Hotel dining rooms and lobbies have played a key role in the life of urban culture for centuries. Whether it’s for the wits of the Algonquin or the Warhol superstars hanging out in the Chelsea Hotel, these public spaces have provided a stage for creativity unlike any other. And that’s why what’s happening now at the Belmond El Encanto is so exciting. With its broad terrace overlooking the city and the Channel Islands, the storied pleasure palace on the Riviera has perhaps the most enviable such common area in the West. On a recent Friday afternoon, Texas-based multimedia artist Cruz Ortiz could be seen painting on the grass just to the left of the patio and then dining with a group of journalists and friends from the Museum of Contemporary Art Santa Barbara (MCASB). The residency is part of a new arrangement through which MCASB will bring to El Encanto artists who will contribute to the culture of the hotel’s common areas while enjoying all the comforts and conveniences of its five-star hospitality.
Ortiz, who was also featured in MCASB’s recent Disruption event, was the initial artist in the museum’s takepart | makeart project, which brings art, discussion, and a brightly colored pavilion to different parts of the city over the course of several months. Seated at a long table under the shade umbrellas of El Encanto, Ortiz described a recent event in Isla Vista where he challenged students to imagine and appreciate all the ways in which their daily lives are permeated by multiple cultures and the “rowdy” filters of art and language. That this discussion about hybrid identities and contemporary art practice that began in I.V. was now being extended to the dramatic outdoor dining patio of the hotel is just one way that this new initiative is working to transform and enrich the city’s cultural dialogue. In coming weeks, look for more such encounters as MCASB mounts a design exhibition called Free Play on Sunday, May 21. In the meantime, you might want to stop by El Encanto for the winemaker dinner event on Thursday, May 25, featuring Crawford family wines.