A brief history. And a bright future.
A new idea
Troubled by development encroaching upon rural Kentucky’s farmlands, preservationists and contemporary art collectors Laura Lee Brown and Steve Wilson sought to reverse the trend toward suburban sprawl by making a considerable contribution toward revitalization efforts in their hometown. Pairing this desire with a second of their passions, to make contemporary art a part of more peoples’ daily lives, the couple embarked on a journey to create both an economic driver for the community and an oasis where art challenges and amuses, stimulates conversation and provokes new ideas.
Ideas into action
The pair partnered with world-renowned architect Deborah Berke to reimagine and rehabilitate a series of 19th century tobacco and Bourbon warehouses along downtown Louisville’s West Main Street into a boutique hotel and a contemporary art museum. Could art and commerce coexist in harmony? Brown and Wilson trusted their intuition and sought to test their theory.
In 2006 they opened 21c Museum Hotel Louisville. Much more than just a place to spend the night, 21c is an innovative union of genuine Southern hospitality, thoughtful design, and culinary creativity — all anchored by world-class contemporary art by today’s emerging and internationally acclaimed artists (hence the name, paying homage to the 21st century).
A museum as alive as its art
21c Louisville quickly grew from novel idea to a modern epicenter for culture, activity, and artistic expression. With rotating exhibitions of works by living artists, site-specific installations, regular cultural programming and unique events, 21c visitors keep coming back and sharing the dynamic experience with friends.
The public embrace of 21c has been astounding and local and national critics from publications such as Travel + Leisure, The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, National Geographic Traveler, and W too note and applauded 21c Museum Hotel’s unique experience.
The readers of Condé Nast Traveler magazine voted 21c Museum Hotel Louisville among the TOP TEN HOTELS in the World in the 2009, 2010 and 2011 Readers’ Choice Awards.
Like-minded friends come knocking
With all the buzz in the Bluegrass State and beyond, Brown and Wilson quickly began receiving expansion inquiries. Taken by the couple’s vision and convinced that art can indeed be an economic driver for a community, like-minded civic leaders were determined to bring the 21c experience to their hometowns. Though in the beginning, they never imagined growing beyond the single property in Louisville – as the calls continued to come, a brand was born. 21c Museum Hotel Cincinnati opened its doors to the world in November 2012, 21c Bentonville opened in February 2013, and 21c Durham joined the party in March 2015. The brand looks forward to a bright future and is working to launch 15 properties over the next five to 10 years.
Learn about 21c during this interview with Owners/Founders Steve Wilson and Laura Lee Brown
> Watch more 21c videos on our YouTube channel