Expert’s Voice: When hotels invest in local art, everybody wins

by | 13 Mar 2020 | People

Local artist Sorcha O’Higgins was commissioned to create collage artwork featuring Irish musicians for Dublin’s swanky new Hard Rock Hotel. Photo by Killian Broderick.

Hotels commissioning local artists to represent the culture is a meaningful way to be authentic and support the community, writes Irish collage artist Sorcha O’Higgins.

What a journey it has been! Five months ago, I was approached on Instagram by US-based curators Kalisher, and now my bespoke artworks featuring Irish musicians are hanging in the Hard Rock Dublin hotel’s Zampas restaurant.

Here’s how this amazing project came into being, and here’s why the trend of local art in hotels needs to flourish.

The surprising power of social media

As an artist using social media as both: a portfolio and marketing tool, it can be all too common to be contacted by people who are trying to get you to work for free, or act as a brand ambassador for a company you have no affiliation to, or pay a significant amount of money to be featured in an art quarterly or on a curatorial account.

This can make artists wary of being approached by accounts floating in the ether, so initially I was skeptical when I was asked to quote for creating a number of commissioned artworks for a new hotel in Dublin. However, after a few emails back and forth with Heather from Kalisher, a US curatorial company that works with hospitality clients including Hilton and Four Seasons, I was sure it was legit.

I never would have expected to get a job like this via Instagram, but Heather had seen some prints I have for sale online in a Dublin-based lifestyle store, so I knew she was aware of my work and genuinely wanted to work with me, as opposed to just reaching out to any random artist.

Valuing the artist

Making a living as an artist is a hustle. Personally, I always enjoy the challenge and variety that comes out of working in a more flexible manner, but it can also be insecure and you really have to value yourself and your work, which can sometimes be tricky when often people don’t want to pay you what you feel you deserve.

While working on this project, I absolutely felt valued and respected as an artist by both Kalisher and Hard Rock, and never felt like I had to compromise on my vision or my worth.

Unfortunately, this is rarer than it should be, but professionalism can only be of benefit for everyone – the client, the artist and ultimately the guest, because creative fulfillment and passion comes through in the work itself, and people can tell if it comes from a place of obligation or pride.

Hard Rock and Kalisher gave me complete creative control over the pieces I produced, and I worked to a very broad brief, which essentially just wanted well known Irish artists lounging around in tropical Dublin scenes.

Beyond this, I was free to do what I wanted, and I had a lot of fun with the process and was thrilled with how the pieces turned out. I was especially impressed by Kalisher’s decision to frame the collages using circular mounts, which wasn’t something I had seen before, but really made the central image stand out.

Local art in hotels

Gone are the days when a hotel can just use stock images as decoration for their suites and common areas. The public is far more design-savvy, and people are much more aware of how art can contribute to their experience of a space.

The trend of commissioning local artists to create a hotel’s art collection is great, because branded hotels have the kind of capital that individuals or independent venues might not, so they are able to allocate bigger budgets to their collections, which feeds back into the local art economy.

This is vital to the professional health of an artist, and allows them to continue to make work in the way they want to, instead of feeling like they have to take any job that comes along in order to make ends meet. Particularly in Dublin, where, despite a booming economy, the creative classes are being squeezed by a lack of appropriate spaces in which to work, and hotels instead of houses are dominating the construction market, it is great to see the hotels that are being built investing in local artists.

The narrative around “local experience” can sometimes seem like bandwagon behaviour or lip service, but commissioning local artists to represent local culture is a real way of engaging with and supporting the community on the ground.

Sorcha O'Higgins
Sorcha O'Higgins

Collage artist & writer

Sorcha O’Higgins is a collage artist and freelance writer. With a background in architecture and urban art, she works almost exclusively with existing analogue material to create both abstract and figurative work. Her work spans bespoke commissions for hotels, theatre productions, magazine covers and album artwork. Sorcha also runs corporate and group workshops, doing artscape installations for spaces, brands and events. Find her on Instagram.