Have you ever lingered in a gallery after the closing bell has rung, and felt the excitement of having the artwork all to yourself? You and your guests can experience that same rush by holding your wedding in a museum. These majestic institutions can provide a spectacular alternative to the usual ceremony and reception venues.
Rooms filled with masterpieces need little decorating, and are great icebreakers for strangers and a treat for out-of-towners. Even if you can't tell a Degas from a Dali, celebrating your nuptials in such distinguished quarters will make your wedding utterly memorable. Here, a guide to navigating the galleries for an artful affair.
Fancy some of the most famous canvases in early American art as a backdrop for your wedding toasts (Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia), or a grand entrance hall ringed with marble columns, tapestries, and modern sculptures (Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri)?
Whether you prefer dining under the gaze of Egyptian pharoahs (The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore), or taking your vows within view of paintings by Goya (The Hispanic Society of America, New York City), American museums offer a dazzling range of options. Some museums even allow the festivities to spill out into adjacent sculpture gardens or onto roof terraces.
If you crave intimacy—and lower fees—consider smaller institutions such as historical societies, libraries, and college museums, which are often housed in landmark buildings that have loads of character and significant artwork.
Museums are all about the artwork, so fine dining within their walls tends to have low priority; indeed, many museums don't even have full kitchens. Unless they shelter an in-house restaurant, whose services you'll usually be required to use, you'll have to work with an outside caterer. Don't get your heart set on a particular company, though; museums often require that you choose from a list of preferred vendors that are already familiar with the gallery's strict confines and rules.
Be sure to ask the museum's event planner about any food and beverage bans; liquids that stain, such as red wine and tomato and cranberry juices, are often forbidden. At the Corcoran Gallery of Art, in Washington, D.C., for example, anyone drinking beer—or any other beverage—out of a bottle is busted. Forget about flambéed dishes like cherries jubilee and bananas Foster—few museums will allow open flames except outdoors (votives and hurricane lamps only, thank you).
And if you envision sipping a mojito three feet from a Monet, dream on: Most inner galleries are off limits to anyone holding food and drink, and there'll be someone deployed at each entrance to politely relieve you of your cocktail before you enter.
Since you've most likely chosen a museum for the visual riches it has to offer, you probably won't need to add more than a few decorative touches: flowers, linens, and possibly a runner and a few potted plants or screens to help delineate an area for the ceremony. Find out if the information and admission kiosks in the lobby can be moved out of sight, and ask about hanging drapery to mask the gift-shop entrances.
Don't even think about using balloons, confetti, or scattered petals—museums frown upon them—but do consider taking your design cues from the surrounding art, your favorite painting, even the building itself.
And since the art can change—special exhibitions come and go, and pieces from permanent collections can rotate—try to find out in advance exactly what will be on display before you make a commitment for a certain date. You may be a big fan of, say, contemporary art, but that cross section of a cow that has critics enthralled may appall your less open-minded guests.
How much will you pay for the privilege of having a wedding in such a renowned venue? Although it's possible to spend less than $1,000 for a space—for $750, you can have a cocktail reception in the lobby of Miami's Wolfsonian-FIU, dominated by an Art Deco fountain from an old movie theater—you'll most likely spend between $5,000 and $15,000 for a museum rental.
The American Museum of Natural History, in New York City, charges a whopping $25,000 for a seated reception held beneath a suspended 94-foot-long replica of a blue whale. A museum's booking fee usually buys you nothing more than four to six hours' use of the space—and sometimes you'll be charged extra for holding the ceremony there, for opening up adjacent galleries, or for making them available to guests for more than an hour or two.
Also, since your vendors will have less set-up time—they usually can't get into the museum until it closes—they may need more manpower to do the job quickly, and that will cost you. You'll also have to take out a one-day certificate of liability insurance for $1 million or $1.5 million to protect the museum and its contents; you can most likely get it, starting at about $200, through your homeowner's or rental insurance.
Sound and Light
Museum spaces often have funky acoustics, from towering atriums that can swallow up sound to smaller galleries and staircased rooms that send tunes ricocheting off the walls. If you plan on serious dancing, hire a sound engineer, rather than leaving it up to the musicians, to test the acoustics beforehand.
Dramatic spaces practically demand expert lighting to bring out their good bones. Consider placing tiny, pinspot lights over tables or artwork, throwing a wash of color on the underside of an arch, and downlighting columns. Your museum should be able to recommend a lighting specialist.