By Laura Oleniacz
The Herald-Sun, Durham, N.C.
In a Cincinnati hotel, there’s an art installation along the walls leading to the spa that’s designed to simulate the experience of walking through a wind-blown, grassy field. And in a hotel in Bentonville, Ark., an installation uses fishing line to make it look like a sudden gust of wind has blown 400 sheets of paper permanently into the air.
Those are some of the pieces of “immersive art” that Alice Gray Stites, chief curator for Kentucky-based 21c Museum Hotels, said you might find in one of the company’s hotels.
The company has opened hotels in Cincinnati; Bentonville, Ark.; and Louisville, Ky., and is working to transform a former bank building in downtown Durham — formerly known as the SunTrust tower and CCB building — into a boutique hotel and contemporary art museum.
“We really think that when people are really exposed to new art as part of their daily lives, to new ideas, it encourages an optimism about the future,” Stites said. “That’s what we’re looking forward to doing here in Durham in 2015.”
Stites spoke at the Carolina Theatre on Friday part of a speaker series called “The NEXT,” part of the second annual Paradoxos festival. The celebration aims to bring together Durham’s entrepreneurs with its art, music and food communities.
Friday’s speaker series, sponsored by the Greater Durham Chamber of Commerce, was designed to “collide people and ideas.” It included segments from a journalist, entrepreneurs and musicians.
In addition to The NEXT, Paradoxos also included a circus-themed technology-focused job fair Wednesday evening downtown, a talent show Thursday and a business pitch competition for high school students Friday.
As part of her talk Friday, Stites described pieces of contemporary art in elevator spaces, hotel bedrooms and elsewhere in the company’s hotels such as Serkan Özkaya’s “A Sudden Gust of Wind, Bentonville” which uses fishing line to hang 400 metal sheets to make it look like a gust of wind blew paper everywhere.
In the Cincinnati hotel, “Field of Grass,” by San Francisco device artist Ryan Wolfe uses wind data from outside to activate interior blades, she said.
“When people … come back to a place where they will see something new, something that’s next, we begin to build a really progressive community,” Stites said.
Another speaker was Missy Cummings, associate professor for mechanical engineering and materials science at Duke University. She spoke about unmanned drones as the “next aviation frontier.”
“Drones get a little negative rap,” Cummings said, but she said she was there to talk about their good sides.
Cummings described potential useful applications for drones in inspecting bridges, monitoring construction sites and in agriculture.
“The U.S. is really far behind when it comes to the use of drones for technology and agriculture,” she said, adding that she believes they can put more capability into farmers’ hands to speed up treatment for crops.
Michael Toscano, the president and CEO of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, said drones cannot legally be used in commercial farming right now. Toscano said there are universities using drones for agricultural research, however, and there’s a “gray area” in that they can be used for recreation.
“If you use it for commercial purposes, it’s illegal to do so by the (Federal Aviation Administration),” Toscano said. “Now the gray area is, if a farmer has one of these and drives it for his own use, is he doing it for recreation purposes, or is he doing it for commercial purposes?”