By Carolyn Blackburn
Bluegrass State's Cultural Core
Beyond thoroughbred horses and some of the world’s greatest bourbon, two decidedly defining products of Kentucky living, the Bluegrass State is also an arts and cultural destination with plenty of museums and performing arts centers to explore when meeting here.
Most of these attractions facilitate group tours and/or offer group ticket sales, and also host off-site events.
From a historic opera house in Lexington to a unique museum that showcases quilts in Paducah, there are many inspiring backdrops for group gatherings in Kentucky.
Speed Art Museum, Louisville
The Speed Art Museum, which showcases a collection that spans 6,000 years, reopened in March after a multimillion-dollar three-year expansion/renovation. Highlights of the project include a new South Addition, which features a cinema, lobby and courtyard, plus the new North Building, an art park and a public piazza.
“The new space has doubled exhibit space and features the group-friendly North Building that has instantly become the ‘go-to’ venue for Louisville events and meetings,” says the museum’s public relations manager, Laura Ross. “The acoustically rich Grand Hall and glass-filled atrium can hold up to 500-plus guests for a one-of-a-kind event space that is situated around centuries of great art.”
Located just minutes from downtown Louisville, the updated museum accommodates group tours and hosts various events year-round, from corporate meetings and luncheons to concerts and presentations.
Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts, Louisville
“The Kentucky Center is the Commonwealth’s preeminent performing arts center, offering several unique spaces for groups of all sizes, including both theatrical and more traditional meeting spaces,” says Rachel Cummings, the museum’s senior manager of event services.
The four theatrical spaces range in size from 100 to 2,400 seats, all equipped with the latest audiovisual bells and whistles, and non-theatrical spaces include a grand rehearsal hall and a modern bar area.
Located in the heart of downtown Louisville on the Ohio River, the museum, which has a packed events calendar featuring musicals and various other performances, hosts group tours highlighting the on-site contemporary art collection, and has an on-site food-and-beverage department.
“They can build bar packages around the group’s specific event needs, including a specialty cocktail designed by the client,” Cummings says.
Lexington Opera House, Lexington
The 1886-built Lexington Opera House, which stages touring national acts and is part of the Lexington Center, the region’s most popular multiuse entertainment, convention and shopping complex, is a well-situated “cultural crown jewel,” according to Luanne Franklin, director of performing arts for Lexington Center.
“Located in the heart of downtown Lexington’s entertainment district, the Lexington Opera House is steps away from dozens of local restaurants, bars, galleries, antique shops and boutiques,” she says.
Private tours of the opera house can be arranged, group discounts for ticketed events are available, and the venue has several spaces for group gatherings, including upper level lobbies and Pardy’s Pub in the lower level.
“Pardy’s is beautifully appointed in the style of a Rathskeller in an old English pub,” Franklin says.
Lyric Theatre & Cultural Arts Center, Lexington
The Lyric Theatre & Cultural Arts Center is the “crown jewel” of Lexington’s East End, according to the venue’s executive director, Donald Mason.
“The Lyric Theatre has a rich history dating back to 1948,” he says. “Beyond the rental space, the facility brims with artwork.”
The main space that is used for events is the Deweese Street Community Room, which hosts receptions, business meetings, presentations and more.
“Attached to the Community Room is a courtyard that can be used in various ways,” Mason adds. “We also have the main theater available for rentals.”
Southern Kentucky Performing Arts Center (SKyPAC), Bowling Green
SKyPAC, which presents a full calendar of performances, including Broadway shows and concerts, is located in the heart of Bowling Green’s downtown district.
“SKyPAC has set a new standard for events in Bowling Green,” says Jackie Goldammer, the venue’s director of operations and events. “We house a variety of unique spaces for private events. The contemporary floor-to-ceiling glass windows and expansive lobby create an open and refreshing atmosphere—a natural backdrop for any event.”
Other spaces here include the main hall, a lounge located at the top of the grand staircase and two rehearsal halls.
“SKyPAC is often used to host diverse gatherings, such as galas, conferences, educational workshops, business meetings and more,” Goldammer says. “If you can imagine it, we can make it happen.”
Behringer-Crawford Museum, Northern Kentucky
“Situated high above the Ohio River in a corner of Covington’s scenic Devou Park, the historic Behringer-Crawford Museum offers an intimate backdrop for corporate events,” says Marilyn Maxwell, the museum’s events manager.
The museum has both indoor and outdoor spaces available for group gatherings that accommodate up to 100 people.
“Attendees will enjoy exploring the museum’s fascinating exhibits, viewing a collection of regional art and learning about the culture and heritage of Northern Kentucky,” Maxwell says.
National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, Northern Kentucky
Situated within walking distance of the Covington, Ky.-based Northern Kentucky Convention Center is the Cincinnati-based National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, a history museum that aims to tell the stories of freedom’s heroes.
According to Stacey Moher, communications specialist for meetNKY | Northern Kentucky CVB, the attraction is one of the best representations of the area’s cultural off-site venues.
“The Freedom Center’s cultural mission and premium location on our beautiful shared riverfront with Cincinnati make it a wonderful group venue for meetings,” she says.
Among the museum’s meeting spaces are the Hall of Everyday Freedom Heroes & Terrace, which is perfect for cocktail receptions, the 300-seat Harriet Tubman Theater and the Grand Hall, which accommodates everything from meetings to meal functions for up to 300 people.
National Quilt Museum, Paducah
The award-winning National Quilt Museum, which aims to advance the fine craft of quilt-making worldwide, offers on-site tours, group ticket pricing and hands-on teambuilding exercises called “experiences” that the museum’s CEO Frank Bennett says groups will talk about for years.
“Groups that meet in the museum classrooms will enjoy some of the best quilt and fiber art in the world,” he adds. “It’s one of the best ways to take a break during a hard day of meetings.”
The museum is located in historic downtown Paducah, where groups will find other arts attractions as well as five locally owned restaurants within a few blocks.
“It’s a wonderful place to have a meeting,” Bennett says.
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