How about a painting to go with that deposit slip?

Restaurants, hotels and even banks are finding ways to incorporate high-end art -- from sculpture to painting -- into their spaces as a way to stand out from the competition and strengthen customer relationships, finds Gretchen Ferrao. Would you pay extra for a Neil Dantas in your hotel room?

Life-size, bronze statues of lions stand guard at the entrance; each holding a coin engraved with the rupee symbol. A wall-mounted display case exhibits intriguingly-shaped Indian coinage dating back to the Mughal era. Architectural columns serve as graphical timelines that trace the evolution of the barter system.

An ING Vysya Bank employee at their Cuffe Parade branch, which
is one of the latest corporate and hospitality ventures in the city
to decorate their space with art. Pic/Bipin Kokate

A sculptural bench, across a row of contemporary canvases, forms the perfect viewing perch. With the exception of an ATM machine in the entrance pocket, an electronic interest rate board and the minimalist customer service desks, anyone could easily mistake ING Vysya Bank's Cuffe Parade branch for an art gallery.

As Mitali Bajaj who heads Dr. Art + Design, the Bandra-based, co-creative lab that designed the ING Vysya's art branch in December 2011 tells us, "The average Mumbaiite today is well travelled, more conscious about different cultures, and wants more in terms of an overall service experience. Art is a beautiful, communicative, upcoming medium... one that is a great way for brands to differentiate themselves."

While the ING Vysya Bank branch in South Mumbai, may be the most recent example of an 'art space' in a corporate establishment, it's not the only. We delve into the reasons behind this steady increase in the number of hospitality and corporate ventures infusing art into their service and overall brand experience.

The Business of Art/The Commerce of Art
For boutique hotel Le Sutra (erstwhile Hotel Pali Hills) at Union Park, Khar (West), art has made a world of difference. The revamp concept drew inspiration from the creative clientele that Hotel Pali Hills and the neighbouring group restaurants (Out Of The Blue and Olive Bar & Kitchen) drew.

An installation at ING Vysya Bank's entrance; a view of the
bank inside

"An art hotel based on Indian philosophy was the answer to the challenge of putting a 16-room hotel on the global map," explains Sampreet Kotian, General Manager, Le Sutra. The hotel whose design is based on the three gunas of Samkhya philosophy features thematic furniture, focal walls and canvas artwork by some of the country's finest designers and artists, from Anand Gadapa to Rahul Mukherjee and Anand Prabhudesai. The re-launch in 2010 has already benefitted the hotel. "Earlier we couldn't charge more than Rs 4,000 a room. Today we charge Rs 8,750 at a special offer price. Our standard rates are between Rs 10,000 and Rs 12,000," he states. 

A dedicated gallery space supplements income via rental and event revenue models. "We also encourage charity and awareness events with an art connection, as we feel it's relevant to our mission," he says, citing a wall mural done by Hollywood filmmaker Baz Luhrmann and Australian artist Vincent Fantauzzo, along with kids from the NGO Deeds.

Nurturing relationships
From a customer relationship angle, art is a great way to connect with patrons and add value to the service offering. Bajaj describes Le Sutra's complimentary gift packs as 'food for the mind and the soul'. The souvenirs, which vary from a book on Indian art to art prints and a yog danda (a prop used in yoga to correct your breathing technique, complete with a set of instructions), are intended to pique curiosity and offer information on India's rich culture.   

Similarly, ING Vysya's Cuffe Parade branch was conceptualised to appeal to the arty appetite of South Mumbai' upmarket clientele. A tie-up with a local gallery (rent free, at that) ensures that there's always something current and exciting on display. And there are buyers aplenty. Enthused by the positive feedback thus far, the bank plans on extending the theme to other platforms as well. "We will be launching a series of weekend workshops to showcase traditional art forms on the verge of extinction. In this way, we extend the relationship beyond banking. A dedicated micro-site keeps clients informed of upcoming events," elaborates Sonalee Panda, Head, Marketing and Products, ING Vysya Bank.

According to Sabir Shaikh, the business head of The Big Nasty,
wall art is an effective way to break the monotony (design-wise)
and the ice (with patrons)

It seems to be working. Businesswoman Anita Sekhri, who has been coming to the Cuffe Parade branch for many years, loves it. "The design is very progressive compared to the regular, white-and-blue interiors of most Indian banks. It has definitely changed my banking experience... People become more aware about art and sometimes, spontaneously pick up a piece," she says.

Stretching the canvas
Art is an innate part of the conceptualisation process for interior design Shabnam Gupta. She believes in extending art across mediums -- as is seen in the graffiti walls and the Saree Ball installation at the 'industrial-chic' bar, The Big Nasty. Sabir Shaikh, Business Head, The Big Nasty, agrees that wall art is an effective way to break the monotony (design-wise) and the ice (with patrons). For Shabnam, it's the positive feedback and enquiries that feeds the muse.

Amman Dua, partner at Chez Moi in Bandra.
Pics/Sayed Sameer Abedi

The walls of Bandra's quaint European cafe Chez Moi are peppered with prints of Mumbai's architecture by photographers Elvis D'Silva and Ravi Vohra. While the restaurant doesn't rent out the 'gallery space', it does have ground rules about the quality of art and the presentation. Kanish Dehl, a partner, sees the model as a symbiotic relationship: amateur artists are provided with a platform to showcase their work; the artists themselves invite friends over for a viewing and that thereby, serves as word-of-mouth publicity.

Amman Dua, partner, Chez Moi, says that the cafe is looking at a more holistic view of promoting the arts. This includes art forms such as music, film, stand-up, etc. "Our current property 'One Night Only' has various musical acts doing impromptu sets. It creates an experience that goes beyond food and ambience, and keeps your venue topical because there's always something new happening," says Dua.

Artists speak

Most people don't visit galleries, unless you are serious about art. So restaurants are good spaces to have your work displayed. Everyone is more relaxed and take the time to observe the pictures more than they would otherwise. The format is especially good for amateurs as most hospitality spaces display the work for free."
- Ravi Vohra,  a copywriter with a passion for photography; his second collection is currently on display at Chez Moi

I have done a couple of corporate spaces and art galleries in Bangalore, and cafes in Delhi. I've recently completed a mural for Yogurt Bay in Bandra and Worli. I'm currently working on a music production studio. People do call and have appreciated my work. I really haven't advertised. It's always through word of mouth. 
- Shawn Lewis, a self-taught artist who conducts creative workshops for NGOs, corporates and schools

Heard this?
Why is Leo's pub selling kanda, lasoon?

Tired of hanging out at Caf � Leopold? Step next door and do your groceries. Leo's Touch (which we suspect is part of the 'Leopold' family) within the same building, is a 'potatoes-onions-garlic' merchant. They even supply wholesale veggies. Honestly. We have a bill to prove it. But when we called Leo's Touch, they refused to speak to us over the phone � only in person. Hmm... Watch this space for more   
Call Leo's Touch: 22856455

Mondy's to introduce Poha, Parathas
Colaba's favourite watering hole is also one of the hottest places to drop by for breakfast. Wholesome Continental stuff is what Caf � Mondegar has been dishing out. But someone tells us that the owners are contemplating introducing Poha and Parathas. Guess the Gujju lobby put some serious pressure.

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