The Short North's newest hotel, Le Meridien Columbus, The Joseph, is an ideal match for the neighborhood. The district is currently experiencing a significant development boom, but there is still a dedication to the arts (that birthed the area's gentrification decades ago), and the hotel's owners, The Pizzuti Companies, recognize this relationship all too well.

The Short North’s newest hotel, Le Meridien Columbus, The Joseph, is an ideal match for the neighborhood. The district is currently experiencing a significant development boom, but there is still a dedication to the arts (that birthed the area’s gentrification decades ago), and the hotel’s owners, The Pizzuti Companies, recognize this relationship all too well.

The Pizzuti Companies is one of the city’s largest real estate development and management businesses, but what the Pizzuti family is really passionate about is art, as evidenced by the extensive collection of Ron and Ann Pizzuti, which is consistently ranked as one of the 200 best personal collections in the world.

When the Pizzutis decided to partner with Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Inc. (who acquired Le Meridien, a Paris-born luxury hotel brand with nearly 100 properties around the world, in 2005), they had a specific goal of making contemporary art a significant component of the guest experience. But you don’t even have to be a hotel guest to experience the artwork; most pieces are available for public viewing.

“It’s always been an intention of ours to incorporate art into the hotel. It’s in an arts district in a city that’s a great supporter of the arts. And my family has always been involved in and very supportive of the arts. My dad has said this a 100 times, but the way the art is displayed and the pieces that are in there, it really reflects how we think and live,” said Joel Pizzuti, co-developer of The Joseph with his father Ron, during an early February phone interview. “What attracted us specifically to the Le Meridien brand was its history that comes out of Europe and specifically Paris [which] focused on design and art and … everything that was important to them was important to us.”

While the Pizzutis made sure to showcase work that was an appropriate for the hotel, and appropriate within the specific spaces allocated for art, there was equally important factor in choosing what should enrich the atmosphere: a desire to highlight Ohio and Columbus artists.

“Four years ago I judged Ohio Art League’s annual exhibition and was pretty blown away with the quality of work — all from Ohio artists. We made a commitment to putting only Ohio artists in [the Ohio Portfolio gallery, located on the mezzanine] and in all guest rooms. That was a very early decision,” said Ron Pizzuti — who named the hotel The Joseph after his late father — during a phone interview.

Once a visitor takes a few steps inside the swanky hotel, they will immediately recognize the emphasis on art. The Hub, a two-story, architecturally stunning lobby that includes an indoor atrium, is filled with a number of instantly captivating pieces.

A 10-piece collection of paintings by New York City-based artist KAWS (Brian Donnelly), is easily the most eye-catching. The massive installation is striking, but it’s the circular canvases adorned with vibrant and playful designs that are most dynamic.

“It’s indicative of the Pizzuti’s [contemporary art] collection; bright and grabs your attention, but it’s got a story behind it too. It’s got character,” said Kellee Marker, director of marketing and sale for The Joseph.

While it may not have the central placement of KAWS’ work, another large sculpture by Harlem artist Nari Ward is just as enticing. Ward’s “West Liquorsoul” transforms old liquor store sign — with plastic flowers and shoes found on Harlem streets acting as accomplices — into a wonderful piece, borne of equal amounts gravitas and playfulness.

While there are a handful of other pieces downstairs — Fred Wilson’s sleek, modern transformation of Victorian mirrors above the fireplace, Haluk Akakce’s “The Dervish” video behind the lobby bar, and a number of screen prints by Rob Wynne around the front desk — more pieces are on the mezzanine level.

Along the walls opposite the indoor balcony are contemporary works that will often serve as an introduction to the current exhibit at the Pizzuti Collection across the street — where all hotel visitors have free access as part of the UNLOCK Art Programme initiated by Le Meridien to offer its guest access to contemporary culture centers. (You can’t miss — nor should you — Scott Lenhardt’s horse “Gravedigger.”)

Also on the second level is a vast collection of Ohio artists, including the Ohio Portfolio, housing 31 pieces from 15 Ohio artists. These 31 pieces make up the three-to-five pieces hanging in every guest room, with 50 lithograph prints of each also available for sale (currently through the Pizzuti Collection, and on a specifically dedicated website launching in a few weeks).

Outside the Michael B. Coleman Ballroom, named in recognition of the mayor’s efforts to revitalize downtown and his continued support of the arts, is Columbus artist Laura Sander’s intimate, life-like portrait “Life Saver.” Each year a new Columbus artist will be displayed here, and Coleman will have input.

“We also hope that having the Ohio collection can develop a fan base for some of these artists, and sell the work to get it spread around,” said the senior Pizzuti. “It’s unfortunate that if you’re not showing art in these big art centers like New York, London and now Beijing, you’re not getting the recognition some other artists do. And frankly, the quality of their work is [equal to those artists].”

Photos by Tim Johnson