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This Hotel Doubles as an Art Gallery

How Bruce James turns San Miguel de Allende’s Hotel Matilda into an ever-evolving creative hub

Hotel Matilda in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, reveals its artistic significance upfront. The approach starts with the water feature anchored by a 150 year-old millstone in the front courtyard, from where artist Nacho Rodriguez Bach’s multimedia illuminated wall behind the check-in desk is also visible. Next, the art-filled lobby includes a reproduction of Diego Rivera’s Matilda Stream portrait (the hotel’s namesake and mother of hotel founder Harold “Spook” Stream) and in-house restaurant Moxi’s ceiling and infinity pool area showcase recent vibrant installations by painter Claudio Limón—among many others.

While its beautifully appointed contemporary rooms, deluxe spa and stellar restaurant offer all the makings of a memorable San Miguel de Allende experience, managing partner Bruce James treats Hotel Matilda as a broader canvas. It’s in this property’s DNA to encourage artistic excellence, and James seems to relish the hotel GM-cum-curator role most.

Since opening in fall 2010, Hotel Matilda has hosted internationally known talents, such as three-Michelin starred chef David Kinch of Manresa, for its Supper Club series. James works closely with Casa Dragones, the small batch tequila brand based in San Miguel de Allende with a cult following around the world. And this month, he brought provocative photographer Spencer Tunick to shoot and screen a video of underwater nude bodies moving through Hotel Matilda’s bubble-filled pool as part of a special dinner event with Moxi’s Carlos Zamora and chef Jorge Ildefonso of Viceroy Riviera Maya. (Tunick’s also work appears in other places throughout the hotel.)

Here, James tells DuJour why and how he maximizes this venue’s creative potential.

Photograph by Spencer Tunick

What Makes San Miguel de Allende an ideal town for the types of collaborations you host at Hotel Matilda?

San Miguel is a colonial town where every street is a stunning canvas that has been a center of the arts in Mexico for some 75 years. With our large community of working artists and writers, as well as thousands of well-heeled expats who have made our UNESCO World Heritage Site their home, we have a thriving cultural scene here with Hotel Matilda the go-to spot for iconoclastic artistic and culinary experiences.

What qualities do you look for in the artists, chefs and companies you’ve worked with there?

On the one hand, we search for inventiveness, originality and a well-defined personal style, and on the other, the flexibility to mesh smoothly with the theme and style of Hotel Matilda.

How can hotels implement inventiveness and artistry?

The successful formula we have followed at Hotel Matilda is to find ways to collaborate with high profile, acclaimed personalities who immerse their unique persona into the lifestyle of the hotel. For example, we partnered with Enrique Olvera, Mexico’s most renowned chef, at our Moxi restaurant, turning it into a foodie destination, and have produced events with celebrated artist-photographer Spencer Tunick that have rocked the art world.

Are there any other hotels that do cultural programming you admire?

Probably more than any other it would be Faena Hotel in Miami because they believe wholeheartedly in creative collaboration and see their property as a laboratory for developing concepts.

What are some of your favorites projects you’ve organized at Matilda so far? 

In 2010 we introduced the San Miguel de Allende Art Festival – SMART – and it became a blockbuster annual event of San Miguel. For the Day of the Dead, which is a very important national holiday in Mexico, we worked with Martha Ortiz, Mexico’s queen of epicurean theater and culinary mysticism, to put on extravagant and experiential “Black Dinners.” For the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, famed Brazilian street artist Eduardo Kobra painted a mural on our front wall entitled “The World United by Soccer.”

What do you look forward to in the future? 

Creativity and innovation are the keys to keeping a hotel fresh and popular, and particularly a lifestyle-focused property like Hotel Matilda. Going forward we have to continue setting the benchmark for exciting, participatory events and activities that offer our guests singular experiences not found at other hotels.

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