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 www.samuseum.org 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. McNay Art Museum www.mcnayart.org 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.
Blue Star Contemporary Art Center www.bluestarart.org 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. Museo Alameda www.thealameda.org 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.