Art in all forms: Saint Kate celebrates creativity

This past June, a new space graced the Milwaukee art scene with the opening of Saint Kate – The Arts Hotel, a showcase of creative expression. Formerly the InterContinental Milwaukee, Saint Kate is a departure from branded to boutique.

With art displays—both local and nationally recognized—in the public spaces, guestrooms and even in its own museum, as well as live performances on-property, Saint Kate lives up to its inspiration: Saint Catherine, the patron saint of the arts.

“Everything we offer is in the spirit of creation and inspiration,” said David Bodette, the hotel’s GM.

Art is woven throughout the hotel; permanent art, called the “seed” collection, will continue to grow and change as the hotel does. Artistic displays are seen in the guestrooms on the sinks, shower tiles, blankets, lampshades and even in the interior of the closets.

“Art enthusiasts and art novices will all find something interesting in Saint Kate’s collection,” said hotel curator Maureen Ragalie.

Ragalie explained that in addition to the “seed,” there are several rotating exhibitions throughout the hotel, which will change approximately every four to five months. Also on-site is a curator and art historian, who give guests two distinct views on the works.

Getting the community involved was one of the first steps in bringing Saint Kate to life. According to David Sieren, director of design and strategy, One Design, the initial task was adding depth and focus to the idea of an “art hotel” in Milwaukee. This began with research to define the market.

“Conversations with members of the community—from individual artists and grassroots collectives to higher-profile arts organizations—helped formulate a perspective on what Milwaukee’s ‘arts’ hotel should become,” Sieren said. “A series of design principles resulted from this research—clarifying the hotel’s position as an evolving venue for all, a champion of all modes of artistic expression, a celebration of the artistic process and a platform for the local arts community.”

Photos: David Mitchell

This helped to inform the team on aspects beyond Saint Kate’s name and visual identity, Sieren said, impacting everything from the makeup of the operations team—like the need for a full-time curator and director of programming—to the transformation of the space itself.

The property’s overall transformation didn’t completely change the space, however, taking notes from the existing structure. The team conducted extensive research before the hotel’s completion by visiting galleries, artist studios and other art-focused hotels, which, according to Tory Knoph, senior interior designer, Stonehill Taylor, was done to determine how far they could push the boundaries of the concept.

“Because we loved the bones of the building, we wanted to make some initial design decisions that would highlight the existing structure,” she said. “First, all of the original millwork was painted white, creating a clean look reminiscent of a gallery space.”

The team also transformed F&B outlets, moving the lobby bar to a central location, redesigning the InterContinental’s restaurant and also adding three new dining spaces.

“The final piece of the transition process was expanding the InterContinental’s gallery space and integrating three new gallery spaces and a black box theater,” Knoph said.

Art is at the helm of all of these spaces. “One challenge when designing the visual identity was to create a system that was flexible enough to be memorable on its own, as well as support artists of all kinds without competing with them,” said Stacey Donaldson, project design lead, One Design. “Saint Kate’s visual identity speaks in its loudest voice to draw you in, but once you’re there, it plays a much quieter role.”

Donaldson explained that Saint Kate doesn’t throw its brand in guests’ faces, but rather, includes subtle hints coupled with signatures like pops of color and, of course, winks at creativity. HB

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