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The art of making hostels

A recent article in the Guardian newspaper heralded the opening of “the UK’s first art hostel” in Leeds. This was a bit surprising, given the large number of art hostels that have already opened in other countries, and also because the Leeds hostel actually already opened in 2016.

The original art hostel in Leeds opened as a pilot project, but gained immediate touristic success with more than 10.000 bookings in only three years. Run by East Street Arts, an artist-led placemaking organisation, the original hostel project was forced to close its doors

due to a clash with the landlord. The challenges of running collective accommodation during the pandemic also ensured that the new Art Hostel couldn’t open until February 2022. But it is now open for good, and thriving more than ever.

The hostel features the work of 20 artists, selected from over 200 applications. The works include “all the bedrooms, the kitchen, a commission for the volunteer staff quarters, a film-making project for the central stairwell and a motion-sensor-driven installation with reclaimed car headlights that mimics the sounds of insects climbing a wall.” The Leeds hostel is typical of the many art hostel projects around the world, which feature a vast array of themed rooms, ‘paint your own graffiti’ spaces, and a vast range of aesthetics and styles.

The art hostel movement reflects the increasing trend towards creative tourism, with art and creativity being a focus to bring hostel operators, local creatives and tourists together.

A hostel in the artistic Witte de With Quarter in Rotterdam (photo Greg Richards)

Such projects are now found all over the world. In Buenos Aires there is the Art Factory Hostel, which asks:

Are you an independently minded traveller who wants to discover Buenos Aires through a one-of –a-kind Art Hostel? Art Factory is a new avant-garde hostel that focuses on quality, comfort and personal service while offering the unique ambiance of a space created and decorated by worldwide artists and designers. Our hostel is conveniently located in the very heart of San Telmo, an eclectic mix of colonial and urban renewal architecture situated only a five minute walk from downtown Buenos Aires.

In Sofia, Bulgaria, the Art Hostel offers a range of events and multimedia experiences. The hostel is run by the Destination Bulgaria Foundation, which is:

connecting art and culture with business, aiming at continued support for artists and projects in the field of the contemporary arts. Stimulating the smooth exchange of creative ideas and information through organizing artistic residences, seminars, public debates, performances, exhibitions. Being both a hostel and a gallery with ongoing selected art events, the Art Hostel develops innovative methods and open forms for cultural communication and explores a different concept for independent travel.

The art hostel concept has also been around for some time. For example, the Berlin hostel pioneer Ante Zelck opened an art hostel in 2006, although it only gained this label after a renovation in 2011. Curious as always about where such concepts come from, we set off in search of the first art hostel. After long hours of surfing we found out that the Art Factory Hostel in Buenos Aires dates back to at least 2002. Is this the first ever art hostel, or can you find an earlier example? If so, please let us know!

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