Wisconsin has an extensive Native American and maritime history, and its bountiful farm land and location in the Great Lakes region attracted numerous immigrants from across Europe in the late 1800s. These diverse cultures are featured in museums across the state that make wonderful places to visit and to host a meeting or conference.
Paine Art Center and Gardens
The Paine Art Center and Gardens is a historic country estate in Oshkosh. Nathan and Jessie Paine commissioned famous New York architect Bryant Fleming to design a Tudor Revival country estate, full of great art and objects, with the ultimate goal of opening it up to the public. Construction began on the mansion in 1927, and the exterior was completed in 1930. Once the Great Depression hit, work on the property was halted until 1946. Nathan died before the house was completed, but his wife opened it to the public in 1948.
The family never lived in the home, which is run by a nonprofit organization. The carriage house and conservatory offers a 2,000-square-foot room that opens onto a courtyard with seating. The conservatory features floor-to-ceiling windows and can host up to 180 people. Smaller spaces are available in the mansion itself, and outdoor events can be held in the small botanical gardens.
“There’s an option to customize every meeting,” said Laura Rommelfanger, director of events for the museum, “with a custom itinerary based on the components that are important to their group.”
Groups can spend time in the gardens or do yoga or host team-building exercises in the gardens.
“That’s our niche. It’s a great place if you want to get away and take a break from the business and really focus,” she said. “We offer a beautiful place to focus and breathe and be mindful and remember all the things that brought your group together. You can focus on the subject at hand instead of the distractions that are so much a part of our lives right now.”
Milwaukee Public Museum
The Milwaukee Public Museum is one of the oldest and largest natural history museums in the country, with more than 150,000 square feet of exhibit space. Among its most iconic and popular exhibits is “The Streets of Old Milwaukee,” a walk-through diorama of Milwaukee at the turn of the 20th century. The streets are paved with granite blocks, red bricks and cedar blocks, and visitors can look through the windows of 30 shops, businesses, restaurants and bars to see just how much things have changed since the city’s founding.
The museum’s geology wing houses many dinosaur skeletons and other fossils, including the most complete mammoth skeleton ever found in North America. Meeting planners who want to take advantage of all the museum has to offer have many event spaces to choose from. The Kohl’s Garden Galleries are wonderful for meetings. The space is large enough to accommodate more than 400 guests and can be broken into seven or eight breakout spaces. The domed theater, which hosts planetarium and Imax shows, can accommodate 256 people.
The museum offers full hospitality services, including a full-service cafe and in-house catering.
“We are unique in how we use our space,” said Todd Garvens, general manager for hospitality services at the museum.
Planners can rent out the museum’s 9,500-square-foot courtyard for groups of up to 200 people or the entire first floor of the museum. Groups also can rent out space at some of the more popular exhibits in the museum, like “The Streets of Old Milwaukee,” “European Village” and the Puelicher Butterfly Wing. Groups can add lunch at the cafe or a catered meal to any event, and groups have access to the museum and its many collections.
Old World Wisconsin
Old World Wisconsin is a 600-acre site that opened in 1976 as Wisconsin’s official bicentennial project. The property, which features woods, ponds, prairie and hiking trails, plays host to 70 historic structures brought to this location from as far north as Bayfield County along Lake Superior, said Dan Freas, director of the museum. It tells a statewide story of the people who settled in Wisconsin during the 19th and early 20th century.
The museum has three working German farms with houses, barns and outbuildings that have been reconstructed on the property, along with Scandinavian homesteads that depict the lives of Norwegian, Finnish and Danish immigrants. The Crossroads Village is a mixture of various ethnic groups that came together and formed a community, including a Catholic church, a blacksmith shop, a general store and an inn.
“Collectively, this serves as the stage on which we can bring to life the stories of various families that came to Wisconsin, so we are very much an immersive, story-based experience,” Freas said.
There are several venues on the property available to groups. The primary space is an 1897 octagonal barn that has been renovated. The upper level of the barn is a large open space that is heated and has modern restroom facilities. It can accommodate 175 people. The cafe downstairs provides food services for the meeting guests. Smaller meeting spaces are available throughout the property, and a large outdoor picnic pavilion is a good location for corporate picnics.
Meeting attendees can take guided or unguided tours of the property by tram or take a horse-drawn carriage ride through the historic village.
Experimental Aircraft Association Museum
The Experimental Aircraft Association is an organization of 230,000 people who like to fly for fun. In Oshkosh, the group’s headquarters and museum sit on 1,600 acres, which includes a re-creation of a 1920 aerodrome complete with a grass runway.
The museum has been around for 35 years and displays 100 airplanes from all eras of aviation history, including a full-size replica of the Wright Flyer. Groups can host events in any of the museum’s 50,000 square feet of exhibit space. Events include access to all areas of the museum, and groups can add guided tours of the museum or rides on the museum’s Max Flight Simulator.
The extensive grounds and aircraft hangars can accommodate large events like 5K runs and large conventions. The museum itself is an excellent option for corporate trainings and large corporate award ceremonies. Its exhibits make for atmospheric dinners and cocktail receptions.
The Air Academy Lodge offers dormitory housing for groups throughout the year. It has a great room with a fireplace that makes it nice for retreats and more intimate meetings.
“It is something completely unlike a big hotel conference room,” said Dick Knapinski, director of communications for the association. “This is a completely different atmosphere that takes you out of a normal conference room setting and puts you someplace different. It kind of sparks the imagination and gets you out of the ordinary.”
Wisconsin Maritime Museum
The Wisconsin Maritime Museum originally was built to commemorate the area’s distinguished past as a submarine builder for the U.S. Navy. It has since evolved into an institution that preserves all of the maritime history of the Great Lakes region and Wisconsin.
Shipbuilders in Manitowac built 28 freshwater submarines for the U.S. Navy during World War II.
Visitors to the museum can tour the inside of the USS Cobia, a World War II submarine that also was built in freshwater and tested in the Great Lakes before doing five war patrols.
Meeting planners looking for something a little different can host an event on the museum’s 3,100-square-foot roof deck, which overlooks Lake Michigan and downtown Manitowoc. The Riverview Room can accommodate groups of as many as 150 theater style or 100 people for a banquet, and is equipped with cutting-edge technology.
Groups can rent out some of the museum’s galleries for meetings and events, and smaller groups can book an overnight stay on the submarine.
The museum’s executive director is available to greet guests and give a presentation about shipwrecks.