The Role For Art And Culture In Hotels

The W Montreal recently completed a major renovation in which Sid Lee Architecture and MASSIVart collaborated on interior design concepts and integration of artworks.

In partnership with the Hotel Association of Greater Montreal, MASSIVart participated in a discussion panel debating how art allows brands to cut-through in an industry that is in constant evolution.

The project’s key stakeholders discussed their vision and elaborated on the processes that led to the final design of this unique, premium location.

Christina Poon, General Manager, W Montreal
Camille Jodoin-Eng, Artist
Martin Leblanc, Senior Partner, Sid Lee Architecture
Philippe Demers, Founding Partner, MASSIVart


W Montreal renovation project genesis

The renovation project began 4 years ago placing extensive consideration on delivering a contemporary design solution that would live through current & future trends yet always be ahead of its time. This future thinking has become the trademark of the W. Even 15 years ago, when the W Montreal first opened its doors, it was years ahead of its time for both Montreal and Canada so it was crucial that the renovation continued to establish this illustrious brand positioning.

In New York & Montreal, discussions and creative workshops took place between the Sid Lee Architecture, Ivanhoe Cambridge and W teams to define the ‘W Montreal’ brand for the next 10 years, and what was required to achieve that. “That’s how we came up with this exceptional product.” said Christina Poon.

What allowed the Sid Lee Architecture team to create such a coherent solution was led by the particular character of the W which owns a premium positioning at the forefront of the hospitality industry. As its relationship with Montreal is so authentic and significant, the W has more of a local, boutique-style feel than a hotel from a large international group. “That’s why we worked on this project – to give it its unique character. There was first a period of active listening and then we came to exchange on proposals.” Martin Leblanc said.

The idea was to connect the hotel to its own history and the history of Montreal, while also finding ways to create conversation – which art played a major role in achieving.

The strong narrative of the W was the main aspect taken into consideration. There is an authentic relationship between the hotel associates and the guests which is why the architecture team worked extensively to connect the dots between these 2 groups by finding stories with topics beyond the surface, all told through thoughtfully curated artworks.

What role does art play in the architectural experience of a hotel?

W Montreal Hotel Renovation - Art Integration - Guest Experience“It’s always been important for me to integrate art in our projects – especially outside of galleries & museums. Hotels are a good canvas for art. If you don’t expect artworks, you have more of a kind of a raw relationship with it, and this is what I’m seeking.” Martin Leblanc said.

From the perspective of artist Camille Jodoin-Eng, art connects the local community with the global community within a space. It also brings out the spirit and history of the city. It is a mutually beneficial collaboration: The artists help the hotel to visually communicate their identity through aesthetics, but also embody the values of the company. In return, artists are supported and given a public platform for their visual voice. It also improves the well-being of everyone in the space, from guests to employees.

Christina Poon also sees art as a conversation-starter: “It breaks the ice and right away it enhances the sense of arrival. Guests are checking in and they’re saying that they’re coming in somewhere where they feel good. There is something that compels them to be happy here, while affirming the W Montreal’s identity of bold, edgy and colourful.”

How to integrate art into project budgets?

For Martin Leblanc, “The key is to know its inclusion and importance at the very beginning of the project, when we’re still looking at how we’re gonna tackle it. In the same way that we know we’ll need a bar, it must be obvious, it is not even a question. Even if, later on, you question if it will be a big or small bar, it was part of the original mandate of the space to have a bar. In the same way, when art becomes an essential element rather than a budget expense, our approach is very different” For Martin, art must be integrated into the architecture, not just be a painting on a wall.

From Christina Poon’s point of view, it’s okay to start small – art doesn’t have to be all done in one shot, it can be introduced little by little. It doesn’t have to be a complete renovation to make it happen. Also, even if you can’t calculate the exact ROI of art integration, Christina Poon ensures that

“You can ask for a higher average daily rate (ADR) when you have quality art in your hotel vs just a piece of art that you can buy at any common store. What we have at W Montreal is unique: There’s only our property that has it, and people are willing to pay a premium to have this experience.”


What it brings to the art community

W Montreal Hotel Renovation - Art Integration - Guest ExperienceIt’s important for the art community to have private commissions like these. Camille Jodoin-Eng told us that it’s great for artists to be displayed in a hotel as they can reach a broader audience than in galleries and museums. Also, what she appreciated was that “in the case of a private commission, you don’t have to think of the artwork as a sellable element, you can just focus on the ideas and creating rather than the sellability of the work.”

On the question of engaging local vs international artists, everyone agreed on the fact that the goal is to encourage local artists. But as Martin Leblanc said, “I also think that the way to help local artists is to mix them with global talents to help them reach a far broader audience.”

The challenge will always remain on how best to connect the two worlds of business and art and how to find that winning-balance between them. Both commercial and artistic objectives must be met, and to achieve this it’s crucial that it’s a collaborative effort.

Photo 1: Camille Jodoin-Eng, Sun Vault, 2019
Photo 2: Solaire #2, 2019 – Etienne Rey – © Etienne Rey, ADAGP Paris