It‘s just before 4 p.m. on a gray and chilly Saturday in early March.
I’m headed downtown to meet Haydee Thompson, owner/operator, curator, and super host of the Wherehouse Art Hotel (aka the WAH). Located above Krankies Coffee and described by Triad City Beat as “the coolest Airbnb in Winston-Salem,” the space also plays host to numerous events throughout the year and serves as a living art gallery for local artists.
“It’s tea time,” says Thompson as she welcomes me in from the cold. “Would you like to join me?”
Thompson, who guests affectionately refer to as the Queen of WAH, is a graduate of the UNC School of the Arts and a self-described artist, performer, and film maker. She’s lived above Krankies on and off for nearly 20 years and co-founded the Wherehouse Artist Collective, a group of artists who called the historic meat packaging plant home in the early 2000s. The group ultimately turned the plant into a cultural outpost.
It’s that history that Thompson is determined to preserve, a place where experimental art and music are alive and well. The history makes the Wherehouse Art Hotel as much an art museum with great guest accommodations as it is an art-filled Airbnb managed by a “visionary innkeeper-extraordinaire.”
Today, she’s expecting a new guest at 5:30 p.m. and keeps her iPhone close. WAH can be tricky to find for out-of-towners; heck, it’s tricky to find for locals. The quirky entrance seems intentionally hidden — and Thompson likes it that way.
“People have to be brave enough to open the door and come upstairs,” she says. “It’s all part of the magic.”
It’s a beautiful, warm, sunny, morning on my second visit to the Wherehouse Art Hotel.
Spring has sprung and the cherry blossom tree outside Krankies is in full bloom. I look up and notice downtown’s reflection in a large disco ball hanging from the corner of the building. The sound of an industrial hammer beats in the background at a new construction site near the center of downtown. I can feel its vibration — the strong, thumping heartbeat of a city reborn.
The Gallery Room, where Thompson showcases hand-selected artists, is transformed overnight nearly every month. It’s a chance for local art lovers to meet and support young, experimental artists. It’s also an opportunity for out-of-town guests who immerse themselves in the art — literally by sleeping in the same room as it — to purchase a piece when they leave. Additionally, a percentage of proceeds from Gallery Room bookings go directly to the artist.
On May 1, Thompson will welcome UNCSA drama grad Beth Bostic to the Blue Room (aka the Bedroom Theater), who will perform William Shakespeare’s 50 minute epic poem “The Rape of Lucrece.” The Blue Room is WAH’s newest addition to its artful collection of accommodations and features the urban art of master-muralist Laura Lashley and graffiti artist Jose Figueirdo.
One the same day, WAH welcomes back artist Zach McCraw to the Gallery Room with a May Day art party; it was only a year ago that art lovers were treated to McCraw’s slick aluminum photo prints and hypnotized with a screening of his psychedelic short film “Beyond.” The May Day art party is open to the public, who are encouraged to explore Wherehouse Art Hotel between performances.
Over the next few years, Thompson hopes to concentrate on filling her hotel with nothing but art and handmade objects by local artists and craftsmen. The success of WAH as an unusual Airbnb and art gallery that oozes Winston-Salem is dependent on local artists, who receive a full 80 percent of the proceeds when they sell a piece.
I guess when you come right down to it; the Wherehouse Art Hotel is all about magic. It’s the magic of discovery, authentic experience, and transformation through art. And Thompson wants you to know the door is always open — even if you have a hard time finding it. Who knows, you can never tell what life-changing experience is waiting for you on the other side.