A Conversation about The Alfond Inn at Rollins and the Rollins Museum of Art

The Alfond Inn at Rollins, the award-winning property in Winter Park, is celebrated as a groundbreaking and unique art hotel.

Does that make it a hotel with art? Or a museum with rooms? It clearly depends upon your perspective. What’s not in doubt is that it is the only hotel in the United States that exhibits artworks from a museum collection, in this case The Alfond Collection of Contemporary Art, which is part of the permanent collection of Rollins Museum of Art. It does so with rotating installations that are extensions of museum exhibits.

To mark Women’s History Month, we sat down with Ena Heller, PhD, Bruce A. Beal Director, Rollins Museum of Art, to hear her thoughts on the extraordinary and distinctive relationship of art and hospitality.

Ena Heller, PhD, Bruce A. Beal Director, Rollins Museum of Art. Courtesy of the Rollins Museum of Art. Photo Credit: Austin Reeves.


The connection between the Rollins Museum of Art, The Alfond Collection of Contemporary Art, and The Alfond Inn at Rollins is unusual. Can you articulate what makes it unique?

First, I need to mention that having ongoing installations from the permanent collection of a museum in a hotel is indeed unique in the U.S. The relationship between The Alfond Inn at Rollins and the museum is exceptional on several levels, and I’m happy to say, mutually beneficial. The art – a thoughtfully curated collection of late 20th and 21st century global art – is no doubt a differentiator for The Alfond Inn. On the other hand, for us at the Rollins Museum of Art, the hotel has provided more than additional display space in a more accessible location. It has allowed us to share the collection in an innovative way, in a public, non-museum space. The difficulties of uncharted territory notwithstanding (how do you assure the same standard of care in a place whose primary purpose is not to collect, preserve, and interpret art?), the results have been illuminating. We have learned that casual looking can easily turn into real engagement, providing an entry point for those who are either unaccustomed to the world of museums or may feel unwelcome to it. Put differently, we took the museum beyond its building, and beyond the campus, and made it accessible in a whole new way. With time, this has played an important part in crafting the vision for the future of our museum, including a new facility across the street from The Alfond Inn.

Courtesy of the Rollins Museum of Art. Photo Credit: Austin Reeves.


The “art hotel” is becoming ubiquitous in the boutique lodging industry. What distinguishes The Alfond Inn at Rollins from these other properties?

Although there are many “art hotels” in the US and elsewhere, to my knowledge The Alfond Inn is still the only one displaying part of the permanent collection of a museum. I am always reminded about the friendly banter the General Manager of the Alfond, Jesse Martinez, and I have about characterizing the Inn, in turn, as a “hotel with art” (Jesse) or a “museum with rooms” (Ena). Either way, the art defines the personality of the Inn and connects it with the museum. Museum staff curates annual installations throughout the hotel from the Alfond Collection of Contemporary Art, which was developed from the start as a “visual syllabus,” keeping our teaching mission front and center. This means that the Inn is not only part hotel and part museum, but also part classroom. We teach classes and give public tours there in the same way we do at the museum on campus, and we interpret the collection in a similar way through labels, audio tours, and publications.


Courtesy of the Rollins Museum of Art. Photo Credit: Austin Reeves.


The Alfond Inn at Rollins is currently undergoing a major expansion, expected to be completed in the summer of 2023, which will offer much more space to display artworks. Meanwhile, The Rollins Museum of Art will move to a new and larger building in downtown Winter Park, adjacent to the hotel, a project that will break ground in 2023. Will that new proximity change the connection between the hotel and the expanded museum?

The proximity will bring so many new opportunities! It will provide a more seamless presentation of our collection in the two venues, with visual and curatorial connections made obvious. We could, for instance, start a particular exhibition in the museum and continue it in the Inn. We could have two-part events. We will also be able to create a more consistent visual identity, including marketing materials. For hotel guests, having to just cross the street to visit the museum will make that experience a must. And I hope we can also collaborate more closely with the Alfond team to integrate the museum into their already attractive packages, for instance offering a special tour at the museum after a business meeting conducted at the hotel. And we have just started brainstorming about this. I am confident that many more opportunities will present themselves once we are co-located.

Courtesy of the Rollins Museum of Art. Photo Credit: Austin Reeves.


What does it mean for a hotel guest experience when there is art of this caliber throughout the hotel?

I believe that the opportunity to engage with museum-quality art without having to go to a museum adds significantly to the overall hospitality experience. Art, numerous studies remind us, contributes in an essential way to the quality of life: it is in turn restorative, enlightening, and inspiring. It can be a refuge as well as a social connector.  For cultural consumers, the Inn is a two-in-one experience: a hotel with a museum on its premises! For others, it can be an unexpected introduction to the world of art and museums. The casual glance while having dinner or a meeting may pique one’s curiosity – and our collection is particularly adept at that, as many works are both visually stunning and intriguing. They often make one want to look more closely, perhaps read the label or scan the QR code for the audio tour. Initial curiosity may lead to learning, and hopefully to sustained engagement.


What is the best way for a guest to take full advantage of the art experience at The Alfond Hotel and the Rollins Museum of Art?

Take your time and wander through the hotel. Let the art speak to you and guide you; slow down and enjoy the discoveries along the way. Read the labels for those works that make you stop. If you want to learn more, inquire about scheduled tours with museum staff or docents. Pick up a museum brochure available in the Library – all our events for the current season are listed there. Then take a stroll across the beautiful Rollins campus (just two blocks from The Alfond Inn) and come to the Rollins Museum of Art to continue the exploration. Several different exhibitions are always on view (we are open every day except for Monday), admission is always free, and friendly staff is on hand to answer any questions you may have. If you like reading, most of the collection is documented in beautifully illustrated catalogs written by our talented staff and guest scholars. And don’t forget to visit our website and follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube.


Rollins Museum of Art

The Rollins Museum of Art features rotating exhibitions, ongoing programs, and an extensive permanent collection that spans centuries, from examples of ancient art and artifacts to contemporary art. Open to the public year-round, its holdings include the only European Old Master paintings in the Orlando area, a sizeable American art collection, and a forward-thinking contemporary collection on view both at the Museum and The Alfond Inn at Rollins. Located a few blocks from campus, The Alfond Inn is a visionary philanthropic boutique hotel whose proceeds help fund student scholarships. In 1981, the Museum became one of the first college museums in Florida to be accredited by the American Association of Museums (currently the American Alliance of Museums) and continues in 2022 as one of only four AAM-accredited museums in greater Orlando.  https://www.rollins.edu/rma/