The art featured in the hotels is primarily drawn from the collection of 21c founders Laura Lee Brown and Steve Wilson, with loans from artists and several cultural institutions as well. Currently, about 35 percent of its collection is cumulatively on view. The self-stated mission is to erase barriers, making the 21st-century art in the collection present and accessible in Nashville through galleries that are free and open to the public 24 hours a day and a spate of related programming.
“The idea of connection and engagement and broadening access to thought-provoking contemporary art—not art as decoration—is what separates what 21c does from many other hotels and for-profit companies which use art for many different things,” said Alice Gray Stites, chief curator and museum director of 21c. “For 21c, it’s a museum mission.”
In an age of private museums, the “hotel museum” is a novel twist, particularly in locations like Nashville, where local artists and members of the cultural community will tell you there needs to be more institutional support of the arts, in any and all forms. Despite the boom of wealthy collectors setting up their own institutions—an idea Brown and Wilson toyed with—private museums are generally not self-sufficient, but rather dependent on the continued largesse of their benefactors, making their sustainability years into the future more of a question. Having revenue generation built into the museum model through a hotel mitigates such financial pitfalls.