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An interview with the curator who annually transforms Hotel Biba into an art installation

by Julie Wolfson
on 25 March 2010

For the past eight years ArtSite Projects curator Kara Walker-Tome has been transforming a section of West Palm Beach, FL's Hotel Biba into an annual art event. Aptly named, Showtel turns hotel rooms into conceptual installations by challenging artists fill the spaces with everything from sculpture and performance art, without using the use of nails or adhesives. We recently had the chance to speak with Walker-Tome, who shed light on this clever exhibition.

How did you originally come up with the idea for this kind of site-specific show?

When I moved to Florida after having lived in Los Angeles and New York, I was involved in the local art scenes of these metropolitan cities and I could not find an alternative art scene to speak of in Palm Beach County. I had been impressed and inspired many times in the past by installation shows in unique settings in LA and NY and I recognized that my new area was wide open for making a mark with an alternative art happening. So, I decided to put together a one-night show for local emerging cutting-edge artists in a hotel. Lucky for me the first one I approached said yes. That was eight years ago. So Showtel started as a small happening with a handful of artists and maybe a couple hundred people attended. Last year's seventh annual show featured twenty-five artists and attracted 2,000 people in one night.

Why a hotel? How does that environment influence the artists?

I think the strict rules in place for installing Showtel installations in a working hotel accounts for incredible ingenuity. Essentially they have to put up and then take down their work as if they had never been in the room in the first place. The amazing thing is that they manage to come up with clever solutions and create visually intense environments whereby the whole room is engaged.

How do you know that the idea will work in the show?

Curating from ideas is an acquired skill. I am choosing work that has not been created yet so I have to be able to visualize their concept and plan. I believe that ability comes from my initial training as an artist myself. I received an MA in fine arts from CalArts and then also have spent years reading hundreds of proposals, working closely with artists in the development and creation of their work, and finally—a bit of intuition!

Who are some of the artists participating this year? What will they be creating?

I am quite excited this year to be working with artists from all over the state of Florida and even one coming from out of state. Showtel has traditionally attracted artists living close to Palm Beach County, but now artists from Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, Tampa and Gainesville are applying and getting accepted into the show. I hope it continues to expand nationally.

I can give you a handful of teasers about the pieces planned for this year. There will be a mythical forest, a wormhole grow room, a lunar/meteor space, a scene from a world populated only by sloths and unicorns and five of the installations will involve performance. It is going to be a very intense and dynamic show!


This year Shotel runs from 8-10 April. Read more about some of Walker-Tome's favorite Showtel installations she's seen over the past eight years after the jump. (Pictured above in order of appearance.)

Photos by Jacek Gancarz

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