Soon you’ll be able to change the world while you sleep. Or at least that’s A-list celebrity photographer Jeremy Cowart’s big idea. The Purpose Hotel is a venture started by the photographer and philanthropist to intimately connect travelers to the world’s deepest needs through art; and transform the travel industry while doing it. His second Kickstarter campaign just launched and Cowart remains undaunted in turning his vision into reality.
Perhaps as compelling as The Purpose Hotel itself is Cowart’s deep belief that success is incomplete without the authentic service to a greater purpose in the world.
Fifteen years ago Cowart went from amateur photographer to snapping the portraits of A-list celebrities like Taylor Swift, Kelly Clarkson, and Heidi Klum (to name only a few) in just a couple months. His success came fast.
For Cowart it was a dream come true. Photography was and is his true passion. But in the midst of all the success and fame something was missing.
“I couldn’t shake the feeling of emptiness,” Cowart told me when we connected last month. “I had technically ‘made it’ … but I couldn’t help but feel that wasn’t really my goal. I realized that I shouldn’t aim for greatness and stop there. I always say, greatness should serve a greater purpose, and that’s become my mantra.”
Cowart’s mantra compels him to use his own success and gift to meet the world’s deepest hunger. In 2010, he traveled to Haiti after the devastating earthquake to help people heal by inviting them to write prayers and thoughts on found rubble – an art project that helped secure $10 billion in relief for the reeling country. In 2011, Cowart traveled to Rwanda where he photographed victims of genocide standing side-by-side with the killers of their families. The goal? To show the power of true forgiveness.
“I don’t have to look for needs; they’re all around,” says Cowart. “Fortunately, I’ve had the opportunity to work for some amazing nonprofits that have immersed me in some really painful, uncomfortable situations – like when we traveled with Exile International to work with former child soldiers in Uganda. We worked together to tell their stories. We interviewed them, I took portraits of them and had them draw the “pains of their past” and “dreams of their future.”
Now Cowart wants to connect you and fellow travelers with stories from around the world.
What is “The Purpose Hotel?”
The Purpose Hotel aims to connect a guest’s stay to causes around the world.
“Imagine not just a hotel, but a global hotel chain, where every time you book a room a child gets sponsored, the internet fee fights human trafficking, and every product (soap, shampoo, linens, furniture, curated art, specialty products) is purchased from partners who are making a difference,” Cowart writes on his Kickstarter page.
Through photography, music, and other artforms, Cowart plans to reimagine and transform the hotel experience into “…a creative, interactive experience that ignites the imagination, promotes play and fosters community.”
Why “The Purpose Hotel”?
Cowart sees the divisiveness in the world as a sign that it’s time to do something that can unite.
“It feels like the right time – with all the dissension and division on social media, I truly believe The Purpose Hotel can be the thing that unites us,” says Cowart. “We can disagree on politics, but we can’t argue that every person deserves access to clean water, jobs, education and a brighter future.”
The travel industry offers one of the world’s most expansive platforms to spread his mantra that it is our collective responsibility to serve a greater purpose.
“I’ve seen it all in terms of hotels in my 15-year career, and I walk away from all of them, especially the 5-stars and 6-stars, thinking, yes that was nice, comfortable, even cool, but ultimately thinking, man, the travel industry is the largest industry in the world. Why is it not helping the world more than it is? There’s such a lack of meaning and vision behind it all. I believe you can be for-profit and help others. We’ve seen others do it – and some of our partners are for-profit, not just nonprofits,” explained Cowart.
“This is not about a hotel, this is truly about people. We hope to provide jobs all over the world – locally, domestically and internationally. We just want this to be a place where people are valued at every level.”
“Greatness Should Serve a Greater Purpose”
Above all, Cowart wants this project to serve as a centering reminder for organizations and individuals alike: We exist to serve a greater purpose. Success and greatness just heightens our responsibility to do something, to help someone.
“In our Kickstarter campaign for the hotel, we used a quote by Frederick Buechner that says, ‘Purpose is where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet,'” Cowart says. “Help-Portrait is a nonprofit I founded a few years back that asks photographers to look down to what they have in their hands – a camera – and asking how they can give back to those around them in need.”
“It’s that simple. What do you love to do, and how can you use that to help someone else?”