Night at the Museum

Move over, New York. Lose some attitude, Los Angeles and Chicago. This year, America's top-rated art cities are not the ones you might expect. AmericanStyle Magazine, whose yearly reader poll picks the 25 best cities in America for art, has some surprises on its list. In 2008, American cities like San Antonio, Albuquerque, Santa Fe, and Key West are right up in the big leagues with the traditional winners.

Art museums in these cities (already meccas for meetings) offer planners some of the most intriguing, flexible, and cost-efficient event space in the country. Venues in these institutions include sunlit atriums, outdoor patios, gardens, auditoriums, and miles of gallery space—all with private, docent-guided access to priceless museum collections. Guests get the special thrill of being the only ones in the museum after closing hours. And along with an incredibly diverse choice of space, meeting planners also get the knowledge that their booking fees are going to support the arts.


In a 2008 poll, readers of AmericanStyle rated San Antonio as number 21 on its Top 25 Arts Destinations among cities with populations of 500,000 and greater.

"The city's embrace of the arts is widely recognized," says Editor-in-Chief Hope Daniels. "San Antonio has made the list in each of the last four years. This year, many of our readers praised the high level of community support for the arts, great galleries, the quality of San Antonio's art shows and fairs, and the range of contemporary art that one can see and buy in the city."

San Antonio Museum of Art
200 W. Jones Ave. San Antonio, TX 78215

Housed in the old Lone Star Brewery complex, the San Antonio Museum of Art opened in 1981 with an emphasis on art of the Americas, including Spanish Colonial, Pre-Columbian, and Latin American Folk Art. Today, the complex has one of the world's most comprehensive collections of world art, and includes The Lenora and Walter F. Brown Asian Art Wing, opened in 2005, making it the largest museum for Asian art in the southern United States.

Recent developments at the museum include the extension of the historic River Walk right to the museum's back door, complete with barge dock. Meetings participants will be able to take a boat from their hotel directly to the museum. Two covered pavilions overlooking the river will be available for groups to rent. One, an extension of the historic Hops House, will be smaller and more casual, while the new construction behind the Stables building will include bathrooms, a kitchen facility, and more amenities. In the meantime, the entire museum is open for rental events. The most popular indoor space is the Great Hall, a large, open space graced with artist Stuart Allen's sailcloth installation in the eaves, near the public entrance. This is a popular place for cocktail parties and sit-down dinners. Outdoors, the museum offers the West Courtyard and the Luby Courtyard/Sculpture Garden, which are more popular for large events. The crown jewel of the Luby Courtyard is the recently installed granite fountain by sculptor Jesus Moroles.

Contact: Robert Esparza, facilities rental coordinator, (210) 978-8100, [email protected]

McNay Art Museum
6000 N. New Braunfels Ave.
San Antonio, TX 78209

The McNay Art Museum, the first museum of modern art in Texas, is set in a Mediterranean-style mansion in the heart of Alamo Heights, and has wide-ranging collections, including Post-Impressionist, modern pieces, and theater-centered works. Its new 45,000-square-foot Jane and Arthur Stieren Center for Exhibitions offers prime exhibit and venue space composed of a show-stopping glass-topped gallery building designed by Jean-Paul Viguier as well as indoor and outdoor sculpture gardens. Other meeting spaces include the intimate Octagon room, the outdoor courtyard, and the Leeper Auditorium.

Contact: Julie McGarraugh, event coordinator, (210) 805-1761, [email protected]

Blue Star Contemporary Art Center
116 Blue Star
San Antonio, TX 78204

Home to a wide array of changing contemporary art exhibits, The Blue Star Contemporary Art Center was created in 1985 of an old riverfront warehouse, to provide exhibition space for the San Antonio artists' community. The Blue Star's events and programs have created a social and economic revitalization in the surrounding neighborhoods of King William Historic District and Lavaca Historic District, with an estimated $2.6 million invested in redevelopment and revitalization efforts over the last few years. Rentable meeting space in the Center comprises four distinct gallery spaces, the Main Gallery, the Middle Gallery, the Project Space, and Gallery 4—all of which have constantly changing exhibition schedules. The feeling in the loft-shaped space is vital and vibrant.

Contact: Zinnia Dunis Salcedo, exhibitions and program manager, (210) 227-6960, [email protected]

Museo Alameda
101 S. Santa Rosa St.
San Antonio, TX 78207

The Museo Alameda, the first formal affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, is the nation's largest Latino museum. It is part of the Alameda National Center for Latino Arts and Culture, a nonprofit organization that also operates the Alameda Theater, the landmark Latino movie palace in downtown San Antonio. With more than 20,000 square feet of exhibit space and 11 galleries, the Museo is devoted to telling the story of the Latino experience in America through art, history, and culture. All of the exhibition space and the historic auditorium itself are available as meeting space.

Contact: Irma De Leon or Terry Reeves, (210) 299-4300

Briscoe Western Art Museum
315 E. Commerce, #205
San Antonio, TX 78205

The upcoming Briscoe Western Art Museum, scheduled to open in the fall of 2009, will add a new dimension to San Antonio's art scene, along with upscale meeting space. The one-of-a-kind museum will be devoted to celebrating the art, people, and history of the great American West, with an emphasis on the western art of San Antonio and the south Texas region. Housed in the former San Antonio Library and Hertzberg Circus Museum, renovated to the tune of approximately $18 million, will provide more than 40,000 square feet of gallery and exhibition areas, all rentable for meetings large and small.

Contact: (210) 299-4499, No meeting or rental agent on staff at press time


Santa Fe wins AmericanStyle's Art City Survey hands down, in the small city category, coming in at number one. With nearly 300 galleries and more than a dozen major museums, Santa Fe has an embarrassment of riches to offer the arts-oriented meeting planner. According to reader and voter Jennifer Poleon, of Columbus, OH, "Santa Fe should be the envy of all other cities for sheer arts focus. Beyond the galleries and museums, the atmosphere practically breathes art."

