You don’t have to visit Chicago to immerse yourself in world-class Illinois museums. The state has plenty of historical spots that have unusual venue spaces and give meeting groups an opportunity to peruse the diversity of exhibits. Highlights include one of the largest holocaust museums in the world, a first-class military museum, an interactive presidential museum, a museum dedicated to America’s rivers and another that pays homage to timepieces and stained-glass masterworks from around the world.
Consider these distinctive museums for meetings or off-site events in Illinois.
Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center
The world’s third-largest holocaust museum was founded in Skokie by local holocaust survivors with the mission of remembering the past and transforming the future. The permanent exhibit is a narrative of the holocaust told through the eyes of local survivors. After 1945, the story continues, following the families who survived the holocaust and immigrated to Skokie and the Chicago area.
Founded in 2009, the goal of the museum is for visitors to leave with a sense of hope, empowerment and inspiration and the question of “what can I do now?” said Bernadette Marty, inside sales associate for Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center.
Many groups choose to host a meeting here because they have a theme of diversity, equity, accessibility and inclusion and they are searching for inspiration, she said. The museum has spaces to accommodate groups of 20 to 350 people varying in size from full-day meetings with keynote speakers and breakout sessions to board meetings. Goodman Auditorium can hold 240 people for a lecture or a theatrical performance, while Rowe Hall can host a banquet of 200 people or 325 theater style. Pritzker Hall of Reflection can hold 100 people for a cocktail reception, with its 30-foot ceilings, natural light and flickering candles throughout.
Groups that rent the facility have access to the exhibits, and staff members in the museum’s education department can facilitate group discussions or take them on guided tours through the exhibits.
First Division Museum at Cantigny
The First Division Museum interprets military history through the lens of the U.S. Army’s First Infantry Division that was founded during World War I and is still an active duty unit serving at Fort Riley in Kansas. The museum’s immersive exhibits take visitors through the trenches, dugouts and bunkers of World War I; to the beaches of Normandy during the D-Day invasion; and to the jungles of Vietnam. Visitors can watch a film with live footage from D-Day or inspect numerous tanks in the outdoor tank park.
The museum property also includes the McCormick Museum, the former home of Chicago Tribune editor and publisher Robert McCormick, who served in the First Division during World War I and left his home and property to the state of Illinois when he passed away in 1955. The McCormick Museum is scheduled to open in 2022.
The property has gardens, walking trails and a visitors center that is home to Le Jardin restaurant and several meeting spaces. The restaurant can accommodate 230 guests, and the Visitors Center Gallery can host receptions for up to 80 people. The Visitors Center Theater can host 100 attendees for a meeting or lecture. The Joseph Medill Room is suitable for smaller events of 35 people.
At the museum, groups can rent out the large lobby for a banquet for up to 120 people or a meeting of up to 180 people, with overflow spilling into the two museum wings. In-house catering is available.
Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum
One of the most visited presidential libraries in the country, the 200,000-square-foot Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum offers not only artifacts from Lincoln’s life, law practice and presidency but also the stories of his life through interactive and contemporary technologies, including the Holovision Theater experience “Ghosts of the Library.” Meeting groups can host a breakfast and guided tour of the museum before it opens to the public for the day or rent out the library’s beautiful glassed-in rotunda for a meal or reception for up to 100 guests.
After hours, groups can rent out the museum and add a variety of extras, like taking a behind-the-scenes tour, watching “Ghosts of the Library” or visiting the museum’s top exhibits. Depending on the size of the group, the museum will bring in Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln re-enactors to greet the guests and answer historical questions.
The museum uses mobile apps and creative exhibits that can be touched and felt to get visitors involved. The museum and library have many smaller venue spaces for meetings or events. The Union Theater, which can hold 250 guests, is great for lectures, annual meetings and awards ceremonies; Museum Plaza can host 300 guests for dinner or 500 for a reception.
National Great Rivers Museum
The 12,000-square-foot National Great Rivers Museum opened in 2003 and is operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. It was founded to tell the story of the Mississippi River through interactive exhibits and displays, educating visitors about the importance of the river to commerce and the natural environment. Many people have called the river home through the years, including Native American tribes, and the museum attempts to tell their story. Exhibits detail the topography along the river and the variety of plants and animals that call the river environment home. A large aquarium is home to many species of native Mississippi River fish.
The museum emphasizes the importance of water to everyone’s lives, and interactive exhibits ask visitors to estimate how much fresh water they use in their household every day. The museum is built adjacent to the Melvin Price Locks and Dam, where groups can take a guided tour of the engineering marvel as they watch towboats and barges navigate their way through the system.
Groups that want to host a meeting or event at the museum can rent out the theater, which can accommodate 110 people and works well for presentations or lectures. The museum gallery can host groups of up to 150 for a banquet, and the classroom can host a sit-down dinner for 60 people. The venue is made more unusual because of its location on the river.
Halim Time and Glass Museum
The four-story modern Halim Time and Glass Museum houses marvelous collections of mechanical timepieces dating from the 1600s through the mid-20th century, and beautiful, intricate stained-glass windows and glass pieces made by America’s most famous stained-glass masters, including Louis Comfort Tiffany, John Lafarge and Mary Tillinghast.
The museum’s first floor is dedicated to stained glass and how these masters took what was originally an artform for church windows and Americanized the process. The exhibits detail how they created different textures and techniques such as herringbone patterns and drapery glass to emulate the folds of clothing to give added depth to their stained-glass creations.
The second floor highlights timepieces from different regions and periods, including British, French, American and Asian clocks; marine chronometers, or sea clocks; and pocket watches. Meeting planners that want to host an event at the museum can rent out the Tiffany Garden Room on the third floor, which has six large Tiffany stained-glass windows in it. Or they can choose the fourth-floor Wisteria Room, which is capped off with a 12-foot-diameter stained-glass dome decorated with wisteria flowers and vines, six Tiffany windows and a window whose maker is unknown, all with garden themes, plus large Victorian-era chandeliers.
The space can comfortably seat 175 people for a plated meal. The rooftop space can accommodate 175 people and offers 360-degree views of downtown Evanston and the Chicago skyline. Catering and bar service is offered in-house.