Whether it’s during daytime or after hours, having meetings at museums allows attendees to gather in places that offer all sorts of interactive exhibits and educational activities. Feel the rumble in the bed of a two-story-tall mining truck, have your hair stand on end at a static-electricity generator or watch as smoke rolls across the theater floor while a prairie fire rages onscreen at these meeting-friendly museums.
Doug Oberhelman Caterpillar Visitors Center
The first stop at the Doug Oberhelman Caterpillar Visitors Center in Peoria, Illinois, is the 797 Theater in the bed of a Cat 797F Mining Truck, Caterpillar’s largest mining vehicle. During a short movie, the seats rumble along with the action as the film takes guests to worksites around the world.
“To see the size of the truck — it’s two and a half stories tall, and the tire is 14 feet tall — it’s just incredible,” said manager Susan Morton. “It’s a fan favorite for the photo opportunities.”
The visitor center opened in October 2012 on the banks of the Illinois River and houses a museum as well as function space. In addition to the 62-seat theater, groups of up to 104 can use the dining room and connected balconies that overlook the river for meals or seated events. The adjacent classroom accommodates 50 people, and a 16-person conference room works well for board meetings. An outdoor plaza with a lawn and an amphitheater can host events for as many as 200 people.
The equipment gallery can accommodate receptions for up to 200 people. Staircases at all the machines allow guests to get a closer look, and five simulator stations let visitors compete to see who can best operate an excavator or a crawler tractor. The center changes the equipment every year, “so it’s always a different experience,” Morton said.
Attendees can tour the museum at their leisure — including the Building Blocks exhibit through June 2020 — or embark on team-building scavenger hunts.
Indian Pueblo Cultural Center
Albuquerque, New Mexico
The Indian Pueblo Cultural Center opened its doors in 1976 in Albuquerque, New Mexico, as a place for the state’s 19 pueblos to come together. Though it’s a resource for the pueblo communities, it’s also an educational center and a museum for visitors to learn about the pueblos’ history, art and culture, both past and present.
The center’s 24,000 square feet of meeting space is available during the day, and the entire building is available after hours for up to 400 people. Nine meeting rooms range from 480 square feet to a divisible 3,200-square-foot space. An outdoor rotunda, sculpture garden and courtyard are great for events under the night sky.
The onsite, full-service Pueblo Harvest restaurant caters events. Its seasonal menus feature crops grown within the pueblo communities and traditional foods like feast day stew, posole, green chili, pueblo oven bread, pueblo cookies, pumpkin pudding and wojapi, a stewed-berry dessert.
Groups can also arrange for tastings and culinary demonstrations, like corn grinding or a workshop where guests make and eat their own fry bread. In the center’s Resilience Garden, groups can explore the story of pueblo agriculture from before contact through today.
The Daily Artist Program allows visitors to watch and interact with artists as they make pottery, jewelry, stonework carvings and sculptures. Dancers perform traditional dances every weekend throughout the year, but groups can also arrange to hire a dance group for private events or after-hours performances.
Great Lakes Science Center
Not every venue raises attendees’ hair, but the Great Lakes Science Center in Cleveland, Ohio, can, and it can make visitors of any age feel like they’re in eighth grade again as they touch a static electricity generator.
“That’s what makes having a meeting here fun,” said Joe Yachanin, director of communications. “After you’re done doing your work, you can be a little bit more playful.”
Meeting groups can use the Science Phenomenon gallery, a collection of more than 110 hands-on exhibits; Reinberger Hall, the center’s temporary exhibit space; and NASA Glenn Visitor Center, one of only 11 NASA visitors centers in the country, where the centerpiece is an Apollo command module that traveled 26.5 million miles in space.
The atrium on the promenade level can seat about 225 guests at rounds and boasts 80-foot-tall windows overlooking Lake Erie. Reinberger Auditorium can seat 200 people, and groups can book the six-story, domed-screen Imax theater. For sit-down functions, the center can accommodate about 400 people, but up to 4,000 guests can use it for after-hours events.
The center offers a wide range of science-centered programs and team-building activities, like the egg drop challenge. Each team builds a device that will protect an egg in an 80-foot drop from the mezzanine level.
The center offers a number of science shows, and planners can arrange one as part of their private event. “Lift Off” explores the science of rockets and propulsion, and “It’s Electric” features a 12-foot Tesla coil.
Corning Museum of Glass
Corning, New York
During a meeting at the Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, New York, attendees are surrounded by 3,500 years of history — very delicate history.
The museum has several dedicated event spaces that are available during business hours. The auditorium can seat 750 people theater style and includes a full stage, but it can also be used for dinners for 300 or receptions for 800. The museum cafe can host dinners for about 120 people, and the seminar room in the Rakow Research Library can seat 32 people for meals.
Those are some of the dedicated meeting spaces; however, the museum is also available for after-hours events, during which groups have more access to many of the glass galleries.
The admissions lobby is one of the museum’s most-rented spaces, where guests can mingle around Dale Chihuly’s towering “Fern Green” sculpture. The Innovation Center is an interactive science and technology gallery that features a glass floor, a tower of casserole dishes and a sculpture of suspended windshields.
Daily programs include hot glass, flameworking and glass-breaking demonstrations. For meetings or private events, the museum offers live glassblowing shows, group demonstrations and hands-on classes.
Flint Hills Discovery Center
Tallgrass prairie once covered 170 million acres of North America. Today, roughly 95% of the original tallgrass is gone, and about 95% of what’s left is in the Flint Hills of Kansas. The Flint Hills Discovery Center in Manhattan, Kansas, aims to educate and promote the stewardship of the Flint Hills’ rare eco-region.
“We have a real gem here of America’s natural heritage that we like to share with people,” said Jonathan Mertz, event supervisor for the center as well as the city-owned Union Pacific Depot and Blue Earth Plaza.
For smaller daytime meetings, the center has two private rooms that can each accommodate 50 people for receptions or 25 for meetings. The rooms are only steps from the rooftop Prairie Garden Terrace and Trails space, which is open to the public during the day but can host 150-person private events after hours. Guests can explore areas planted with wildflowers and grasses and take in views of downtown Manhattan and the Kansas River Valley.
Larger gatherings or after-hours events move into the exhibit space, which can accommodate seated meals for 120 or receptions for up to 400 people. Guests will have access to interactive exhibits, including one of the most popular displays, which shows how deep the tallgrass prairie root system goes.
The Horizon Ranch Flint Hills Immersive Experience Theater “is the gem in our crown,” Mertz said. Snow falls on viewers during the film, and smoke rolls across the floor as the movie discusses fire as part of the prairie ecosystem.