Sit behind President Bill Clinton’s desk in the Oval Office. Step into the torpedo room aboard the 1944 USS Razorback submarine. Sip on a malt in a working soda fountain.
Museums today strive to get away from glass cases hoarding artifacts and, instead, give visitors experiences that will stay with them for the rest of their lives. And meeting attendees will have the same opportunities when planners hold their events at these Arkansas museums.
William J. Clinton Presidential Center
The city of Little Rock and President Bill Clinton are nearly synonymous, and there’s no venue more quintessentially Little Rock than the Clinton Presidential Center. The striking, modern building looks like a floating glass ark perched in the middle of a 33-acre urban park
The glass-walled Great Hall is the center’s main event space, with room to seat 250 for a banquet or welcome nearly 400 guests for a reception. The space also has an adjoining balcony with “the best view of the city,” said Mike Selig, director of food, beverage and events for the center. “It looks smackdab into downtown Little Rock.”
Progressive events can move around the building, and “it’s fun to switch up different venues,” Selig said. In the orientation theater, attendees can watch a film about Clinton and the history of the museum. Groups can mingle in galleries among exhibits during receptions and wrap up with coffee stations downstairs.
The museum is designed to be self-guided — visitors can download the center’s new app to enhance their experience — but groups can also arrange for docent-guided tours. Among the museum’s exhibits, visitors always love the Oval Office, where they can have their photo taken sitting at a replica of Clinton’s desk; he still uses the real one.
Another “beautiful thing about the Presidential Center is the park,” Selig said, and many events are held around the grounds. Groups can reserve the on-site restaurant, Forty Two, for after-hours dinners for up to 120 people or a 200-guest reception, and the restaurant’s River View Terrace overlooks the Arkansas River and the Clinton Presidential Park Bridge.
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art sits on 120 acres just on the edge of downtown Bentonville. As visitors descend into the valley of a lush Ozark forest, they’re greeted by sparkling white-and-glass buildings perched on and over two crystal ponds.
The entire museum is available for events, and guests can explore galleries that were designed to intertwine art and nature, with walls of windows that provide views of the blue ponds and green forest. In the galleries, guests can see some of the museum’s most-recognizable works, such as two iconic portraits of George Washington as well as Asher Durand’s “Kindred Spirits.”
In the Great Hall, guests sit beneath an arched pine-beam ceiling, and floor-to-ceiling windows overlook the upper pond. The hall can accommodate 250 for seated meals or 450 for receptions and is adjacent to the South Lobby, which is available during nonpublic hours. On the lower level, three 800-square-foot suites open onto Walker Landing, a paved 200-person pavilion that overlooks the lower pond and has a circular waterfront amphitheater. Planners can also reserve Crystal Bridges’ restaurant, Eleven.
The South Lawn can accommodate 200-person events; a new entrance, elevator and pedestrian bridge opened in April, improving access to the North Lawn and to the museum’s trail system. The museum’s guided Trails Tour of the grounds boasts three and a half miles of sculpture-dotted walking trails, and the museum also offers group tours for 10 to 60 people.