Arts

The art of hospitality

In Blackpool, UK, a traditional seaside B&B has been reimagined as a series of curated installations that include a guest room designed by a disabled artist to be deliberately inaccessible for able bodied guests. Kath Hudson speaks to some of the key players who brought the idea to life


Recently opened Art B&B in Blackpool, UK, is a hotel and venue with a difference – a community business that reinvests profits into arts and community projects, and a unique boutique hotel with 19 bedrooms-come-art installations designed to get guests thinking.

The people behind Art B&B have taken a tired hotel on Blackpool’s seafront and handed over the décor and design to a range of artists to reimagine. Every room is presented as a piece of art, offering a unique guest experience, as well as reflecting the history and entertainment legacy of the seaside town.

One of the rooms, named Welcome Inn, has been designed by disabled artist Christopher Samuels to be difficult to navigate as a way of giving guests an insight into the access problems faced by many disabled people. The Art Deco Mugonyi Cinema Room, meanwhile, has its own mini cinema and a film licence from the British Film Institute, while the Willy Little Suite celebrates theatrical seaside entertainers.

Led by Leftcoast, an organisation which runs a programme of arts, culture and creative activity in the area, the aim of this ambitious project is to promote art in the town through its tourist economy. As well as being a draw for cultural tourists, there is a cocktail bar and event space open to the public.

Michael Trainor, who was the artistic director of Leftcoast, became the creative director of the hotel, selecting the contemporary artists and then overseeing the complicated task of integrating their artistic visions into the refurbishment.

To help bring the project to fruition, Unlimited - an arts commissioning programme which enables work by disabled artists to reach new audiences – was also enlisted, introducing Kristina Veasey and Christopher Samuels. Veasey’s design was a modification of her existing touring exhibition, while Samuels’ concept, which was based on his personal experience, has garnered a great of press coverage.

Now that the hotel is up and running, it has become a community interest company. Staff are paid, but the board of directors are voluntary and all profits are reinvested in the hotel and art and community projects, so its visitors can support the arts while they sleep.

Michael Trainor
Creative director, Art B&B
Michael Trainor

The idea first came about in 2015, when I was running Leftcoast, an arts and cultural organisation in Blackpool, which has now located to Art B&B. We were looking for ways of sustaining arts and culture in Blackpool, where the main economy is tourism, and thought we could do a clever thing where we create a venue, an art space and a revenue generating-business, with art as the main attraction. To my knowledge this has never been done before.

It was a great idea – but also a stupid one – because it was so incredibly difficult to execute! It’s hard enough to build a hotel without having to commission 30 artists and integrate art installations into a build! We worked with a local practice, Joseph Boniface Architects, who were really patient with accommodating so many people and so many different needs.

As we’re art commissioners first and hoteliers second, it led to some interesting conversations with the builders who initially wanted to “fix” the art, especially with Christopher Samuels’ room, but in the end they really tuned into the concept.

"It’s hard enough to build a hotel without having to commission 30 artists and integrate art installations into it!"

A community interest company was set up to run the project, with a voluntary board, and we sourced funding from a mix of art and community funds, including The Arts Council and Power to Change. Without public money, we wouldn’t have been able to bring this £1.2m project to fruition. Once the hotel starts to make money, all of the profits will be reinvested or invested into art or community projects.

It has been fantastic to see all of the artistic ideas become a physical reality. It is way more immersive and detailed than people expect it to be. Everybody loves it: they think it will be a few pictures on the wall, but it’s much more than that. Every room offers an experience.

I’m very proud of it, but don’t ask me if I want to do a second one! Now we have a hotel manager in place, I’m going back to the art world to make art!

Jo Verrent Senior producer, Unlimited
Verrent is senior producer at arts commissioning programme Unlimited

Unlimited is the world’s largest supporter of disabled artists. Since 2013, it has provided almost £4m to 280 disabled artists, supporting a range of artistic and cultural projects. We are always looking for new opportunities and were delighted when this one came up through Leftcoast, which has a record of genuine support and engagement with disabled artists and were looking to have a broad and diverse range of artists represented at Art B&B.