Georgia O'Keeffe Museum
217 Johnson St.
Santa Fe, NM 87501

For most people, the artist most closely associated with Santa Fe is Georgia O'Keeffe. The artist's famous cow skulls and other desert scenes make up just a small part of the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum. Its collection of more than 3,000 works includes 1,149 O'Keeffe paintings, drawings, and sculptures that date from 1901 to 1984. It is the largest single repository of O'Keeffe's work in the world. The museum's lobby, galleries, and outdoor courtyard are all rentable by meeting planners. Docents can take guests on guided tours of the collections, and the gift shop can remain open after hours for events. The courtyard can also be tented for all-weather outdoor receptions.

Contact: Brad Haynes, visitor relations manager, (505) 946-1019, [email protected]

Ghost Ranch
401 Old Taos Highway
Santa Fe, NM 87501

Georgia O'Keeffe's own studio home, which she called Ghost Ranch, was actually in the shadow of a local dude ranch called Ghost Ranch, operated by the Presbyterian Church. Although the artist's house is on private property and owned by her last companion, Juan Hamilton, meeting planners can take advantage of the original Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, which has been host to a number of meetings, conferences, and special workshops for various groups from around the world. The ranch offers meeting room areas as well as overnight lodging and meals; teambuilding activities are offered on rope, challenge, and waterfront courses. Tours of O'Keeffe landscapes can be arranged as well, with an actor who portrays the artist and narrates her voyages of discovery in the New Mexican desert.

Contact: Gary Salazar, (877) 804-4678, ext. 191

Museum of International Folk Art
On Museum Hill
P.O. Box 2087
Santa Fe, NM 87504

A collection of more than 135,000 artifacts forms the basis of the largest museum collection of folk art in the world. Four galleries and a skylit atrium are all open to meetings/groups. Docents can give after-hours guided tours, and the gift shop—one of the best collections of folk art on sale in one location—can be staffed for meetings and events, too. The museum also has a large outdoor patio, fringed with pinon pine trees, that can be rented in the warm summer and spring months. The Santa Fe Indian Art Market includes world-renowned folk art, and visits to the center of town during market days can be combined with events at the Museum of International Folk Art for a view of folk art in a living context.

Contact: Laura Lovejoy-May, special events manager, (505) 476-1203, [email protected]


Home to one of the biggest city art museums in the country, the recently expanded Albuquerque Museum of Art and History, as well as more than 400 pieces of public art around town, Albuquerque was cited by AmericanStyle for its unique, "quirky" vibe—winning it number seven in the magazine's big city category. What this translates into for meeting planners is a town that prides itself on its authenticity and true-life grit as well as a diverse culture that embraces the Old West, Latino heritage, and Native American roots.

Albuquerque Museum of Art and History
2000 Mountain Rd. NW
Albuquerque, NM 87104

The Albuquerque Museum of Art and History, right in the center of town, is a showpiece of the city. The influx of $8 million in 2005 to refurbish the building and its outdoor sculpture garden have made it a destination point for locals as well as visiting art lovers. The focus here is New Mexican art and history from the mid-1800s to the present. Facilities inside offer 8,000 square feet of gallery space and seating for about 1,500 people. Outside, including the sculpture garden, the space accommodates a whopping 60,000. The lobby can be used for sit-down dinners for 300 or more and there is a conference room and breakout rooms inside, seating up to 70, plus an auditorium that hosts 90 guests.

Contact: Lucia Garcia, (505) 243-7255, [email protected]


Not just the old stomping grounds of Ernest Hemingway and a favorite cruise port, Key West has new street cred for being one of the hottest art scenes in the country—taking the number-six position in AmericanStyle's survey of small American art cities. The eight-square-mile city is home to 70 galleries as well as to the oldest historic city center in America. Residents are deeply proud of their landmark architecture as well as their reputation for having the best light for painting outside of Paris.

Audubon House Gallery of Natural History
205 Whitehead St.
Key West, FL 33040

For many Americans, the natural history prints of John James Audubon, framed and hung on family walls, were the first point of contact with visual art. The Audubon House Gallery of Natural History takes its name from the artist, who stayed here in the 1800s when it was the home of a local sea captain. In fact, many of the flowers in the house's tropical garden were painted by the artist himself. Although it calls itself a "gallery of natural history," the art of Audubon is very much on display, with numerous rare prints framed and on view inside. Groups of 150 can rent the tropical gardens for a sit-down dinner or cocktail party and have their choice of whether to have the museum itself opened (with or without docent) or closed.

Contact: Martha Resk, gallery manager, (305) 304-8171, [email protected]

Key West Museum of Art & History at the Custom House
281 Front St.
Key West, FL 33040

A well-loved landmark on the local arts scene, this museum comprises three buildings: the Custom House (not rentable), the Lighthouse, and Fort East Martello (both available to meeting planners). The Lighthouse Museum includes artifacts from its days as a working beacon, but only the lawn outside is available as event space. Fort East Martello, a Civil War fort, can be rented as event space outside and in, and features local art as well as three galleries dedicated to displaying the work of Mario Sanchez, whose detailed depictions of life in Key West during the early 20th century have made him one of the country's most sought-after folk artists. The fort accommodates 150 inside for a sit-down dinner and 500 for an outdoor cocktail party or other event.

Contact: Kathleen Moody, CFO, (305) 295-6616, [email protected]

Originally published Sept. 1, 2008

For more ideas, tips, and tools for better meetings and events, get Successful Meetings' weekly e-newsletter delivered to your inbox.