Matt Cowden: the Art of Hospitality
The distinctive appeal of 21c Museum Hotel
Photo by Charlie Neuenschwander
One of Oklahoma City’s trendiest new hotels opened last summer near downtown. In the year that’s followed, 21c has established itself not only as a leader in the city’s hospitality industry, but in the arts community, as well. Located at 900 W Main in the former Fred Jones automobile plant, 21c offers luxurious guest rooms, as well as the excellent Mary Eddy’s Kitchen + Lounge, plus 14,000 square feet of art exhibition space.
Under the leadership of General Manager Matt Cowden, 21c Hotel is one of the national chain’s up-and-coming new venues, and he shares some thoughts on what sets it apart from other hotels in the metro.
What’s it like being 21c’s general manager? “It’s amazing! I’m extremely blessed to work with incredibly passionate, hard-working teammates who strive each day to deliver the 21c experience to all our guests. It is a pleasure to help each of them grow personally and professionally, as I learn something new from them each day, as well.”
What sets it apart from other hotels? “Contemporary art is at the heart of the 21c experience. Much more than just a place to spend the night, 21c Museum Hotels is an inventive union of genuine hospitality, careful design and culinary creativity – all anchored by a contemporary art museum with thought-provoking exhibitions, interactive site-specific art installations and a full roster of cultural programming. 21c was founded by Laura Lee Brown and Steve Wilson – contemporary art collectors and preservationists who believe in the power of innovative and stimulating art to transform communities. Their passion for contemporary art and urban revitalization led them to open 21c Louisville in 2006, without the thought that there would be seven locations (soon to be eight) across the United States.”
You’re a native Oklahoman, right? “Absolutely. I was born in Oklahoma City, raised in Guthrie and attended college at UCO in Edmond. I’m extremely proud of my education and continued connection with UCO. After college, I left Oklahoma for a number of years with Marriott Hotels, working in markets such as New Orleans, Memphis, Dallas and Houston, and came back home to Oklahoma almost 15 years ago. Best decision I ever made.”
How has OKC grown and changed from when you were growing up? “To return home near the end of the original Metropolitan Area Projects (MAPS) and experience the incredible development that had occurred up to that point was inspiring, and validated my decision to stay in OKC and be a part of the future of hospitality in this market.”
You make your home in Guthrie, so do you commute every day to your office at 21c? “I do. My family has a very special connection to Guthrie. It’s where I was raised, and I’ve been so blessed to have had my kids experience the same childhood.”
You and your siblings started a walk/run in your hometown a few years ago; what is that all about? “In May 2008, my brother, Chris Cowden, was tragically killed in a motorcycle accident. In memory of his passion for the rescue and fair treatment of all animals, in addition to his zeal for running and athletics, our family and friends created the “See Spot Run” to honor Chris’ animal advocacy efforts and legacy. This will be our ninth year, with the event taking place on June 3 at 7:30 p.m. in Guthrie (see p. 102). All proceeds continue to go to the Free to Live Animal Sanctuary.”
What piques your interest when you’re not working, and what’s your favorite pastime? “I love spending time with my family, traveling when I can and being outdoors. In a nutshell, to me, that’s really what Oklahoma is all about.”