We had already supported Kristina Veasey’s My Dirty Secret exhibition, and immediately thought this would be a natural fit for Art B&B. But we also put a call out inviting artists to send proposals for a room or artwork. Around 20 people applied and we narrowed this down, asking a few to create full concepts. We chose to support Christopher Samuels’ proposal for a room. It was clearly the best application on the table, but he wasn’t the most experienced applicant and it definitely wasn’t a risk free option. We didn’t think Art B&B would go with it, because it’s intensely problematic for them to have a room which is problematic! But from the get go, they did whatever they could to make it work within the legal requirements of building regulations.

It’s worked really well as a piece of conceptual art. It can be difficult to break into the conceptual art scene, but hopefully this has helped Christopher’s career as well as creating a discussion about accessibility.

It’s been a delight to be involved with this project and now Unlimited is talking to a couple of other hotels about our artists designing rooms. Artists are an underused resource for commercial buildings, bringing a fresh approach, as well as creating an immersive environment.

Christopher Samuels
Artist and creator of The Welcome Inn at Art B&B
Verrent is senior producer at arts commissioning programme Unlimited

This concept was inspired by my own experience, so I already had the idea written down when I saw the call from Unlimited. In 2017 I was technically made homeless while two local authorities argued over who had the responsibility to pay for my care and to rehouse me. During this time, I had to take emergency accommodation in an inaccessible hotel room for three months.

I couldn’t navigate around the bed in my wheelchair. I couldn’t get into the bed, I couldn’t use the dressing table because it was too low. I couldn’t shut the bathroom door, or use the toilet or shower.

With the hotel room design, I wanted to make people experience the reality of what it’s like to be disabled: the frustrations of having to navigate a space which isn’t designed for them and having to problem solve around simple everyday actions, like turning on a light.

Each feature of the Art B&B room has its own significance: a bathroom door which doesn’t close, upside down shower gel, curtains which don’t cover the window fully, a tv which can only be viewed in the mirror, and insufficient space to get around the bed.

As an artist interested in identity politics and disabled politics, it has been great to be able to talk about my experience. It’s been a therapeutic and enjoyable process. The reactions have been very positive and people say it has been thought provoking. You are more vulnerable when you’re asleep, so sleeping in a space changes the dynamics of the experience, and makes it more powerful.

I have had some exciting offers as a result, including addressing architecture students at Loughborough University. I would love the opportunity to expand on this idea and take it to more venues, as well as work with organisations to design properly accessible spaces for disabled people.

Christopher Samuels’ room has been designed to be deliberately frustrating to use
Kristina Veasey
Artist and creator of A Room full of Dirty Secrets, Art B&B
Kristina Veasey

I live with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, a condition causing chronic fatigue and chronic pain, which can result in me being laid up for days and unable to do any housework.

I found that while I was incapacitated the general household mess was frustrating and impacted my mental state. As my family didn’t seem to have a problem with it, I started to take photos to create an evidence file. Very quickly this turned into something else. As an artist, I couldn’t help myself getting creative when photographing the scum under the fridge or hair in a plug hole! Seeing familiar landscapes from new perspectives led me to discover the unseen beauty in household dirt. For example, a two-week old piece of banana cake discovered in my son’s room looked like snow-capped mountains!

This documentation of household mess turned into a photography exhibition and then was supported by Unlimited to become an interactive touring art installation, My Dirty Secret! which showcases my work as well as presenting other people’s experiences about housework.

In 2017, Jo Verrent introduced me to Michael Trainor about adapting My Dirty Secret for a permanent room at Art B&B and I was delighted to be given the opportunity to reach new audiences.

My images have been repeated to form vibrant patterns which are printed onto fabrics and furnishings. Because my prints are bright and overwhelming, some of them needed to be toned down slightly in order for it to be a room which would be restful enough to stay in. In addition to three of the original framed photographs, I created three different wallpapers, curtains, a lightshade and two upholstered chairs. The patterns are made from such messy delights as a pile of shoes, an overflowing laundry basket and a glass of orange juice with mould in it.

Willy Little Suite Photo: MJ Trainor. all other photos: CJ Griffiths
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Arts: The art of hospitality
This innovative seaside hotel has rooms individually designed by different artists to get guests thinking and support the arts while they sleep #accessibility @artbandb