Building bridges between art and community: consultant Joan Warren-Grady lets hoteliers check in to great artwork

Building bridges between art and community: consultant Joan Warren-Grady lets hoteliers check in to great artwork

Debbie Hagan

Joan Warren-Grady has an eye for art, a mind for numbers and instincts for space and proportion. As a hotel art consultant and buyer, she knows where to find good artists and how to inspire them to create the right work for the right site. A math whiz too, she’s able to juggle costs and stay on budget. This makes her the go-to art consultant among hoteliers.

Based in San Diego, Warren-Grady has been a hotel art consultant for 20 years, and she works today under the banner of Joan Warren Grady Art Advisory. Her mission is to help hotels create cohesive collections that flow naturally between their sites and their communities.

That’s one of the reasons Millennium Partners, owners and developers of the Ritz-Carlton hotels and the Pour Seasons Hotels and Resorts, hired Warren-Grady to assemble art collections for its eight new hotels.

The Ritz-Carlton New York, Central Park has been converted into a sparkling grand hotel with European styling and an art collection meant to capture New York’s stylish, sophisticated art scene. Warren-Grady did this by using local art. It’s the common thread running throughout her collections.

Coming up with just the right artists and right images can be a daunting task. For this reason, she befriends local museum curators and asks for their input. This way she’s sure her collection reflects the city’s best talent. In the end, Warren-Grady sees her efforts paying off when museum curators call and ask permission to bring in tours.

Here, Warren-Grady explains how she works with management to build one-of-a-kind art collections that truly welcome hotel guests into the local art scene.

With the hospitality business becoming increasingly competitive, do hoteliers look at art as a way of making their properties distinctive and attractive to niche markets?

Absolutely. Developers of hotels in all areas of the market recognize that art can set their properties apart. Whether it’s a collection of contemporary art for a luxury hotel, such as the Ritz-Carlton, Battery Park, which we curated for Millennium Partners, or the creation of a fantasy through trompe l’oeil wall murals, which we commissioned for Atlantis, Paradise Island The Bahamas. Hotels recognize art is as important to guests as the service amenities and decor.

Your firm’s reputation is built upon “site-responsive” art programs. Can you tell us what that means and why this is important to hotels today?

“Site responsive” means that the art needs to respond to and interact with the physical space. Architecture, art and interior design all need to work together harmoniously to make a space successful. Success is based on how the end user–the guest–experiences the space. This is why the art consultant should be brought onto the team from the beginning to work in tandem with the architect and designer.

Can you give me an example of how you have used art to respond to a hotel’s specific needs or characteristics and why this has proven effective?

For each art program that we create for our clients, we first determine the hotel’s target clientele. Will it be a destination hotel, or will it be a family hotel? This is critical in deciding how to approach the art program.

Again, it’s all about having a dialogue with the owner, developer, architect, interior architect and interior designer. Sometimes the design concept is not obvious, especially if they’re creating a fantasy environment. That’s why you need to have this dialogue.

One of the growing trends in hotel art programs is to focus on the local art community. This gives guests a real sense of where they are, and it serves as a fantastic bridge to the local art community. Many of the collections that we have created have been so well received by their communities that museums have offered tours of the hotel art collection. It’s a fabulous compliment to the hotel.

How do you work with hotel developers and management to select art?

Once the design direction has been set and an overall budget has been established, then it’s decided who’s on the art selection committee. It can be just the owner or developer or just the architect, or it can be a collaboration of many people. Next, we determine the target clientele. Then I go about researching and selecting art for that team to review, knowing the budget and space constraints. Many times this involves commissioning a particular artist for a particular space.

Next, I present selected works for the committee’s review and final selection. When the time is right, and the construction is nearly complete, my team handles framing, display, installation, lighting and, finally, the unveiling.

Once the hotel has set its art budget, is there a formula for dividing how much should be spent in the public areas versus the guest rooms?

No, I don’t have a formula. If you had to say a percentage, the guest rooms and suites should take up 25 to 30 percent of the overall budget–unless the budget is very small. Then it could be 50 percent. It’s really about what you want to achieve. It’s a puzzle with many, many parts.

Hotels display more than paintings and prints today. In terms of alternative media, what kinds of artwork do you see hotels purchasing, and do you see any up-and-coming trends?

Hotels are not really into cutting-edge art. For instance, you don’t find much interactive art. There’s the concern about the fragility of pieces in such high-traffic areas. You have to look at the reality of where the pieces are going, even though you’re always wanting to push the envelope.

In the last five years, there has been a growing trend of exhibiting photography. But if I were to see a real growing trend, I’d have say it’s more focused on obtaining art from the local community.

Can you describe a project for which you commissioned original work?

