Milwaukee’s Saint Kate — The Arts Hotel

Every detail is curated at Saint Kate — The Arts Hotel, 139 East Kilbourn Avenue, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, right down to the soap at the sink in the guests’ bathroom. According to its designer, the artist Niki Johnson, the soap won a national design award (not sure which one, though). Then again, Saint Kate isn’t a usual hotel.Detail: soap at Saint Kate

For starters, it’s owned and operated by locals. The Marcus Corporation of Milwaukee took the former InterContinental Hotel in downtown Milwaukee into its Marcus Hotels & Resorts division and, using the design skills of New York City interior designer Stonehill Taylor, transformed it into a hotel focused on the arts — but kicked the concept up a notch or two.

Named for St. Catherine of Bologna (patron of artists), the Saint Kate showcases both fine and performing arts from regional and national artists for an immersive guest experience that includes the visual arts, music, theater, dance, and literature. Arriving in the lobby, for example, one is greeted by the life-size sculpture of a horse named “Big Piney” by Deborah Butterfield, an American sculptor known for making use of found objects including pieces of metal, mud, clay, and sticks.

Artwork by Anwar Floyd-Pruitt

More art is found everywhere: some 100 contemporary works make up the inventory of permanent pieces. Stonehill Taylor worked with those in Milwaukee’s creative scene and institutions including the Museum of Wisconsin Art, Milwaukee Ballet, Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design, Milwaukee Repertory Theatre, and The Pabst Theatre Group, plus a handful of local makers and smaller arts organizations.

The main floor, accessed from the street and from an adjoining public atrium, includes modern artist installations, standing exhibitions, and live performances in the hotel’s 90-seat Arc Theater. An outpost of the Museum of Wisconsin Art is a 1,700-square foot gallery with rotating, professionally curated exhibits that are free and open to the public. When I was there, artwork by Anwar Floyd-Pruitt (at left) was on display.

Guest room bed at Saint Kate Hotel (Photo by Susan McKee)

Local artists and makers helped influence the look of the guest rooms, which start at $299 a night. Their work can be seen in everything from the bed scarves and lamp shades to the bathrooms’ shower tile and custom-designed Kohler sinks to the artwork on the back walls of the closets. Guest rooms are intended to prompt creativity by including a ukulele and a record player (with 33-1/3 rpm vinyl selections in the room and more at the front desk) as well as a roll of butcher paper and colored pencils.

Johnson’s soap in the shape of an eraser prompts hotel guests to “erase” their mistakes while washing away the dirt on their hands.

Lobby bar at Saint Kate (Photo by Susan McKee)

The Bar at Saint Kate serves as the focal point on the first floor, and and a gathering place for visitors, guests, artists, and performers alike. The space was designed specifically to attract pedestrians in downtown Milwaukee by strategically placing seating along the full-height windows facing the street.

Floor number in sign language at Saint Kate (Photo by Susan McKee)

The elevator lobby on each floor also has featured art — at left is the sign designating the ninth floor in American Sign Language.

You can find more information and make a reservation on the hotel’s website, or via one of the usual booking agencies such as

(Written and photographed by Susan McKee, who stayed at the Saint Kate during a conference.)

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