Art with Moxy: How a hotel found its groove via art

When Marriott’s millennial-focused Moxy brand made its New York City debut in October, the hotel included artwork brought to life in a decidedly 21st-century manner.

During the hotel’s development, team members from Yabu Pushelberg, the property’s design company, found an illustration on Pinterest that they believed would be a good fit for the hotel. Rather than try to recreate the image themselves, however, they contacted New York-based Indiewalls, a tech-based company that connects artists and designers, to get the artwork to the Moxy.

“This was a particularly exciting and important project because the brand is new,” Ari Grazi, the president and co-founder of Indiewalls, said. “It’s one of Marriott's newest brands, and the Times Square property is the first in New York City.” As such, he said, it was important for the brand’s values—casual, fun, functional and youth-oriented—to come through in the artwork.

Creating Connections

Indiewalls’ website lets hoteliers and designers filter through hundreds of thousands of images submitted by vetted artists and select what they want for each kind of property. “They can see the pricing for original artwork or prints. They can click on an artist's name, see the info on the artist, see what their artwork is like, see other works.” (This, Grazi noted, can help hoteliers and designers keep their art choices local and make sure the property has a sense of place.)

“One thing that this catalogue search function helps avoid is the Pinterest Problem,” Grazi said—a situation in which a designer goes on Pinterest and sees artwork that he or she likes for a project. In looking to acquire the artwork, however, the designer might find that the artist is in another country, making contracts subject to different laws, or that the piece is simply unaffordable. “Pinterest is not a good place to buy artwork,” he said.

Fortunately, when Yabu Pushelberg contacted Indiewalls to find the artist behind the picture they found on Pinterest, the team tracked down the artist, Julia Potts, to license her work. In the project brief, Indiewalls explained that Potts' illustration fit into the hotel’s design scheme from a color perspective while the subject matter—“a bundled, welcoming, burly bear”—connects with Moxy’s brand. “Bears appear throughout the hotel and the lobby bear’s dapper appearance speaks to the lobby’s open-format, co-working vibe.”

Down in the fitness center, Indiewalls worked with Stonehill Taylor to make what the company called “a contemporary twist on vintage motifs.” The team worked with artists Dan Bina and Rosa Picnic to create large-scale vinyl murals that related to fitness with “an edge of whimsy.” Retro Divers, runners, and jumpers were imposed on patterned backgrounds with colorful accents.

Layers of Logistics

Once they had tracked Potts down, the Indiewalls team had to create and finalize a licensing agreement that would allow a painter, Emily Strauss, to adapt the artwork for the Moxy walls within the project’s budget and timeline. “Structuring licence agreements for artists is our specialty,” Grazi said. “Developers and designers are always looking to source and commission art from local artists, and while it’s great in theory, the nitty gritty details need to get done right.” Indiewalls has contract templates that can be customized for each project, Grazi said. “Some property owners want to use the artwork for marketing collateral.” For example, after the independent Hotel Hugo in New York City sourced photographs for its guestrooms, the hotel team contacted Indiewalls to get the rights to use an image for the property’s logi. “We needed to reach out to the artist and add an addendum to the contract and reach new arrangements,” he recalled. “Sometimes complexities come up, but we typically don’t have issues once the contracts are signed because we’re clear about what’s entailed.”

The very nature of a handpainted mural can add complexities to a project—and push up both the budget and the timeline. While he couldn’t share specific details of the hotel’s art budget, Grazi estimated that handpainted murals can cost between $5,000 and $15,000, and can take between three and five days to paint, depending on the artist’s access to the space.

“By nature, a handpainted mural is installed onsite,” Grazi said. “It’s not shipped to a warehouse like regular guestroom artwork, which are usually delivered to the property or a warehouse and installed by the FF&E team. With a mural, an artist installs it, and needs access to the site—and insurance.” Those types of details and logistics are very important to get right to make sure that the contract does not go over time or budget, he said.

With all of the people involved and all of the logistics that needed to be organized, the Moxy project was especially meaningful for the Indiewalls team. “Doing these types of collaborations is what we love,” Grazi said. “We usually work with one artist. Working with two expands the creative potential.”