporary art could be an economic driver for the community and a catalyst for positive change,” explains McKnight. The couple looks for rare buildings and works with their go-to architect to transform all of their properties.
Carefully taken into the design is space for change. The museum hotel makes sure to bring new art consistently create new reasons to visit. The art in the restaurant and in public spaces change every 6-months and more works of art may only be found in the individual guest rooms, thus encouraging overnight stays in different rooms.
Since 21c moved in there’s been a lot of revitalization in the area – something the boutique chain strives to ignite in all its markets. McKnight recounts how downtown Louisville has undergone a resurgence and has changed drastically over the past 10 years. “The area is a lot more vibrant now. We definitely think that 21c has played a role in that,” she says.
So, what’s the secret to 21c’s success? “I think our strongest element is that we’re unlike any other hotel experience. It’s a place to spend the night and enjoy fresh delicious food,” says McKnight. “Our guests can count on an excellent stay but a few surprises along the way as well.”
The mix of old and new has worked incredibly well for the 21c brand. It’s been recognized in various publications from USA Today to Travel + Leisure to Conde Nast Traveller, and beyond. The media is always looking for something new and 21c delivers.
The red penguin (top photo) was created by the Cracking Art Group. The mission of the group is to raise awareness of environmental issues and the use and misuse of natural resources by creating artworks with materials derived from petroleum products. The name Cracking Art refers to the chemical reaction that occurs when converting raw crude oil into plastic, or the moment when natural becomes artificial. Founded in 1993, Cracking Art Group has created over 600 exhibitions worldwide. Learn more at: http://www.crackingartgroup.com/en/
Asleep in the Cyclone (the second photo) is actually a guest room and an immersive art installation created by New York-based artists Jonah Freeman and Justin Lowe. Read more about it here: http://www.21cmuseumhotels.com/museum/exhibition/2/asleep-in-the-cyclone/
Luxury King Room (the third photo) features a King sized bed with a view of Louisville. Framed above the bed are original works of art -- photographs taken by co-owner, Laura Lee Brown.
At present, the art at Proof on Main (seen in the bottom two photos) is by David Burns and Austin Young and is called Fallen Fruit, (American), The Practices of Everyday Life, 2016. It is a site-specific installation that uses mixed media, including wallpaper, painting, prints, and found objects. Louisville is intended to celebrate the culture of place. The selection of each photograph, wall treatment, or object is deliberate; even the seemingly obtuse or misplaced is carefully chosen to create contrast and to explore conflicting shifts in meaning. The artwork intimately explores the boundary of what is “public” and what is “private.” The installation addresses a universal aspect of the human condition, hunger—to be fed, to be seen, to belong, to be loved. The wallpapers were created by the artists from their original photography and printed locally. Fallen Fruit uses wallpapers to explore the ways in which a place assumes a culture – French-inspired patterns are used in Proof on Main in homage to the French settlement of this region. More details on the Proof on Main website: http://www.proofonmain.com/