Hostels showcasing local artists
Travellers have long sought to connect with local culture by exploring the art scene in places they visit. That concept is robustly embraced these days not just in museums and galleries, but in a somewhat surprising venue — hostels.
Many hostels around the world — from European and South American cultural hot spots to a small harbour town in New Zealand — feature the contemporary artwork of cartoonists and graffiti artists and replicas of works by the great masters. Hostelling International San Diego Downtown Hostel began sponsoring “hostel takeover” events several years ago with local art, live music, and food, and, like other hostels, it even has a permanent gallery space.
Gallery Hostel in Porto, Portugal (Photo: Gallery Hostel)
“Our hostels support homegrown, up-and-coming artists by commissioning artworks and offering them a vibrant, international environment to showcase their work,” said Paul Halpenny, head of supply for Hostelworld, an online budget travel booking website based in London and Dublin that provides reservations for more than 30,000 properties in 180 countries.
“Hostels give travellers access to art, no matter what their budget, and surround them with the local culture,” he said.
Hostels today are not what they once were; the trend is away from cheap, low-end dives long associated with backpackers and students, in favour of more upscale, design-oriented establishments that attract 20-somethings as well as families, older adults, retirees, and even business travellers.
How and when the focus on art began has not been tracked. But Manuel Frías recalled the inspiration behind the Art Factory hostel in Buenos Aires, Argentina, after he and a colleague bought a once-elegant mansion in 2007 that was in need of “a fast and cheap ‘change of look.’”
Art Factory in Buenos Aires, Argentina (Photo: Art Factory)
“We decided that we didn’t want a conventional refurbishment,” said Frías, one of the hostel’s owners. “We were walking every day the streets of our neighbourhood, San Telmo, and met a few street artists,” he said. They invited the artists to “take possession” of the walls as “a small tribute to those great ideas that are painted onto walls across the whole city.” Today, each room is an original work painted by a different artist. “We see it as an expression that will positively affect your mood,” Frías said — “a living museum of street art.” The newly opened Art Factory Palermo in northeast Buenos Aires shares the philosophy of its sister hostel.
“We are always open to new art on our walls,” Frías said. “So artists from the world, let us know that you are interested in painting at the hostel and you will be very welcome!”
Murals and graffiti fill the walls of Art Hostel in Sofia, Bulgaria. (Photo: Art Hostel/Facebook)
The Art Hostel in Sofia, Bulgaria, prides itself on supporting a wide range of emerging Bulgarian artists — including musicians, dancers, poets, and painters — and for helping launch careers. Some artists got early exposure at the hostel, and “now they are locally and internationally known,” said Rayna Moneva, an owner and manger. The hostel also serves as a meeting place where artists, community members, and travellers easily mingle to “stimulate cultural exchange,” she said.
Like coffee shops that in the last 20 to 30 years became makeshift galleries, hostels today provide “a dynamic venue, a melting pot of ideas,” said Mark Vidalin, managing director of Syncopate Media, a marketing consultancy that previously worked for nonprofit Hostelling International USA. “Art is not just on the walls, but in ongoing conversations. Artists walk in with art, and everyone walks out with new ideas and inspiration.”
The #REGENERATE14 event transformed hotels into art galleries. (Photo: David Ogle)
Generator Hostels, a company owned by Patron Capital, has nine properties in Europe, all deeply committed to local artist and community engagement, said Josh Wyatt, Generator’s chief strategic officer. Last summer, Generator Copenhagen and Generator Berlin Mitte hosted #REGENERATE14, an immersive event with more than 20 artists and performers.
It was “a full artists’ takeover” of the properties, Wyatt said. Both hostels were transformed for a weekend, bringing together artists, guests, young art aficionados, and locals “to experience interactive art, live music, themed rooms, art creation, pop-up shops, and much more,” the company said.
Other recent examples include:
- Generator Barcelona displayed work from two local tattoo artists and, to coincide with the International Comic Fair, hosted the launch of a graphic novel by two cartoonists.
- Generator Venice hosted four artists who lived at the hostel for two to four weeks, each creating a permanent piece of art that remained at the property. The hostel plans to repeat the residency this year.
- Generator Dublin featured multidisciplinary artist 2Fik, who lived at the hostel during the Dublin Fringe Festival and conducted a photo shoot in the surrounding area. The property features permanent custom artworks, including a chandelier made from bottles of the famous Jameson Irish whiskey.
- A number of hostels featured touring exhibits of travel photography, a pop-up vintage fashion boutique, a permanent string installation by French artist Sébastien Preschoux, and murals by Amsterdam-based artist Pieter Ceizer and British artist Ed Hicks.
You can find art anywhere. (Photo: Generator Hostels)
“To toe the line and present blank walls is boring,” said Wyatt. “Hostels, and Generator, want to surprise and excite their guests. We travel to learn, feel, and experience things — how better to do this than through art, music, food, and drink? This is what a good hostel can provide.”
Some hostels encourage visitors to become artists, even if only during their stay. Professionals “come purposefully to create a painting and leave their mark,” while other guests may be “creating a painting for the very first time,” said Kelly Lindberg, owner of Chillawhile Backpackers Art Gallery in Oamaru, New Zealand, where works made at the hostel cover the walls of the restored Victorian residence. Travellers can also try their hand at guitars, didgeridoos, and African drums.
“Travelling six years abroad, I took for granted everyday life activities,” said Lindberg, who plans to create decks of playing cards that feature the hostel’s artwork. “Chillawhile is a space where you can engage in the simple things in life.”