America’s Heartland is full of unique museums that play host to many memorable events, from cocktail receptions to company picnics and board meetings.
At these Heartland museums, you can step into the shoes of America’s 33rd president as he faces life-and-death decisions; learn about the marshals and gunslingers who put Dodge City, Kansas, on the map; host a cocktail reception among the aquariums and touch tanks of the Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium; have dinner beneath a World War II bomber; or learn about art as your group hosts a dinner and reception at the Rochester Art Center.
Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum
The Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum is undergoing a $33 million renovation in honor of the 75th anniversary of Truman’s presidency. The museum was shut down in late 2019 and is expected to reopen in spring 2021 with a new Truman permanent exhibit, enhanced education programs and expanded public programs. The new exhibit will have improved storytelling and enhanced interactive and technology-based experiences.
The museum has always been a great place to host a meeting or an event, with numerous indoor and outdoor spaces available. The entrance hall is a versatile space that can be used for receptions and events after hours. The museum’s 220-seat auditorium and Mural Room are also popular spots.
For groups that want something a little different, the White House Decision Center, which is housed in a replica of the West Wing, allows people to immerse themselves in the decisions Truman had to make as the 33rd president of the United States. Some guests can act as press secretary, and others get to see how they would have responded to real events. The entire museum can also be rented after hours.
EAA Aviation Museum
The Experimental Aircraft Association has been around since 1953, but it didn’t open its museum in Oshkosh until 1983. This aviation museum displays more than 100 airplanes that represent the history of flight, and it welcomes more than 100,000 visitors annually.
The museum is situated on several hundred acres, making it a wonderful meeting venue. Not only does it open its airplane hangars for events, but it also can host large concerts, expos and races on its large campus.
“What is unique is that guests are not just in a banquet facility,” said Amelia Abraham Twing, senior event coordinator at the museum. “[Guests] are among the aircraft and the stories of people who have lived these stories of aircraft.”
The Eagle Hangar, which houses much of the museum’s World War II memorabilia, is the most popular event venue. It can host groups of up to 300 people, and guests are seated next to and beneath World War II airplanes. The grounds can host events of more than 1,000 people. Since the airplane hangars are heated, groups can host events there year-round.
Rochester Art Center
Since it was founded in 1946, the Rochester Art Center has helped visitors understand and appreciate the arts.
“I think a big part of our mission has been diversity and inclusion, and we are only getting stronger in that area,” said Pamela Caserta Hugdahl, executive director of the Rochester Art Center. “This is a safe space for creative thinking.”
The center offers arts programs, artist talks and art exhibitions. It also rents out spaces for meetings and events. The 36,000-square-foot facility overlooks the Zumbro River, a tributary of the Mississippi River that runs through Rochester and connects to the Mayo Clinic and other Rochester attractions via heated skyway. The museum has a 4,000-square-foot glassed-in lobby with a large atrium and grand staircase that is great for events and is a particularly popular wedding spot. The space can hold 400 people reception-style and 150 seated. There are also smaller meeting spaces, including a conference room that overlooks the park and river. It is a glassed-in room that has shades for privacy and a kitchenette attached. There are also classroom spaces.
The center offers team-building workshops for smaller groups that come to town where they can do an art activity. The facility’s classroom spaces are set up with sinks and plenty of art supplies. It also offers flexible office space for people coming into Rochester to do temporary work with the Mayo Clinic.
Boot Hill Museum
Dodge City, Kansas
The Boot Hill Museum commemorates the cowboy and gunslinger history that made Dodge City, Kansas, famous. Open since the 1950s, the museum tells the myths, legends and tales of Dodge City from its establishment in 1872 through the early 1900s. The museum has more than 20,000 artifacts and more than 30 exhibits, as well as a re-created historic street front.
The museum is in the middle of an expansion. It just added a new space that will host nine new exhibits in the spring that are full of interactive displays. Among its highlights are conversation screens — when a guest pushes a button on the screen, a famous character from Dodge City’s past comes out and speaks to them.
The museum has a variety of event spaces that can host groups of up to 150 people. There are two venues in the Front Street replica: the Long Branch Saloon and the Occident Saloon. The Long Branch is a great spot for informal gatherings. Groups can set up bar and food stations throughout the exhibits.
“You can grab your food as you walk through and look at the exhibits and learn about history while you mingle with party guests,” said Christina Million, hospitality coordinator for the Boot Hill Museum. “It is a lot of fun. People really do enjoy doing that.”
The museum does its own catering and has a variety of menu selections. Both the Long Branch and the Occidental have sound systems. The Mariah Gallery, which is 3,000 square feet of event and traveling exhibit space, has a new projector and screen.
National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium
A mixture of museum, aquarium and science center, the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium has both indoor and outdoor spaces that can be rented out for meetings and events. Groups can host events near the aquariums and touch tanks or outside receptions using the plaza and wetlands area, which includes a stream dredge in the harbor that people can tour. The museum can host intimate events of 10 to 25 people or large corporate picnics for up to 900 people.
“When they get that large, it gets a little crazy, so we utilize our 14-acre campus, 100,000 square feet of indoor space and the plaza, which has a pavilion and outdoor boatyard,” said Nate Breitsprecker, director of sales and guest services for the museum.
Events inside the museum take place among the exhibits and aquariums. Guests can host a cocktail reception and a full sit-down dinner among the animals of the Mississippi River, including an eight-and-a-half-foot alligator and river otters.
Event attendees are free to roam the exhibits during their events. The museum works exclusively with one off-site caterer but handles the beverage service itself. The full-service facility also has audiovisual capabilities and screens for meetings and awards presentations.