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  • 1.  Museum events and rentals -- policy questions

    Posted 08-24-2022 03:06 PM
    Hello everyone,

    I have a couple of questions about museum events and rentals:

    • First, I'd love to hear from other museums about their rental policies, and if there are any types of events they don't open up to rentals. Most of our rental requests are straightforward -- parties, weddings, community organization meetings, etc. However, we've recently had someone ask about a rental for a political fundraising event, and we weren't sure what our best course of action and policy on these types of rentals would be. What about candidate forums or similar? Any thoughts much appreciated.
    • Second, we often participate in local and regional community events with an information booth, activity table, or presentation about our museum and its programming -- from history festivals to maker faires to the local Rotary club. Occasionally, however, we get feedback from stakeholders who don't understand why we participate in some community events that are viewed as "political" (e.g. a pride event or Juneteenth). We try to explain about the museum's mission to provide programming and educational resources and content to the whole community and to be welcoming to all current and potential visitors. Have you encountered this pushback too, and if so, how have you handled it?

    Thank you in advance!


    Rene Rodgers
    Head Curator
    Birthplace of Country Music Museum
    Bristol VA

  • 2.  RE: Museum events and rentals -- policy questions

    Posted 08-25-2022 09:18 AM
    Hi, Rene - On your first question, I could go on for twenty p[ages or more.  You don't say whether you have an "auditorium" type space.  While, in general, I am a staunch believer in not allowing a museum to be "rented" for private (or political) events, I understand the need for finding earned income.  Obviously, you must decide whether your collection will be at risk in hosting (including, where appropriate, considering your facility a part of your collection).  Be prepared to move objects.  People will tell you, "Oh, you don't need to move (or remove) anything!"  Photographers are particularly guilty of this.  But then when the set up starts... it's a different story.  And, ultimately, it's the museum that will have to make that decision and take action, or else!

    Outside events, especially weddings, can be extremely damaging.  They require a huge amount of staff time, and even a dedicated staff member.  They often inconvenience your "real" visitors and cramp regular programming, or open hours.  I recently tried to visit a local museum (won't name it) to see an exhibition I had been relishing.  I checked their website before leaving, but when I got the at about 1:00 p.m., there was a "sorry" notice on the front door indicating they were closed for a private event... nothing on their website indicated this!  So I strongly suggest pop-up notices.

    If you do decide to rent for outside groups, I suggest that your contract is very specific (drawn up by an attorney) and that you charge enough (it may need to be punitive!) to anticipate the inconvenience and potential damages.  A large museum in CT requires that outside events in certain spaces pay for the complete de-installation, and re-installation of exhibitions for events.  The same institution requires that "renters" be members at the $1,500 level - annually.  There is also the issue of outside caterers.  They can also be damaging and cooking in the museum adds another layer of threat.

    Political fund raisers can be as bad as weddings.  As the gallery director of a municipal gallery in CT, while I initially refused, the mayor forced me to host just such an event.  People who are perfectly well-mannered in normal life, after a drink or two, will leave their wet glasses on pedestals - or worse.  ... and literally lean on artworks!  I'll stop here.  But I could go on.

    On the issue of the museum being represented at community events, here, too, I would suggest considering staff time and ROI.  In general, in my opinion, it's great to participate in these.  Could staff and board create a committee to evaluate each for its value to the museum?  Creating specific hands-on (or in your case, voice-on!) activities for the public to enjoy is a great way to have them remember the museum.  As for Juneteenth - I can't believe someone would consider that POLITICAL!?!  If the museum is asked why it chooses one event over another, a simple answer could be, "We have limited staff and a committee decides what we can attend."

    Best, Vivian

  • 3.  RE: Museum events and rentals -- policy questions

    Posted 08-25-2022 10:36 AM
    Hi Rene,

    I have been consulting to Museums (and cultural institutions), over 400, throughout the US and some in Canada. for over 25-years and most have a million questions regarding 'events and rentals'. There are lots and lots to consider and think about in this regard.

