Cultural landmarks are becoming increasingly popular venues as event planners look for more built-in ambiance than what the “empty box” spaces typical of hotels and conference centers have to offer. They also know that the distinctive ambiance of cultural spaces speaks volumes about their businesses and organizations—that a spirit of innovation and creativity can be conveyed through choosing an unconventional or unique event venue.
But landmark sites can come with the challenge of integrating an often-atypical layout into an event plan.
Rather than seeing this as a limitation, Artscape, a not-for-profit urban development organization based in Toronto, used the unusual floor plan of one of its venues, a century-old former school, to inspire the theme of its annual creative black-tie gala, Artscape Extravaganza.
Here are four tips to help you take advantage of a special venue’s uncommon layout.
- Let the venue inspire your theme.
Artscape’s gala, hosted at Artscape Youngplace, took inspiration from the building itself and treated high-profile guests to an immersive, “back-to-school” experience.
An electric atmosphere and decor inspired by high school cult classics greeted guests, who enjoyed signature cocktails such as the “Thunderbird” and the “Sixteen Candles” and throwback tunes. At the sound of the school bell, guests headed to their designated “homeroom” and embarked on an evening of unique, experiential classes led by professional artists. During “recess,” guests dined in the hallways on local, seasonal delicacies as well as grown-up versions of high school comfort foods like mac ‘n’ cheese carbonara. The lively night culminated in a “school assembly” led by a flash mob of stomp dancers.
- Find ways to break your guests into more intimate groups.
A venue like Artscape Youngplace, which offers a variety of smaller spaces rather than one large space, could make for a disjointed event if not planned carefully. By providing each guest with a personalized “class schedule” and breaking them into smaller groups, Artscape was able to not only accommodate more people in small rooms, but also to create intimate experiences that engaged guests in a way that would be impossible in a large group.
- Less mingling, more interaction.
How many events have you been to with seemingly endless hours of awkward small talk? Treating your guests to structured experiences breaks the ice and opens up the evening to real interaction. Based on participant feedback from previous events, Artscape Extravaganza actually reduced the amount of “free time” guests had at this year’s event, shortening dinner times and instead giving them more time to participate in unique, hands-on activities like woodworking, creating contemporary art, and making music.
- Put guests in the center of the action.
Without a large stage area, Artscape Extravaganza planners had to think outside the box to provide the evening’s entertainment. They took advantage of the theme inspired by their unique school venue by employing actors to entertain as teen idols from high school movies like Grease, Fame, and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Rather than watching a performance, guests were immersed in the action as it unfolded all around them. The event also used the school bell to usher guests to their appropriate classes, while presentations took place on the landing of the grand staircase overlooking the hall. These simple tactics not only kept the evening running smoothly and on-schedule, but also gave guests a fully immersive and unforgettable experience of wonder, nostalgia, and play.
In planning your next big event, consider venturing outside the confines of hotels and conference centres, and look toward cultural landmarks that offer the unique potential to inspire creative ideas, an unforgettable ambience, and out-of-the-box experiences.