Creating Community: Janice Bond
Hotel Van Zandt’s Director of Music and Social Programming talks curating vibes
by Holly Cowart
The perception of a time or place can be completely altered by a number of factors. Take music, for example. From the score of a film to the beats streaming through your headphones, our emotional ties to an experience can be strengthened or depleted, happy or sad, all based upon the smallest details.
Across Austin, an increasing amount of businesses are taking note, spurring the rise of a curation industry aimed at crafting environments that continually draw us back for more. One such example is Rainey Street staple Hotel Van Zandt (a Kimpton Hotel), who has recently added Houston native, Janice Bond, to their team as Director of Music and Social Programming.
Bond is tasked with ensuring the hotel and sister restaurant, Geraldine’s, are not only a place of enjoyment for their guests, but also a collaborative environment that brings people together. We recently sat down with Bond in the Geraldine’s Writers Lounge to gain insight on the ins-and-outs of creative curation and building community in our music-centric city.
When did your fascination with music and art start to develop?
Truthfully it was always there. I was thinking on the way here today of different songs and how I used to make playlists on my dual tape deck. I’m really lucky to be a part of the generation that has one foot in both the digital and analog camps.
I remember when I was younger my late uncle Bobby had this suitcase full of tapes, and it was everything from Led Zeppelin to Michael Jackson, and he would listen to them while he worked out. That was so cool to me … I was intrigued by all of this music that people were making.
But professionally speaking, it really stemmed from my realization that I didn’t always have to be the maker of art in order to be surrounded by art.
What made you decide to come back to Texas, Austin specifically?
I love Chicago and was there for 11 years, but I was just really excited about the opportunity to expand and work with Kimpton in a different capacity. Austin has such a sense of pride about its culture, especially music. And of course the weather doesn’t hurt either…
Who are a few of your musical inspirations?
Oh wow, so many. Depending on the space, that could be really broad. But I would say for myself – lately I’ve been listening to everything from Ice Cube to Hootie and the Blowfish to Lucy Pearl to Annie Lennox to Dolly Parton to Kendrick Lamar.
Fleetwood Mac has been tugging at my heartstrings a lot lately. It’s something about “Dreams.” It was in our February Lovers’ Rock playlist for Hotel Van Zandt. I mean, Stevie Nicks’ voice can really do some things.
Keeping my mind open has been a really big part of my curatorial experience, both in music and visual art, because I understand the connection between an En Vogue and an Alanis Morissette. If you look at the roots of a lot of music there are just so many threads, especially when you’re talking about power and energy, love and angst.
What are your thoughts about Austin’s music scene?
Being in Austin, one of the concepts that I carried with me from Chicago, and even from Houston, is that I really wanted to continue the culture of celebrating and highlighting world class, homegrown talent.
I feel like a lot of times there’s a negative connotation that’s connected to the words “local artist,” because there’s an assumption that they haven’t achieved a certain level of value, or they’re at the beginning of their career. But what if someone’s been living and working in this city as an artist or a musician for 10 years? When does that connotation change?
I went to an event called Feel the Love that was put on by Austin Music Foundation, and I was able to really meet and engage with people from HAAM (Health Alliance for Austin Musicians) and other places that help artists with mental health issues, recording studios, unions, and all different types of resources.
That’s when you know a city is investing in its soft power and truly interested in building a sustainable creative economy.
Tell us a little bit about what your job entails.
With Geraldine’s, or at any space within the hotel, I’m always thinking about how people can engage within the space. When curating playlists I really try to look at it from the perspective of, not which artist I want to highlight specifically, but what feeling I would like to create.
For example, a lot of people don’t know, but we have a underwater playlist for our pool. It’s separate from anything that you hear in the entire hotel. I updated that recently to move from a classical sound to chill-hop. It allowed me to play around with something and create a different world or environment underwater, even if it’s just for a moment.
What do you love about working at Hotel Van Zandt and Geraldine’s in particular?
After being professionally independent for so many years I never thought that I would be such a team player for a big company, but Kimpton, especially the Hotel Van Zandt team, really values input and collaboration.
I was just in the elevator on the way here and one of the engineering guys was like, “Hey, can I send you my Pandora playlist? I think you’ll be impressed.” I never know where I’ll get inspiration from, and I love being at a place where we can be open and really hone in as a team.
You have done so many great things for the city of Chicago. Do you have any upcoming plans for Austin?
One of the things that we’re doing for Austin is expanding the number of programming and performance opportunities for artists throughout our space, bit by bit. Nothing too grand as of yet, but we’re filtering in a few more performance spaces for soloists and duettists in our Café 605 starting in April of this year.
For Geraldine’s, we’re starting up a new type of pool series in the summer so guests can experience DJ performances, so stay tuned for that. We also have a couple of tribute shows happening before the end of the year, and we’ll even be activating this space, the Writer’s Lounge, where there will be smaller performances throughout the year.
Another thing we’re looking at is how we can create spaces for more arts organizations and artists to communicate and collaborate. So we have an Industry Night launching this summer, and that will not only be for people that are in the bar and restaurant industry, but also musicians, artists, and arts institutions.
So we’re really going to encourage people to come out and create their own spaces of engagement. Because we don’t have to be at the center of every collaboration. Sometimes we’re only here to forge the relationship, partnership, or connection.
You’re also an artist yourself and have curated shows around the world. What inspires you to create?
I realized at some point I just needed to get it out. It’s a part of me that needed to be addressed, that needed to be satisfied. I believe that everyone should figure out what part of them needs to be satisfied in that way, even if they never do anything commercially with it.
What is your advice for those looking to pursue creative curation?
Independent study is the life blood of this part of the industry. You can’t sit around waiting for someone to tell you what you should know. You have to be able to identify your areas of opportunity and vulnerability, and not let your ego get in the way of you seeking that knowledge, building those alliances, or asking those questions.
Besides Hotel Van Zandt, do you have any other favorite spots around town?
Ah Sing Den is so cool. It’s this beautiful restaurant and bar with peacocks, lanterns, and vintage furniture. Every Thursday night they host a “Secret Garden.” You wouldn’t know about it unless you open a door in the back to find a DJ playing house music. I love little city hideaways and places that surprise me like that.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Read more from the Music + Film Issue | March 2018