The modern hospitality industry places great emphasis on designing destinations to reflect local culture, attitudes and aesthetics. In recent years, this spirit of hyper-stylized spaces has influenced global brands eager to attract and connect with travelers.
Selina Union Market, located in D.C.’s Union Market District, embodies this ethos. On the surface, it’s billed as “more than a place to stay:” a multifaceted hotel, hostel, coworking and wellness center. Selina is so much more, though, hosting art, music and a vibrant nightlife.
Destination director Maria Bastasch, a veteran of D.C.’s beverage and dining scene, describes Selina’s sites as playgrounds that act as cultural incubators. It’s where strangers, locals and guests collide and manifest community.
A Life-Giving Capsule
Through its intentional architectural choices, Selina ensures every corner and crevice is a life-giving capsule and an oasis for art and creativity.
“[Selina DC] is filled with plants; you have this element of industrial woven into a botanical jungle,” Bastasch says. “From the basement, there’s this very dark underground art-driven landscape. The primary home level feels bright and grounded in the earth. Then, finally, you get up to the rooftop and you’re in the heavens; you have all these angles of light coming through. It’s enchanting.”
The contrast between bottom and top floors is an apt metaphor for D.C.’s cultural evolution. The luminescent, graffiti-drenched basement walls mimic a hip black light rave room similar to places the city’s present day trendsetters once operated. Meanwhile, the top floor features a full bar and is replete with earthy tones, flora and fauna and plenty of windows through which revitalizing light pours.
A beautiful tapestry of art — including more than 400 original works, most of which are commissions by local artists — is laced throughout the hotel, paying homage to D.C.’s blossoming creative scene and Selina’s Latin roots.
Though, there’s also a deeper historical context on which its foundation is literally and figuratively built.
Honoring What’s Gone but Not Forgotten
“The art in so many hotel spaces is predictable, forgettable and ignored,” says Abbey Alison McClain, Selina Union Market’s curator and art lead. “Selina is different. As a resident of Northeast D.C. and an advocate for communities that support artists, I took on this project with excitement and importance. I wanted to honor the neighborhood, the building’s comprehensive history and the region’s amazing and varied artist community.”
McClain says the artistic elements, murals, unscripted installations and Selina’s studio residency program all reflect the style of the previous tenant, Union Arts. She continues by sharing many of the art pieces “imagine the possibility of a new synthesis,” while evoking the essence of the communal arts space, now loacted at 411 New York Avenue.
Honoring this legacy is why Bastasch called on a collective of like-minded collaborators, like McClain and artist Luther Wright, to infuse Selina Union Market with the right mix of local flavor.
“It’s important for art at Selina to have a local vibe because it shows the hotel’s personal connection with the city,” says Wright, a local muralist and creative. “It introduces travelers to the city’s history and culture and transforms the space into an interactive local art gallery.”
Bastasch acknowledges staying on-brand while lifting up the local community is a difficult balance to strike. It requires a lot of listening and positioning the space to react in an informed manner, rather than assuming or exhibiting a romanticized version of the capital city.
A 10-year resident of D.C., Bastasch feels intensely entwined with the District and the beautiful souls she’s met along the way. She wants Selina to be a vessel through which the city, filled with art, culture, music and culinary energy, can flourish.
“I f—ing love D.C.,” Bastasch says giddily. “It’s the most beautiful collection of individuals. And what people see from the outside, the depiction of Washington [through] monuments, policy and museums is not the full picture.”
And Bastasch continues to strive to make good on her promise to listen and empower locals to help shape Selina’s programming and ambiance. It’s the only way she feels it will be authentic.
“It’s very much [about] reaching out to people who are already doing amazing things and saying, ‘Do you need space? Can this be something that [enhances] what you’re already doing?’ If we’re thinking of it that way, it creates the opportunity for a more positive relationship. [It’s about being] more mindful as you shine a spotlight. It’s not just about consumption, but about highlighting what already exists.”
Through this process, Bastasch has introduced searing DJ sets, soulful live performances, art pop-ups, Afrobeat and Bachata dance parties and launch events for D.C.-based businesses.
Of course, Selina cannot fully claim its “life-giving” mission without building out its wellness elements.
The airy, pristine wellness room with floor-to-ceiling walls of glass — host to a regular rotation of yoga classes — serves as a reprieve from D.C.’s manic pace.
“You can go through this incredible yoga flow and then walk around the corner with your friends and enjoy a beverage as the sun is setting,” Bastasch says. “That’s magic.”
“By incorporating self-inquiry, my intention is to align people with their inner values using compassion, and encourage them to take intentional action,” Charles Muhammad, a yoga teacher in residence, says.
Yoga is meditative, calming, strengthening and reflective. It’s the perfect medicine for Selina (and its guests) as it strives to stay grounded in the past while open to new, holistic interpretations.
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