• Artsy meeting spaces
     | May 14,2013

    Imagine that your next board meeting won’t be held in the usual bland hotel conference room, but in an alternate venue like a local art gallery. And, consider how being surrounded by art and beautifully displayed objects might affect the energy, creativity, content and outcomes of that meeting.

    In today’s fluid environment of meeting planning, this is no mere exercise of “what if” thinking, but a trend that has event planners nationwide booking space in non-traditional spaces like art galleries and museums. The practice builds community ties while providing income streams to cash-strapped cultural venues that often offer sliding-scale fees to rent their spaces.

    In Rutland, the Chaffee Art Center — housed in a landmark 1896 Queen Anne Victorian mansion — has played host to special groups for decades. Located on Route 7, the Chaffee has been a beacon for art lovers, while offering its galleries and on-site kitchen to groups for meetings and mixers.

    While the stately mansion was closed for renovations until May, the venerable museum opened a second permanent gallery of contemporary art. Called Chaffee Downtown and located in the heart of Rutland, it also welcomes outside groups to use its space.

    “The mansion has hosted the Long Trail School, Rutland Garden Club, the Rutland Ishadoriya Student Exchange Program and countless other civic, business and nonprofit groups,” said executive director Meg Barros. “If you want an inspirational setting with charm and privacy, this is an ideal location.

    “Many of the people who use the space spend days making tough decisions. The art on the walls and the architectural artistry of the building can inspire them, help their brain cells fire differently, and allow them to let go and breathe deeply for a while.”

    Such thinking is echoed in the research of environmental psychologists, who confirm that our surroundings have a significant effect on how we feel and respond. At effectivemeetings.com, the advice is that when it comes to interior design, we should “aim for a harmonious environment that has a positive effect on mood.”

    And, a 2012 Maritz Research marketing survey on the future of meeting venues cited the growing popularity of non-traditional locations, with participants seeking “out-of-the-box, fun meeting locations.”

    In the hills of Plymouth, the Calvin Coolidge Memorial Foundation at the birthplace of the 30th president of the U.S. opens the Great Room of its visitor center to groups that are happy to journey to its remote location.

    “We have local chamber of commerce mixers here, as well as various Vermont state meetings and the annual dinner of [the] Farm and Wilderness summer camp,” said Kate Bradley, director of engagement and special collections at the Calvin Coolidge State Historic Site.

    When visitors use the Great Room, attached kitchen, and lower-level meeting space, they have the added bonus of viewing interpretive and interactive exhibits of historical artifacts, photographs and memorabilia. “From the windows of the Great Room is a beautiful view of hills that look unchanged from when [President] Calvin Coolidge enjoyed them when he was growing up,” said Bradley. “Meetings seem to have a different sort of feel in such timeless surroundings.”

    Further south in Springfield, one of the area’s largest gallery spaces opened its doors in 2012. The Great Hall, part of the former Fellows Gear Shaper factory along the Black River, has nearly 7,000 square feet of exhibit space with soaring ceilings and is filled with natural light.

    “Its a bright, visible public space that’s full of life and still evolving,” said Bob Flint, executive director of Springfield Regional Development Corporation, which worked with developers who envisioned a huge art space as part of a larger makeover of the former plant into the Springfield Health Center.

    Nina Jamison, artistic coordinator of The Great Hall, is enthusiastic about bringing in outside groups to use the gallery. “We’ve had several weddings; meetings of the Vermont Environmental Consortium, and a health fair put on by Springfield Hospital,” said Jamison. “The space is extremely welcoming and has an energy and scale that puts event participants in the mood to expand.”

    In nearby Chester, VT, a gallery near the green is smaller in scale but just as eager to have the community use its airy, artful space for meetings and special gatherings. Vermont Institute of Contemporary Arts, or VTica, is a gallery/museum/school filled with thought-provoking modern art in all media.

    “We are extremely open to having people use our gallery for their events,” said executive director Abby Raeder. “We’ve opened our space to the Rotary, Weston Playhouse, and the annual New Voices literary event. We have 100 chairs, folding tables, Wi-Fi, and a kitchenette.”

    With dark walnut flooring that contrasts with textured wide-pine-board walls painted soft white, VTica has a warm, rustic, homey feel, unlike galleries that rely on expanses of stark white walls to frame the art.

    “It’s very inviting,” said Raeder. “We’re a young gallery and it’s taking some time to get on the radar of the community, but we are affordable and absolute in our desire to have groups meet in our space.

    “Being surrounded by all this art can make great things happen.”

    Bennington Museum also draws outside groups into its historic, 1855 stone building to hold meetings and special events. As the largest art and heritage repository in southern Vermont, the museum is chock full of inspiring Early American and contemporary art and historical artifacts.

    “We offer a unique setting that is steeped in history, but with all the modern conveniences,” said Susan Stranno, head of marketing and public relations. “Any business or nonprofit looking for space is welcome.” Bennington Museum has hosted diverse groups that include the Vermont Arts Council, Vermont State Firefighters Association, the Bennington Free Library, and Housatonic Partners.

    “Groups that use our spaces for meetings, seminars and celebrations have access to Wi-Fi, theater seating and projection, and a smaller classroom-style setting. When groups enter the museum for meetings, they walk through a central gallery filled with statues, antiques, old clocks and beautiful art,” said Stranno.

    “It’s a visually engaging kind of “wow” experience that gives them pause before their event. I think it inspires them on some level that might change the way they think about things that day.”

    At the Southern Vermont Arts Center (SVAC) in Manchester, “Inspired meetings begin here,” proclaims its Web site. With its 100 pristine acres, a 1917 Georgian Revival mansion, Yester House Gallery, and 400-seat Arkell Pavilion, SVAC has positioned itself as a prime venue for events in southern Vermont, New York and northwest Massachusetts.

    “We have galleries that are used for parties, dinners and receptions; a restaurant; state-of-the-art theater; and stunning views that look over rolling lawns and hiking trails,” said Jennifer Grigsby, coordinator of private events and performing arts.

    The list of outside groups that take advantage of SVAC’s meeting spaces for annual meetings is long and varied, including the Manchester Garden Club, Frog Hollow Craft Association, Orvis, the University of Vermont Pediatrics Department, the International Academy of Trial Lawyers, and the Bennington Garden Club. “If you’re looking to have your meeting someplace that’s very different, this is it,” said Grigsby. “At SVAC, you are surrounded by lovely views and beautiful art that adds something extra to the tone of the meeting.”

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