Leading Meeting Professionals

Professional Convention Management Association

October 2013

Unconventional Art: How Convention Centers Spur Creativity and Engagement

By Barbara Palmer, Senior Editor

expanded facility.

With the sculpture, city and convention center officials were looking for a way to broaden the function of art at the center, according to Jennifer Easton, program lead for the city’s public art program. The goal was to create a dynamic, engaging experience for residents and visitors, while also communicating the spirit of San Jose, the capital of high-tech Silicon Valley. “High tech,” Easton said, “is really about the notion of innovation.”

The central element of Idea Tree is a canopy, 40 feet in diameter, covered with polycarbonate leaves, which during the day will provide shade in sunny San Jose and at night will light up with pulsing colors. The sculpture includes an adjacent “sound booth” where visitors can leave short voice messages — leaving traces of themselves behind — that will be mixed and reassembled to create a soundscape that’s audible to people who are standing beneath the sculpture. Yang himself describes it as an “ecology of ideas” — something that could be said about meetings and conferences themselves.

Like many of San Jose’s best-known exports, Idea Tree is a technological feat, but as Yang told the panel of experts who commissioned the work, the first requirement for the sculpture was that it be “must-see and magical.”

Anthem Artist: Paul Villinski Second-floor reception area Installed: 2012

Madam C.J. Walker II Artist: Sonya Clark Second-floor reception area Installed: 2012


The collection of public art installed at The Alexander in downtown Indianapolis — more than 50 works by more than 25 contemporary artists, including 14 site-specific commissions — has impeccable credentials. Curated by the Indianapolis Museum of Art, The Alexander’s art program includes the work of both regional and international artists, including Jorge Pardo, a recipient of a MacArthur Genius Grant.

But it doesn’t take itself too seriously. “It’s meant to be accessible,” said Marcus Barlow, a spokesman for The Alexander.

The murals installed in the parking garage, by British graffiti artist Nick Walker, are sometimes mistaken for the work of a very talented vandal, Barlow said. Other lighthearted works on the hotel’s second-floor meeting-room level include a large-scale portrait of America’s first female self-made millionaire, C.J. Walker, who once operated a beauty-products empire in Indianapolis, constructed from 3,840 black plastic hair combs. Another piece, Anthem, features vinyl records — including some by Indiana musicians — heated and reshaped into a flock of vinyl birds.

Dolan Geiman Nashville Series Artist: Dolan Geiman Hotel public space Installed: 2013


What says “vintage Nashville” better than a rhinestone cowboy? In creating artwork that draws on Music City culture for the Omni Nashville Hotel, artist Dolan Geiman was inspired by the work of the late Nudie Cohn, creator of the famously flashy “Nudie Suits” — intricately patterned and bejeweled stage outfits worn by such Nashville-based musicians as Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner, and scores more country-western icons.

Geiman translated the rhinestone and embroidery using wood cutouts and found objects salvaged from abandoned barns and old hotels. Five of Geiman’s Nudie-inspired works hang in the Omni Nashville, which opened on Sept. 30, directly adjacent to Music City Center. Tennessee-based artists created more than half of the property’s artwork.
Digital Orca Artist: Douglas Coupland Jack Poole Plaza Installed: 2010


Since its installation at the Jack Poole Plaza overlooking the harbor at the Vancouver Convention Centre in 2010, the large-scale “pixelated” orca whale has become one of the city’s best-loved photo opps. Created by Douglas Coupland, a Vancouver resident and author of the 1991 novel Generation X, the sculpture is part of an art program tied to the Vancouver Convention Centre West expansion project that included major works commissioned from both British Columbia artists and international artists.

Drift Artist: Anthony Gormley Hotel Tower 1 Atrium Installed: 2010


Everything about the Marina Bay Sands resort in Singapore is on a grand scale: its 2,561-room hotel, its 1.3-million-square-foot convention center, and its $8-billion price tag. That includes the resort’s unique Art Path, consisting of 11 large-scale installations contributed by seven international artists. Weaving throughout the 23-story atrium in the hotel towers and the building’s exteriors, the public art creates “multiple layers of experience” for visitors, said George Tanasijevich, the resort’s president and CEO. Drift, a massive, three-dimensional, stainless-steel matrix, rises between the fifth and 12 levels in one of Marina Bay Sands’ atriums.


By any yardstick, Art on the Marquee at the BCEC gives digital artists a huge canvas: an 80-foot-tall, multiscreen LED marquee visible a half-mile away, with more than 3,000 square feet of digital display space on seven screens. It also offers a big audience: 100,000 pedestrians and motorists travel by the screens from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. each day.

The program, an extension of the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority’s community art program, is run through a partnership with Boston Cyberarts, a nonprofit digital arts organization. The marquee is breaking new ground as one of the first in the United States to integrate art alongside commercial and informational content. (Artwork is displayed on the screens about 15 percent of the time; ads are displayed 8 percent of the time.)

The program has displayed art from digital me dia departments at local colleges, universities, art schools, and high schools. And to promote the PAX East videogame convention this past April, the program featured artists involved in Massachusetts’ gaming industries.

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