This past April, I Heart Hungry Kids was chosen to be the charitable beneficiary of an amazing art exhibition entitled Fortunate. Held at the Vendue Hotel in downtown Charleston and organized by hotel staff in partnership with the Robert Lange Studios, the show was a huge success both artistically and as a fundraising event.
Recently, Post and Courier writer Maura Hogan published an article discussing the rise of art hotels in Charleston as an alternative venue for exhibitions, and featured Fortunate in their coverage. Below is an excerpt of that article:
Charleston won’t stop building new hotels. That could be a good thing for local artists.
By Maura Hogan, firstname.lastname@example.org
August 10, 2019
On the main floor of The Vendue hotel, there is a giant Zoltar fortune-telling machine tucked into a corner. Enthusiasts of the movie “Big” may recall a similar one from the scene in which a young boy makes a wish with a carnival Zoltar to be big. He is thus transformed into a grown-up, played by Tom Hanks, who retains his childlike wonder.
The turban-topped figure encased in glass at The Vendue produces fortunes for a dollar. The merry machine is part of “Fortunate,” the hotel’s current exhibit of 30 commissioned works that are each inspired by the prophetic slip of paper found within a fortune cookie.
On a recent afternoon, Vendue guests laughingly extracted their Zoltar fortunes, resulting in a lively scene that seemed in marked contrast from a standard hotel lobby tone of unassuming patrons sipping drinks and studying maps.
Zoltar achieves more than that, too. A percentage of the proceeds from the art sales and the fortune machine are going to a local charity, I Heart Hungry Kids, which provides lunches to local schoolchildren who are in need of them, among many other initiatives.
What’s more, by disabling the invisible fence between residents and visitors, businesses and artists, The Vendue and similarly arts-supportive hotels offer a prism into the civic potential of our ever-proliferating hospitality sector. Existing and planned properties can — and should — interact with the community in meaningful, mutually beneficial ways. Arts programs are but one illustrative example of that.
In 2012, when Jonathan Weitz of Avocet Hospitality acquired The Vendue, he struck upon the idea to highlight art as the hotel’s point of distinction, informed by the hotel’s gallery-dense French Quarter neighborhood.
“At that point, no one was really focused on the art side of it,” said Weitz, who began his research by checking out 21c Museum Hotel, the visionary boutique art hotel collection based in Louisville, Ky., that has now expanded to places like Durham, N.C., Nashville, Tenn., and Cincinnati.
At The Vendue, art director Emily Rigsby works with local galleries including Robert Lange Studios, Mary Martin Gallery and Mitchell Hill to run an extensive program anchored by two major rotating exhibits annually.
“We’ve allowed the Charleston arts community to determine what The Vendue is going to look like, show by show,” said Weitz, adding that 16 guest rooms are each dedicated to a specific artist.
This interface between business and art is significant enough that the national nonprofit arts advocacy group Americans for the Arts has initiated its pARTnership Movementprogram to promote such practices. The group’s 2018 survey of the corporate practices of 132 small, mid-size and large U.S. businesses determined that 79 percent of businesses believe the arts improve the quality of life in the community. Its website offers examples of businesses that have done so, including hotels.