There’s art in the grid of steel beams and glass that creates the Cleveland Museum of Art’s new atrium. There’s inspiration in the sweep of architect Rafael Viñoly’s five-story centerpiece that connects the museum’s main entrance and the white marble of its 1916 building. There’s unexpected beauty in the plots of greenery at opposite ends of the football field-sized space.
For those reasons and more, there was no better place for Hahn Loeser & Parks to entertain about 200 attorneys, clients and guests for a corporate event coinciding with the opening of the atrium and the museum’s Wari: Lords of the Ancient Andes exhibit, which the law firm is sponsoring.
“It was a very exciting and comfortable environment to socialize in,” says Lawrence E. Oscar, CEO of Hahn Loeser. “This is truly a destination.”
After an opening reception in the atrium, guests could chose to take a curator-guided tour or wander independently through Wari, a collection of 150 ceramic and sculptural pieces, ornaments with gold and silver inlays and handmade garments, all predating Inca civilization. The ancient objects juxtaposed against white walls served as a backdrop for inspired conversations.
“You feel uplifted and intellectually stimulated,” Oscar says. “It’s probably one of the best spaces in the country of its type.”
In fact, the museum atrium can accommodate up to 2,000 guests and even has room for a temporary stage. And coupled with the opening of the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland and the Ariel International Center, it helps change the city’s landscape for corporate events, company outings and meetings of all sorts.
The new atrium allows the Cleveland Museum of Art to host large outside private events for the first time since the museum’s opening in 1916. It has already been the backdrop for more than 20 events.
“There’s nothing like it in the city of Cleveland,” says Sherri Schultz, the museum’s director of catering. “You can incorporate some of the art with the menu planning we do, but also guests can go through some of the galleries during the event as well.”
Schultz and chef Doug Katz, the owner of Fire Food and Drink who opened Provenance Cafe and Restaurant at the museum, work together to draw inspiration from the art in the galleries. For example, they created a global-style menu featuring anticuchos de carne, empanadas de pollo and cheese-stuffed corn cakes with black beans and avocado sauce to accompany the Wari exhibit.
“Everything we do is made from scratch,” Schultz says. “We are very passionate about incorporating local and seasonal food.”
Changing venues can make a big difference in the results of an event or party, according to Pam Barr, media relations representative for the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland.
Designed by London architect Farshid Moussavi, MOCA Cleveland’s $27.2 million twisting black cube — located in the Uptown district not far from University Circle — opened in early October. The first floor, which houses what the museum calls an urban living room, was intentionally designed for flexibility, with the ability to be adapted for performances or any type of event.
The museum has held 24 non-museum events since opening, including an American Greetings team that used the gallery spaces for a creative brainstorming session.
“It gets people out of the mindset of going to the office,” Barr says. “It’s a catalyst for new thoughts and ideas.”
Through technology (slideshows or videos projected on the walls), decorative touches (floral arrangements or lanterns), and nontraditional menus, each event can take on its own identity.
“MOCA is stimulating and intriguing and challenging in a very different and important way,” says Hahn Loeser’s Oscar, who’s on the MOCA Cleveland board and has already attended several events there.
Create Your Own Experience
For Hyland Software’s annual holiday party, the venue wasn’t an issue. The Westlake creator of OnBase software planned to use its warehouse space for the gathering, just as it had the year before.
But Kathleen Vegh, Hyland’s minister of culture, wanted something spectacular. So she recruited Cleveland food truck pioneer Chris Hodgson and his catering company, Driftwood Catering, to create five pop-up restaurants for its 1,500 employees.
“Everybody’s so into all the food that’s happening and all of the restaurants in the area,” says Vegh, “so we kind of took this food-experience approach.”
Driftwood, which operates Welshfield Inn, Washington Place Bistro, 87 West, Hodge’s and the Orchard House, put up drywall, tiled floors and even had the servers dress appropriately for each pop-up venue, whether that meant wearing Converse or tuxedos.
“They made them look like these restaurants were actually there, with décor that would be used in the restaurants and kind of created the whole environment,” Vegh says.
Each restaurant brought its main chef, a mini kitchen and a small menu offering signature items served at Driftwood-operated Cleveland hot spots (think: Hodge’s Moscow mule or 87 West’s fondue and sangria).
“We’re not a catering company,” says Hodgson. “We’re a restaurant group that enjoys catering.” In fact, food trucks, including Hodgson’s Hodge Podge and Dim and Den Sum, even made a late-night appearance.
“We kind of listen throughout the year and see what they would like to see and what they loved from last year,” Vegh says.
And when it comes to pleasing large groups, Vegh advises to narrow in on a few elements. “We focused on food and entertainment mainly,” she says. “The rest of it normally comes to together if there’s enough of a draw from that.”
Radhika Reddy, founding partner of Ariel Ventures, knows how to make the most of her assets. So she recommends planning events at the newly renovated Ariel International Center right around sundown to take advantage of the 100-year-old structure’s sweeping views of the city.
“You see the beautiful sunset over the lake,” Reddy says. “Then into nighttime you see the beautiful lights of the Cleveland skyline. It’s just spectacular.”
In fact, the 68,000-square-foot former Leff Electric building offers a perspective not often seen from the eastern edge of Cleveland’s downtown. “It gets the entire breadth of the whole city skyline,” she says.
Since opening in July, the center has hosted several big events, including the International Annual Summit and the city’s economic development holiday party. To ring in the New Year, Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Cribbs is hosting a public New Year’s Eve party at Ariel.
“We can be a one-stop shop,” Reddy says. “We have all the china, the tables, chairs and tablecloths. We have restaurants we work with to bring global food, and then we also allow them to bring everything themselves including food and drink.”
Reddy, an Indian immigrant, opens up the space to any client but is encouraging Cleveland’s 118 ethnic groups to consider it as an option for hosting events.
Whichever ethnicity the event is centered around, Ariel has contacts for food providers such as Gallucci’s for Italian offerings or Saffron Patch for Indian food. Plus, Ariel can contact local cultural dance groups to provide entertainment.
Soon the space will be able to accommodate larger performances. Reddy hopes to open an international performing arts center and 5,000-square-foot rooftop patio in 2013, adding more options for versatile uses.
“People just feel at home, especially the international community,” she says.