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Seeking a change in scenery, businesses congregate at Cleveland’s Museum of Contemporary Art

 By Nina Polien Light  |  Photo by McKinley Wiley

Teambuilding events are often a variation on this theme: Colleagues gather for an early-morning breakfast meeting in a country club’s conference room. Coffee, croissants, and a motivational speaker later, they hit the fairway for a few rounds of golf and forced camaraderie before returning to the club for drinks and dinner.

The problem with this scenario is not everybody knows the difference between a putter and driver, which can be stressful for the person who does not hit balls at the range every Saturday morning. And when seasoned golfers are forced to wait for once-a-year golfers to tee off, it does nothing to further goals of creative problem-solving or rallying the troops for another banner year.

This recognition has led even the most golf-loving managers to seek alternate corporate outings. A growing number have found a unique, energetic, and thought-inspiring venue in Cleveland’s Museum of Contemporary Art. MOCA’s attention-commanding building at the southeast entrance to the city’s revitalized Uptown district offers well-designed meeting and social spaces in addition to galleries with cutting-edge exhibits. In fact, corporate meetings and affairs comprise 40 percent of MOCA’s special-event business. In 2014 the museum hosted more than 70 events, representing corporate and non-corporate clients. As of the last week of September, the museum had booked 75 events for 2015 and expected to schedule 15 more.

“The architecture itself is a big draw,” Julie Anderson, director of business operations and marketing, says.

Indeed, the four-story, LEED Silver-certified, 34,000-square-foot structure with a reflective black stainless steel exterior has attracted organizations such as the American Society of Architects and American Society of Landscape Architects.

With a combined 3,600 square feet of event space, Gund Commons and the adjacent Cleveland Foundation Lobby accommodate 200 people for a sit-down dinner or theater-style seating for more than 300 for a reception. A dropdown door divides the space for more private events, even on days when the museum is open. Two floors up are the Talalay Classroom and Rayburn Workroom, which are ideal for breakout sessions or smaller board meetings. Many organizations convene all attendees on the ground floor, then assign groups of 24 to 45 people to the third-floor rooms for smaller meetings or workshops. All event spaces are outfitted with state-of-the-art audiovisual equipment and an adjustable lighting system.

The museum’s Creative Breaks package is popular with corporate rental clients. It offers meeting space, a meal, and a tour of the galleries. Food and beverage service is provided by Marigold Catering. Depending on the event and package selected, offerings range from coffee and pastry at meetings, to boxed lunches, buffets, cocktail receptions, and sit-down dinners.

“Marigold does a great job of designing menus for clients and working with them on their budget,” Anderson says.

Of course, art is the big draw and MOCA delivers. Attendees need not be art connoisseurs to appreciate the modern masterpieces, which rotate three times a year.

“During (meeting or conference) breaks, Jill Snyder, our executive director, or someone on the curatorial staff may lead the group on a tour, which makes it more meaningful than a self-tour,” Anderson says. “Getting into the galleries makes (MOCA) a great place for thought-provoking brainstorming sessions.”

Universities and colleges appreciate MOCA’s vitality.

“Columbia College from Chicago uses our space to attract students from our area,” Anderson says. “They think it’s hip and edgy and a different spot for them to talk to prospective students.”

Other high-profile corporate clients include Google, Wells Fargo, Forest City, SAP America, United Way, and TEDx Cleveland. About a year and a half ago, the Cleveland Cavaliers rented the entire museum to host a thank-you party for season ticketholders and their families. The setting lent itself to artistic activities, such as drawing murals, which players enjoyed with attendees.

When groups hold teambuilding events, conferences or meetings, they often like to present attendees with mementos. The manager of the MOCA Store works closely with corporate clients to identify unique items, many of which can be customized.

MOCA was founded in 1968 as The New Gallery and became the nonprofit Cleveland Center for Contemporary Art in 1974. It adopted its current moniker in 2002. Ten years later MOCA moved from the heart of University Circle to its current, $27.2 million edifice that anchors the hopping Uptown neighborhood. The building’s unique design and environmentally friendly structure quickly gained notice locally, nationally, and internationally. It did not take long for MOCA to become a sought-after special-events venue.

“The key is to get return business and stay relevant,” Anderson says. “We’ve done a good job. A lot has to do with marketing, PR, and our sales team following up with clients, reaching out, and hosting open houses for event planners, meeting planners, and executive assistants. We bring them here for lunch and show them our space.”

For more information: www.mocacleveland.org

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