In most collections, 40 to 50 percent of the work is commissioned for the public areas. The art for the rooms is always commissioned and reproduced as four-color lithographs or giclees, depending on the budget. Sometimes we’re also able to have the artists create one-of-a-kind artwork for the rooms.

For the Ritz Carlton New York, Central Park, we commissioned two well-known New York artists, April Gornick and Mark Innerst, to create images for the rooms, and we produced Iris prints of the original pieces. We commissioned New York painter Stephen Hannock to create three monumental oils for the lobby lounge.

How do you oversee delivery and placement of the art to be sure it’s delivered on time and it’s consistent with the design theme?

Details, details, details. Communication, communication. Never assume anything. These are the mantras in my office. That’s what I do. It’s a daily process. It’s my job to maintain budgets, to be sure that commissioned works come in on budget and on time, and to see the process through to the installation and lighting.

With the focus of my art studies on sculpture, I learned that the environment where the art lives is vital. Whether the art goes at the end of a corridor or over a reception desk, the art’s placement and scale are key in making the design work.

What tips would you give for creating a big impact on a shoestring budget?

There are many wonderful, young emerging artists. Under the guidance of a good art consultant, they can produce a lot of great, affordable work.

I think creating something fabulous on a small budget is more challenging. This is where you want an art consultant who’s had a lot of experience–someone who has relationships with artists and can guide them to create the art that you want. You also want someone who has the ability to negotiate. Artists are more likely to negotiate with someone with whom they’ve had a long-standing relationship.

In addition to selecting art, what other art services does Joan Warren-Grady Art Advisory offer?

Basically, we take it from start to fruition. We handle budget, selection, commissions, framing, installation, lighting and everything else that crops up. At the conclusion, we provide the hotel staff with a report about the art so that they can talk with guests about it.

My library has more than 1,400 artists, and we’re constantly researching and meeting new ones. We’re always doing research for our clients. People are always asking me, “How do you know all this?” I’m always visiting galleries, artists’ studios, art fairs, in addition to reading periodicals and fashion magazines. All of this keeps me tuned into what’s happening in the art world.

RELATED ARTICLE: How to hire an art consultant.

Who makes a good art consultant? Is it someone who’s an art history major? Someone who’s a decorating pro? Someone who’s experienced? Someone who’s imaginative, approachable and flexible?

Yes to all. But where do you find such a person, and how can you make certain he or she is the right consultant for you? To find out, we asked some art consultants, who had this to say:

Ask your design team. “They should definitely know one or two art consultants,” said Joan Warren-Grady of Joan Warren-Grady Art Advisory in San Diego. “They almost always have one that they like to work with.”

Warren-Grady also recommends asking your interior designer, architectural firm or purchasing agent for recommendations since they usually know who delivers the goods on time.

Check the web. “Most firms with comprehensive Web sites will list services, clients and project photos that can give you an indication of both experience level and creative philosophy of the company,” said Kristen Rolando, director of Art Initiative in Atlanta.

You should also investigate a potential consultant’s affiliations with different associations, said Corinne Shane of InvestinArt in New York.

Shane said professional art consultants should be members of the International Association for Professional Art Advisors (IAPAA). This is an invitation-only, nonprofit association of art advisors and curators. “The mission is to provide the highest possible guidelines in non-museum and corporate settings, which hotels are a part of,” said Shane.

Look for hotel experience: If you’ve ever seen art hanging too low, off center or in the wrong place, or if you’ve seen frames nailed to the wall, you know that inexperience can lead to unsightly mistakes. “You don’t know all of the possible pitfalls of installation and shipping without experiencing them,” said Bernice Leader of Leader Associates Art Consulting in Wayne, N.J. The ability to read architectural floor plans is also helpful.

Obtain promotional packets. A professional art consultant should have brochures, a portfolio of completed jobs and a client list. This will enable you to gauge the consultant’s experience and professionalism. In addition, Warren-Grady added, “I would want someone who has an art background.”

Ask questions. Ask your prospects how many pieces they have purchased for their clients, If it’s one or two, that’s a small job–maybe too small for you, especially if you need several hundred pieces and several commissions.

“You need an art consultant who’s not going to just slap a picture on the wall,” said Shane. Rather, you want someone who really understands the ins and outs of hospitality.

Check the details. “Commissioning of site-specific artwork requires an accurate coordination of a lot of details and people to ensure that expectations are met aesthetically and time wise,” said Rolondo.

Look for someone who’s organized and detail-oriented. Look also for chemistry. “You want someone who is able to communicate and has the type of personality that the contact person in the company can work easily with,” said Candice Pulliam, owner of Art Services Co., in Denver, Colo.

Finding a consultant with these qualifies will help lead you through a successful art project.

–Debbie Hagan

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