For more than a decade, Nashville based photographer Jeremy Cowart has traveled the world taking pictures and telling stories. His work has taken him to nearly thirty countries, documenting everything from relief efforts in places like Haiti and Rwanda to a seventeen-country tour with Passion Conferences. He’s photographed the likes of Taylor Swift, Sting, the Kardashians, and Britney Spears and had his work featured in Rolling Stone, the New York Times, Time, ESPN, and more. In short, Cowart has seen some of the best and the worst that the world has to offer.
“I travel all the time,” Cowart says, “but traveling can be pretty lonely. So I started thinking what if, as the lonely traveler, I could somehow feel connected to a larger story out there?”
It was out of that need for connection that the vision for The Purpose Hotel was born. In a Los Angeles area hotel for a meeting in 2012, Cowart found himself wrestling with the idea that maybe, a hotel could be more than just a place to stay; maybe it could be a place that actually changes lives for the better.
‘I’ve stayed in hundreds of hotels all over the world—the worst of hotels, the cheapest hotels, the average hotels, the luxurious hotels. I’ve seen it all,” Cowart says. “And I walk away from all of them thinking, ‘The travel industry is the biggest industry in the world. Why is it not helping the world more than it is?’”
What if, he thought, every time you booked a room, a child in need was sponsored in another part of the world? What if the fee paid to use the Internet was used to fight human trafficking? What if all the goods—the soaps, shampoos, linens, furniture—were sourced from organizations and partners making a difference when they made their products? What if, by simply staying a night at a hotel, you could change the world in your sleep?
And just like that, Cowart saw it.
“It was all in the blink of an eye,” Cowart recalls. “I just saw all of it. I saw all the connections, the marketing, the long-term vision. It was one of those crazy overwhelming moments.”
“I love the idea of a building that has this kind of heart and purpose behind it.”
What he saw that day in Los Angeles four years ago is finally coming to fruition as the campaign for The Purpose Hotel launched this summer. The Purpose Hotel is just that—a hotel designed with purpose in mind. Aimed to fight against injustices of war, hunger, poverty, global warming, racial tensions, unclean water, addictions, and natural disasters, every stay connects guests to a bigger story, with each aspect of the hotel designed to impact and improve quality of life for people around the world. Partnering with organizations whose work makes a difference both locally and globally, every item in the hotel—from the soap in the bathrooms to the art on the walls—will be sourced from companies and non-profits that share the same vision to see lives changed. It’s a vision that truly is a dream come true for Cowart.
“I love helping people and creating,” Cowart explains, “and the hotel is the ultimate in doing both at the same time. It’s helping people all over the world in endless kinds of ways—locally, domestically, and internationally. And it’s creating in multiple different ways. We’re collaborating with artists, photographers, painters, interior designers, and architects. It’s going to be incredible!”
Though the focus of the hotel is on the purpose behind it, Cowart and his team aren’t forsaking the design and quality of the project. They recognize they’ll be competing with many major hotel chains and want The Purpose Hotel to not only hold up against them, but step things up a notch. Their hope is to create a space that fosters ingenuity and inspiration—an open, bright, welcoming place with a communal and creative vibe.
“The Purpose Hotel is not going to be a sad place,” Cowart assures. “It’s going to be a better, more beautiful experience than any other hotel out there. Aside from all the causes and connections, we still want this to be an amazing hotel experience where underneath it all, there’s some amazing things happening.”
With such a clear and creative vision and so many connections around the world, you’d think Cowart would have no problem finding funding and financial support to get The Purpose Hotel off the ground. But, as nothing about The Purpose Hotel is traditional, Cowart chose a seemingly unconventional route to fund the beginning stages of the project—a campaign on the popular crowdfunding site Kickstarter.
Designed to help bring projects to life, Kickstarter allows creative entrepreneurs to post the details of their projects to the site and ask for others to support (or “back”) the work through financial donations. Backers are offered the option to donate any amount they choose or to select from a list of custom designed donation packages. Each package offers backers rewards for their donations—anything as small as keychain to as large as a night’s stay for The Purpose Hotel. Though outwardly it may seem to be a pretty risky move to finance the beginnings of a hotel chain through a fundraising website, Cowart says his choice to go with Kickstarter was no accident.
“I love the idea of a building that has this kind of heart and purpose behind it,” Cowart says. “Why couldn’t it start with the people? Instead of a few wealthy investors kicking this thing off, why couldn’t thousands of people around the world participate in this? I want people to be able to look at The Purpose Hotel and say, ‘Yeah, I’m a part of that,’ and Kickstarter helps us do that.”
Cowart and his team aren’t even asking for the full amount on the site. They simply need a starting point, and the campaign so far hasn’t disappointed. Their initial campaign saw support from more than 5,000 backers. The second phase is still in progress, with nearly 3,100 backers donating more than $500,000 so far. Though the goal of the second phase was to reach just $347,000 to kick off the design and architectural planning for the hotel, the amount given over that will help move the project forward to the next phase of design and building. With just days left in the Kickstarter campaign, Cowart is looking forward to seeing how the momentum continues.
“The momentum this campaign has is unbelievable. This is proof that people care. I’m grateful, humbled, and really excited to see where this goes.”
It’s this care and momentum Cowart believes will carry The Purpose Hotel into the next few years of designing, building, and finally opening the first of its kind in his hometown of Nashville, Tenn. And he hopes others will continue to be a part of the project long after the initial campaigns are done. Through praying, sharing, giving, and ultimately choosing The Purpose Hotel over others, Cowart believes the lonely days of travel will be over for so many who opt to take part in and connect with a bigger story.
“My heart is to allow the community to be a part of this. The Purpose Hotel is happening. The question is this: do you want to be a part of the story?”
For more on The Purpose Hotel or to support the current campaign, visit thepurposehotel.com.