Saint Kate Arts Hotel Wants to Be a Hub for Milwaukee’s Creative Community
By Stephanie Harte
Photo Credit: "The Leopard Room," covered floor to ceiling with leopard print, by painter Lon Michels. Photo courtesy of Marcus Corp.
The new Saint Kate Arts Hotel, set to open June 4, isn’t just a place for guests to sleep, shower and watch TV. When the folks at Marcus Corp. took over the former InterContinental Milwaukee, 139 E. Kilbourn Ave., they set out to create an immersive experience dedicated to all art forms.
“We thought what if we could change the mold and create something that is a celebration across the fold,” says Erin Levzow, vice president of Marketing for Marcus Hotels & Resorts. “Our brand promises to shift perspectives. Whether it’s watching a show that moves you or having a feeling that you didn’t realize you could because you looked at something. We want people to feel like they’ve changed and grown.”
Levzow explains that to set Saint Kate apart from hotels only focused on visual art, Marcus Corp. decided to build a 90-seat black box theater, called the Arc Theatre. Led by programming director John Price, the Arc Theatre will be home to ARCo, or the Artist-in-Residence Company. Established local artists Gabriella Ashlin, Susie Duecker, Emily Elliott, JJ Gatesman, Seth K Hale and Rachel Meldman make up this ensemble.
“Imagine for a moment that Emily were to be dancing, and then suddenly there was a cello over there and she began to play it,” Price says after Elliot and Meldman perform a dance at a media preview for the hotel. “People would be like, ‘Is she actually playing?’ The answer would be yes because she is also a cellist.”
The performers will be able to showcase their wide variety of talents—which may include dance, comedy, music, juggling and acrobatics—through the yearlong residency. The program is modeled off of the Pfister Hotel’s residency for visual artists. Along with the Pfister Hotel and now Saint Kate, Marcus Corp. also owns the Hilton Milwaukee City Center.
Guests drawing together at the Saint Kate Brand Unveiling Event. The hotel plans to offer a variety of classes, including how to play the ukulele. Photo courtesy of Marcus Corp.
Other arts related projects for the Marcus family include conceiving the Milwaukee Bucks’ MECCA basketball court designed by the late Robert Indiana, the creation of Sculpture Milwaukee, launching Summerfest and the naming rights to the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts, right across the street from Saint Kate.
"My grandfather said Adam and Eve were the only original idea and everything else is a copy," says Greg Marcus, CEO of Marcus Hotels & Resorts. "The art hotel idea is not a new idea. People want to experience something when they travel. Get a little more out of their time away.”
Marcus hired Milwaukee Native Maureen Ragalie as the Saint Kate arts curator. With the help of Russell Bowman, former director of the Milwaukee Art Museum and founding art advisor of Sculpture Milwaukee, and Greg’s wife Linda Marcus, a renowned visual artist and fashion designer, the team curated over 100 pieces of art throughout Saint Kate.
Greg Marcus in front of "Big Piney" by Deborah Butterfield. Butterfield created the sculpture from branches, sticks, driftwood and other found objects. Photo courtesy of Marcus Corp.
“Greg will tell you he doesn’t like hotel art,” explains Kent Duncan, vice president of strategy and asset management for Marcus Hotels & Resorts. “He wants art that’s made to be on its own. You can pull it out of the hotel, put it up on its own and it can sit in a museum somewhere.”
“It gives you a story to tell too,” Levzow says. “It’s very different for someone who went through something that inspired them to create, as opposed to something that was created specifically for a hotel.”
The MoWA DNT gallery on the first floor, in collaboration with the Museum of Wisconsin Art, has an initial exhibit on display through Sept. 8 called Downtown, which focuses on what Milwaukee means to the artists. Postcards featuring overlooked areas of the city by Adam Carr and stunning photographs by 22-year-old Sudanese immigrant Brema Brema are included in the exhibit.
“The Perfict Room” by artist John Grant. Photo courtesy of Marcus Corp.
All 221 guest rooms are covered with a variety of art including tree drawings, collages and candid street photographs. Four of these rooms, called Canvas Rooms, are extra show stopping. One Canvas Room is covered floor to ceiling in leopard print by painter Lon Michels. Another, “The Perfict Room” by John Grant, uses beauty and humor to show how life can be less than perfect, hence the misspelling of the name.
“The art is not just on the walls,” Levzow explains. “The sinks, the tiles on the bathroom, even the soap is art.”
The soap she is referring to is crafted to look like erasers by Niki Johnson, while shower curtains and hair dryer bags centered on the ideas of memory, identity, relationships and exploration of the concept of “home” were created by Kelly Frederick Mizer.
Rendering of 'the Bar." Credit to Stonehill Taylor.
Saint Kate’s restaurants and bars are also rooted in creativity. The Aria Café & Bar will serve classic American cuisine, Proof Pizza will have a rotating brick oven that cooks your pizza in 90 seconds and The Dark Room is an intimate 26-seat speakeasy-style restaurant. With its simple name, “the Bar,” located right in the lobby, will welcome artists of all disciplines to perform, while Giggly Champagne & Bar, the only one of its kind in Milwaukee, will offer the finest international selections.
“We want this to be the central, spoken hub for people to experience the arts in Milwaukee,” Duncan says. “For how much the Marcus Family does for the arts and the community, it was a natural fit.”