“A great example is the elevator lobby in Louisville, the site of one of our most popular, permanent, commissioned pieces, titled Text Rain”, Alice goes on. An interactive installation in which participants use the familiar instrument of their bodies to do what seems magical—to lift and play with falling letters that do not exist. “I love this because if you think about standing in an elevator lobby next to a stranger, it can be quite awkward. But then, you start playing with a video projection artwork where letters come to rest on anything darker than a certain threshold, and you can start to read a poem about bodies and language. Inevitably, whenever I walk by, I see people playing with it and connecting with each other.”
And then, there’s the rotating, curated exhibitions. “The Rubik’s cube”, she laughs, “That’s what I call our exhibition schedule. The process to date has been that when we open a new location, the inaugural exhibition is always something brand new. Mostly, the work is from the permanent collection, and a lot of whichwill have been acquired during the, say, two years of renovations on the property. During that time, I’m thinking about what theme would resonate well within that architectural space, that community, and most importantly, what is going on in the world right now that people are concerned about. I’ll have those conversations with our founder, Steve Wilson, who’s very involved in the collection and in the exhibitions program.”
“The inaugural exhibition reflects why we’re there, why here, and why now,” she elaborates, “the themes emerge directly from the artwork. I’m not laying meaning on top of them; the artworks are in conversations with each other. Putting this piece beside that one often illuminates a whole spectrum of ideas.”
After about a year, the exhibition moves to its next location. “When they travel, the exhibition either grows or shrinks, depending on the different exhibition space and event space that we have. But I alsowant them to remain relevant, so they often change or shift or distil in some way.” For example, Alice tells us about the latest reincarnation of Labour and Materials, an exhibition that recently travelled to 21c Lexington. “This was an exhibition that has been travelling for a few years and last year, I realised that the next time we showed it, it had to change. Prior to 2020, the exhibition was about the evolution of work or industry due to the expansion of automation and other forms of technology. With the influence of Covid, we have a new understanding and new appreciation for what is essential labour and the show’s emphasis thus shifted. Our understanding of these topics changes so quickly that we want to ensure that at 21c we’re staying relevant and wanting to share as broad and as deep an expanse of the conversation as we can.”
As if the 21c team didn’t already have their work cut out for them, they regularly collaborate with other cultural institutions – the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati, the North Carolina Museum of Art and the Speed Art Museum to name a few – bring solo exhibitions to the US for the first time to be shown at a 21c location as well as other museums
Always aiming to support artists in their communities, 21c began a partnership with Artadia in 2021. Artadia is a non-profit that supports artists through unrestricted financial awards; the partnership awards one artist living and working in the unique creative communities where 21c Museum Hotels are located, providing essential funding and recognition to artists at pivotal points in their careers, strengthening arts communities, and spurring new levels of career achievement.
“The partnership is a great way for us to support artists in all our communities, and because it moves from city to city, it kind of underscores this idea that 21c is one multi-venue museum,” Alice explains, “Artadia selects jurors from outside of the cities we’re in. That is so important because part of the opportunity for artists – and not just the winner, but the finalists too – is that these jurors do studio visits. It allows the artist to connect beyond their region, to a whole network of curators all over the country, and to a very active Artadia network.” Next year, the 21c Artadia Award will go to a recipient in Cincinnati.
With all the incredible work they are doing, it is no wonder 21c Museum Hotel has recently been awarded the 2023 AFAR Travel Vanguard, a list of seven companies changing the travel industry in bigger, better, and more human-focused ways. Recognised for ‘using art to spark conversations across the United States’, 21c has stayed true to its founding mission – the belief that art can be a vital part of daily life and a spark to ignite new energy and ideas – and remain devoted to inspiring curiosity and encouraging discovery through contemporary art.