Thomas P. Campbell, current director of New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, once likened museums to the inside of a car: Even when the world outside is speeding by quickly and blaringly, he observed, the world inside feels refreshingly silent and slow.
"Museums are like the quiet car of the world," Campbell said. "It's a place you can come to escape, where there's authenticity, there's uniqueness, there's calm, there's physicality."
Temples of learning and reflection, museums are designed to facilitate introspection, information, and innovation. They catalog the past for the purpose of building a bridge to the future. For that reason, they make ideal destinations not only for school field trips and Saturday strolls, but also for meetings, planners of which can leverage museums' contents and character to infuse their events with exploration, education, and enchantment.
Here are five meeting-worthy museums where planners can mix attendees and artifacts to spectacular effect:
1. The Salvador Dali Museum (pictured above) (St. Petersburg, FL)
The Salvador Dalí Museum's permanent collection includes 96 oil paintings, more than 100 watercolors and drawings, and 1,300 graphics, photographs, sculptures and objets d'art of surrealist artist Salvador Dalí.
Speaking of "objects of art," the museum's largest is the 68,000-square-foot building itself, which opened in 2011. Designed in the spirit of Dalí's surrealist work, highlights include the waterfront garden and adjacent labyrinth; the helical staircase, which recalls Dalí's obsession with spirals and double helices; and the large glass entryway and skylight, nicknamed "the enigma," which stands 75 feet tall, comprises 1,062 pieces of triangular glass, and is the only Novum glass structure in the Western hemisphere.
The St. Petersburg museum can accommodate groups from 20 to 650 attendees, and most events enjoy up to two hours of gallery access during which attendees can mingle both with each other and with Dalí's work.
2. The Chicago History Museum (Chicago)
When it comes to museums, the Windy City's obvious choice is the Art Institute of Chicago, which houses more than 300,000 works of art and 10 distinct spaces for meetings and events, the largest of which can accommodate groups of up to 1,200. For a more intimate and original experience, however, consider the Chicago History Museum in the city's posh Lincoln Park neighborhood.
Established in 1856, and in its current location since 1932, the Chicago History Museum explores American history through the lens of the nation's most iconic Midwestern metropolis. The museum's contents include more than 22 million artifacts and documents educating museum-goers about the presidency of Illinois native Abraham Lincoln, the Great Chicago Fire that burned the city down in 1871, the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893 that inspired Erik Larson's novel "The Devil in the White City," the immigration trends that shaped Chicago's neighborhoods, Chicago's "windy" politics, Al Capone's reign, the city's 'L' public transportation system, the Chicago Cubs, and more.
With interior event spaces for groups of up to 600, an outdoor plaza for groups of up to 700, and a buyout option for groups of up to 1,500, it's a unique way to help attendees explore their destination and see a different, more historic side of it.
3. The National Blues Museum (St. Louis, MO)
The history of America is often told through the history of American music -- and there is no genre of music that's more American than the blues, which is the inspiration behind the National Blues Museum, opening April 2 in downtown St. Louis.
Totaling 23,000 square feet, the new museum will use interactive technology and historical artifacts to recount the chronology of the blues, as well as its regional variations and its role in the development of other genres, including rock and roll. Among other things, museumgoers will learn how to compose their own blues riff as they move through the museum; they'll start by learning to compose their own blues lyric, and will have the opportunity to add musical overlays to it as they navigate through exhibits, ultimately ending up with a musical track that they can email to themselves before they leave the museum.
For groups, the museum will offer two private event spaces, each of which will be able to accommodate up to 150 people. One of them, the Lumiere Place Legends Room, features a stage that will host concerts Thursday through Saturday, leaving the space available for private rental Sundays through Wednesdays.
4. The Mob Museum (Las Vegas)
Under normal circumstances, you wouldn't want gangsters anywhere near your meeting. At The Mob Museum, however, they'll be your guests of honor.
Opened in 2012, the 41,000-square-foot museum in downtown Las Vegas uses interactive, themed environments, unique artifacts, and multi-sensory experiences to tell the story of organized crime in Las Vegas and America. Located inside a historic courthouse, its centerpiece exhibit is "the Courtroom," where the proceedings of the United States Senate Special Committee to Investigate Crime in Interstate Commerce occurred in Las Vegas in 1950; led by U.S. Senator Estes Kefauver, the hearings sought to expose and control organized crime in the United States. The museum's collection includes artifacts from many of organized crime's biggest names, including Al Capone, Dion O'Bannion, George Moran, Charlie "Lucky" Luciano, Meyer Lansky, Ben Siegel, Sam Giancana, Joe Bonanno, Frank "Lefty" Rosenthal, Mickey Cohen, Tony Spilotro, John Gotti, and Whitey Bulger.
In addition to a full buyout for groups of up to 500, the museum offers a third-floor meeting room for up to 50 and also rents out the Courtroom, which can accommodate groups of up to 200.
As if the space weren't distinctive enough, the museum also offers several unique group packages; the "Sleeping with the Mob" package, for instance, includes screening of a mob movie, a midnight scavenger hunt, and a slumber party in the Courtroom.
5. Chihuly Collection (St. Petersburg, FL)
In addition to the Dali Museum mentioned above, another St. Pete museum worth checking out is the Morean Arts Center, which is home to the Chihuly Collection, a permanent collection of sculptor Dale Chihuly's famous blown-glass artwork. Although it will be moving to a new location this fall, the Collection currently is located within walking distance of the Dalí Museum inside a 10,000-square-foot gallery designed by architect Albert Alfonso. Anchored by a 20-foot sculpture that was created especially for the site, the Collection includes several of Chihuly's large-scale installations, including the "Ruby Red Icicle Chandelier" created specifically for the Collection, as well as pieces from his popular "Macchia," "Ikebana," "Niijima Floats," "Persians," and "Tumbleweeds" series, each of which has its own distinct space that was custom-designed for it.
Groups of up to 150 may rent the entire Collection -- encompassing its galleries, retail store, lobby, Donor Room, and theater -- and can even take advantage of available docents to add insight to the Collection or give tours of it.