will deague

Being a design lover and keen marketer I have watched the development of Art Series Hotels with much interest. A company that embodies the idea of collaboration and seems to whole heartedly embrace their artistic partnerships throughout all aspects of their business, I was keen to chat to CEO Will Deague about their collaborative process.

Interview by Krista Huebner

Your collaboration with contemporary artists is very much an intrinsic part of your hotels’ overall identity and brand experience, and in fact is at the core of your business model. What was your inspiration for collaborating with artists?

Our family business is property development and hotels, with most of our experience in more traditional hotel models. When we were looking to develop the sites that the Art Series Hotels sit on, we knew we had the chance to do something completely different. We set out with that goal in mind, and originally had the idea to incorporate more art into the hotels. We were inspired by the popularity of design-led, boutique hotels overseas, like those of Ian Schrager working with Julian Schnabel. From there, our idea of working with art evolved into working with artists to become a completely artist-led hotel.

What challenges did you face working with visual artists? How did you react to these (i.e. what did you do/change/adapt)?

As all artists are NSW based we suffered sometimes from the tyranny of distance, but it was mostly abated by good planning and ensuring clear communication.

Another thing to consider was the art itself. For example, Adam Cullen’s work is really exciting though at times can be controversial; so we had to think about that and if the artists were perhaps more contentious, where they would be placed and how they would be displayed.

Artists work to a different timeline to businesses, so that was something we needed to be considerate of when developing our timelines for each hotel. They also work very differently as a whole. We found that the most important thing for us in working with each artist was being very clear about what we were trying to achieve and how we wanted to work together.

From the outset we used an art consultant who knew both us and the artists very well. He helped facilitate conversations and kept everyone on the same path, whether representing the interests or concerns of the artist to the business, or those of the business back to the artist. Being upfront about the commercial side of things meant that everyone knew how it would work and what was expected.

The artists you have worked with (Adam Cullen, John Olsen, Charles Blackman) are all well-known artists in Australian contemporary art. How did you decide which artists to collaborate with?

Our family has been involved with artists and the art world for years as collectors and philanthropists through the Deague Family Art Foundation. About 10 years ago we travelled with 10 artists to William Creek at Lake Eyre to experience the saltpans and work in bush studios. It was an incredible experience, and started a relationship with many of the artists who we are working with today.

The actual location of each hotel also helped us decide which artists to approach. For example, the Chapel Street location is a great fit for John Olsen, the elegant older statesman, while Adam Cullen is an edgy artist who is better matched with the Prahran/Windsor location.

Have there been any unexpected benefits to the partnership/collaboration, either to you personally, professionally or to the wider business?

As a family, we’ve always been so passionate about the art. It’s a great thing to connect people to contemporary art in a new way. People might initially book with us because it’s a great boutique hotel and then walk away with not only a great hotel experience but also a cool art experience under their belt. So the art education aspect of this has been fantastic, and that also translates to staff. Staff is trained about the art and artists, and additionally knows a lot about what’s happening in Melbourne at a cultural level. People are responding to that and we’re noticing that potential staff is seeking us out as an employer of choice. That’s something to be proud of.

What are the 3 key things you would advise other business managers looking to follow a similar collaborative model?

  1. Be open and honest from the start with the artists – what the end product is going to be and how you want to work with them.
  2. Treat artists with respect. Don’t try to capitalise on their work or reputation, and respect their craft and expertise.
  3. Stick to your guns. Stay true to your values and vision. We built a new hotel brand from scratch by staying true to our strategic vision.

Further reading on creative collaboration:

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