    What you have in your note is 'a huge' area. I have written two books that includes many actual 'blind' (not naming the client, of course reports and recommendations for this area. When the books first came out AAM had in their bookstore. I believe both books are still available at Amazon if you type in my name and books in both new and used versions. I have worked with very small (attendance) to very large (1+ million) annual attendance; all with 'Internal and Rental Events

    I do not see a statement of your BCMM 'goals' (financial and operational) in your note.

    I would be most happy to talk with you sometime at mutual convenience if you do a call, please email me directly (see signature below) and no cost or obligation if you opt to do so. I am fine sharing what I know with the industry as there are no resources other than my two books, consultants that have worked with me over the years, and me.

    Let me know if an initial call will help. 

    Best wishes,

    Art Manask
    Art Manask Consulting
    818 358-3588

  • 4.  RE: Museum events and rentals -- policy questions

    Posted 08-25-2022 10:56 AM
    Hey Rene,

    So I can help a little with your first question - as I was (up until about a year ago) one of the only two members of our rentals team, as one of the 'bullet points' in my job description here!

    Our organization is a little different because we are combination zoo, aquarium, and museum so our rental policies have to cover a wide variety of what is and is not allowed, available or acceptable depending on the request. But we do host the normal weddings, anniversaries, parties, company holiday events and more. Typically those are hosted in our aquarium space, some in our zoo, and some in our museum spaces. Our rental contracts that we make each client sign (and was vetted by lawyers on our board) is very explicate in what is and is not allowed in the space. We do not allow anything to be affixed to walls or exhibits in any way, we do not allow balloons (open air aquarium exhibits), we do not allow smoke machines, and we do not allow things like sand, plastic confetti, or glitter - and that is just the basics. We are also very specific in terms of music as we have to be careful on noise level that may affect the animals. And we only allow beer, wine or champagne, absolutely no other type of alcohol.

    In my experience, guests who choose places like our facility or other museum type settings do so with a very specific reason in mind in regards to what you offer, and are usually very respectful of the rules that have to be put in place for the safety and integrity of the institution. Additionally, we only allow after hours events - outside of our own yearly fundraiser, we do not close early for rental clients, and we do not start setting up in public spaces before 4:30 pm (we close at 5 pm daily).

    We have hosted political events in the past, and we have not received much pushback as we are strictly 'the venue' for any rental clients. We do not advertise for them, we do not offer our logo for their use in advertising their event, etc. We have also been careful to make sure all those involved are aware that our rental spaces are available upon request, so anyone involved in any political race has the opportunity to host their event on site - and there are no discounts offered to remain fair and impartial. In my experience working in our rentals department, if your institution continues to be seen strictly as 'the venue', you can continue to remain apolitical or unbiased in your community (if that's what your goal is).

    I hope that helps at least with your first question!

    Jessica Gouge
    Education Events and Collections Manager
    Greensboro Science Center
    Greensboro NC

  • 5.  RE: Museum events and rentals -- policy questions

    Posted 08-25-2022 08:16 PM
    Hi Rene,

    We have a pretty robust rental schedule and because we are part of the State of Alaska's Department of Education, we have to be careful about the type of rentals we take on. Typically we don't have a huge issue with politically-affiliated requests because we're a state agency, but we do have to consider the public point of view when we get requests from religious or other groups with an outspoken agenda that leans one way or the other.

    I'm probably doing a horrible job at explaining this at the moment. Please feel free to email me if you'd like to talk more or if you're interested in seeing our rental contract and event policies.

    Amber Glen
    Administrative Assistant
    State of Alaska Division of Libraries, Archives, & Museums
    Juneau, Alaska

  • 6.  RE: Museum events and rentals -- policy questions

    Posted 08-26-2022 09:04 AM
    Hi Rene
    My firm is an F&B/retail consultancy that has advised more than 350 arts organizations nationwide. There are a wide variety of rental policies in practice. In my experience, I have found many cultural institutions shy away from allowing any political activity in their facility. Even though the event is a third party rental, attendees and the general public may draw erroneous conclusions about the institution from the event. Most organizations we work with include some phraseology in their policy that indicates they may not accept events that are potentially harmful to the museum or its reputation. Happy to connect if helpful.

    Tracy Lawler
    JGL Consultants
    Princeton NJ