Completing the Picture with Art and Great Events: Placemaking in the Hospitality World

“Well conceived and harmonious spaces allow people to relax, to be present in the moment and to enjoy themselves. Meeting people where they are is really important.”

- Andrea Finard, Harbor Hotel Co-Owner

Last weekend we journeyed to Provincetown for a reception of the art exhibit “Ocean Allure” at the Harbor Hotel. The hotel is owned by friend and client, Todd Finard, who conceived of the exhibit, along with his wife, Andrea. The hotel regularly hosts art events, and in this show they wanted to change the vibe of the main public spaces and create some buzz around the theme of the hotel’s oceanside setting and the significant role of art in the Provincetown community. Andrea Finard explained, “we ask ourselves what might make this experience better, more fun, or memorable - vacation time is finite. This season, we worked with 4 talented artists (John and Caroline Rufo, Edgar Stewart and Thanassi Kuliopulos) whose artwork had a really strong synergy with the environment that the hotel strives to provide.  Guest feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.” The reception served to catalyze interest in both the season-long art show and the hotel, but what I hadn’t quite imagined was the degree to which the art and the location could work together to heighten the experience of place.

The hotel (really a motel originally) was built in the 50’s when the allure of the road and a new national highway system was the thing that mobilized America to get out and see the country. When they bought the hotel in 2011, the Finards and their partners renovated it, “peeling back the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and 90’s architecture that covered over and all but made invisible the original mid century modern vibe”. Branded now as a “retro glam hip hideaway”, the main public spaces – reception / library / bar / restaurant - convert easily into a welcoming art gallery that is both intimately scaled and expansive as it opens dramatically to an outdoor fire pit and sweeping views of Cape Cod Bay and Provincetown Harbor.

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The owners of the Harbor Hotel understand the potential for art and space to meld, in order to connect with the local community. At Form + Place we approach placemaking as both an extension of the building realm and a wholly public undertaking that embraces the power of art and thoughtful programming to provide purpose and meaningful focal points in public spaces. Art in the placemaking continuum works at many scales. Whether it’s fine art, performance art, sculpture, wall murals, etc., it pushes the conversation beyond the site and building to engage cultural and social aspects of the community.

As a painter, I love to marry art with the local community in a way that rings true, and within our firm, we feel the same way about architecture. Designing buildings is a rewarding and creative process, but experiencing them and engaging with the community in a space that facilitates connectedness, is one of architecture’s higher purposes, and a driving force at Form + Place. The Finards embrace the importance of creating unique experiences that ground the “getaway weekend” in good placemaking, good food and great events. “When it comes down to it”, says Todd, “carefully curated art creates a new level of placemaking that accentuates the space and reinforces our brand, all while heightening community connections”. The day before the "Ocean Allure" reception happened to be Gallery Night in P-town. Commercial Street was electric with conversation and noise that spilled out of the galleries and beckoned people into the restaurants, pubs and cafes.

Of course, this experience is common in P-town, which is sought out for its art, and therefore all visitors are sure to take in a healthy dose of fine art.  The location of the Harbor Hotel at the east end of Commercial Street is ideally suited to extend that gallery experience.  The bar and fire pit create a kind of wide open venue that is quite a contrast to the tighter spaces of Commercial Street deeper in the East End gallery district. The setting of the Harbor Hotel has a way of luring you in to pause and reflect on the visual stimulation that is Provincetown. Maybe that’s the most important role of features like fire pits and public art; whether it’s in an urban context or at the edge of the bay, stopping to breath and consider the things you did and saw that day is one of the important experiences of getting away.

Bay View Rooms along hotel's front facade

Bay View Rooms along hotel's front facade

It will be interesting to see what the next stage of evolution is for the Harbor Hotel’s placemaking aspirations. One could imagine a different kind of front door / street edge to the property. Maybe one that prioritizes place over parking while softening the experience of the customer moving from the hotel to the water’s edge. The extension of the lobby /gallery / bar spaces into the fire pit with the vista of the waster beyond is so successful and alluring… the potential, like the view, is almost endless!