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Inspire Creativity with Meetings at Art Museums

We are all products of our environment, so the saying goes. And that’s especially true at art museums, where visitors are surrounded by endless variations of beauty, color and form. When a planner chooses to have an event at an art museum, that environment can’t help but influence both the meeting’s ambiance and its attendees.

Groups can take advantage of their surroundings either by gathering in a gallery or exploring one during their breaks, by scheduling guided group tours or by arranging hands-on art activities that can be customized to tie in with their meetings.

If you want to inspire creativity at your next meeting or event, consider holding it at one of these art museums.

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art

Bentonville, Arkansas

The Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art owns an extensive collection of Colonial, 19th-century, modern and contemporary pieces, but the sparkling white and glass building and the lush 120 acres surrounding it are themselves works of art.

Architect Moshe Safdie designed the modern structure as a series of pavilions that sit on and stretch over two man-made ponds fed by Crystal Springs. In the galleries, visitors are surrounded by priceless art, but in the spaces in between, walls of windows provide views of the blue ponds and the green forest canopy, giving attendees a constant intertwining of art and nature.

In the Great Hall, guests sit beneath an arched pine-beam ceiling while floor-to-ceiling windows deliver views of 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 museum’s lower level, three 800-square-foot suites each open onto Walker Landing, a paved 200-person venue that overlooks the lower pond and offers a circular waterfront amphitheater. Groups can also reserve Crystal Bridges’ restaurant, Eleven, or the entire museum for after-hours events.

Groups of 200 can gather on the South Lawn, and the North Lawn — “one of most beautiful spots of the museum,” according to special events manager Barbara McBride — will soon be more accessible with the addition of an elevator this year. Groups will be able to walk through the museum and take the elevator up to the lawn, she said. Another addition is the new sculpture forest that’s slated to open on Memorial Day weekend. The Frank Lloyd Wright House lawn is “a beautiful reception area,” and the museum can open the house to small-group tours.

Crystal Bridges offers group tours for 10 to 60 people, and the museum’s guided Trails Tour of the grounds boasts 3.5 miles of sculpture-dotted walking trails. The museum displays as many as 500 works at any time, but three of the museum’s most-recognizable works often get the strongest reaction from visitors: two portraits of George Washington and Asher Durand’s “Kindred Spirits.” Dale Chihuly’s work will also be on display during “Chihuly: In the Gallery and In the Forest” exhibit this summer.

Currier Museum of Art

Manchester, New Hampshire

One of the most impressive things about the Currier Museum of Art in Manchester, New Hampshire, isn’t about what’s on display in the museum. It’s about what’s online. The museum’s entire collection — some 13,000 pieces of American and European art — is archived and searchable on its website. But that doesn’t mean visitors to the brick-and-mortar museum won’t be wowed.

“For a small museum, we have a lot of impressive pieces,” said Lisa Pavlopoulos, manager of special events and catering operations. “We may only have one Picasso or one Matisse, but the ones we have are the cream of the crop.”

The museum is available for both daytime and after-hours events. During the day, groups can use the 180-seat auditorium, one of two 60-capacity classrooms and a 20-person seminar room. Every facility rental includes admission to the museum, so attendees can wander around in the galleries during breaks, and the museum cafe can cater lunch.

Evening event rentals are more popular because “you’re actually renting the entire museum,” Pavlopoulos said. Groups often start with a cocktail hour in the Winter Garden, the Anderson Lobby or the Historic Court, then move into the auditorium for a presentation. After that, they return to the Winter Garden for coffee and dessert, or a seated dinner for up to 180 people. And, of course, guests can explore the museum’s exhibits.

“The gallery time that’s built into an event is an added bonus,” she said. “It’s an incredible incentive that you don’t get anywhere in the area.”

The museum can also incorporate a guided tour or a hands-on art activity into any facility rental. During the Out of the Box tour, docents use “visual thinking strategies” to engage guests. Instead of basically lecturing visitors about the artwork, the docent will ask the group questions about various pieces, such as what do they think the artist intended.

“There’s no right or wrong answer,” she said. “It’s a lot more free-form and less intimidating, and gets those creative juices flowing.”