6 New York City Museums for Special and Experiential Events
Museum of Broadway Cabaret exhibit. Credit: Darren Cox
Founded as New Amsterdam in 1624, New York City is comparatively young among global capitals. It may just be the mother of all cultural cities, though.
Starting in Manhattan with international icons including the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Museum of Modern Art, The Whitney Museum of Art, The Frick Collection and The National September 11 Memorial & Museum, NYC’s cultural campus extends to hundreds of distinguished event-capable destinations across all five boroughs.
The Brooklyn Museum is the city’s second-largest art museum and one of the largest in the U.S. Founded in 1869, the American Museum of Natural History is renowned for events under the 94-foot blue whale in the Milstein Hall of Ocean Life or in the cosmos of the Rose Center for Earth and Space. Unveiled in spring 2023, the Gilder Center for Science, Education, and Innovation is an architecturally wondrous addition featuring an interactive insectarium and vivarium where butterflies fly free.
Beyond the big names, more specialized museums and operators expand the curatorial universe in myriad directions and dimensions. Here are six choices that showcase the heartbeat of NYC.
Museum of Broadway, Manhattan
The city’s first documented theatrical performance took place in 1732 inside a Lower Manhattan building billed as “The Playhouse.” Moving northwards up Broadway through the centuries, the nascent Theater District took shape around the future Times Square in the late 1800s. Synonymous with NYC, Broadway today encompasses 41 theaters with the requisite 500-plus seats between 41st and 53rd Streets.
Opened in November 2022 in the heart of the district, the Museum of Broadway puts on an immersive, interactive show that delights and entertains. Theater professionals working as “stagehands” direct visitors through three floors of exhibits that include sets, costumes, posters and other memorabilia from Cabaret, Hair, West Side Story and other legendary shows, along with the fascinating exhibit, Making of a Broadway Show.
Rentals include private studio space and full buyouts, with access to the exhibits.
Fotografiska New York, Manhattan
Founded by Swedish photographer brothers Jan and Per Broman in 2010, Stockholm-based Fotografiska is a unique art and cultural center described as “neither a traditional museum nor gallery” that showcases rotating exhibits of contemporary photography “to inspire, entertain and create impact.” In 2019, they expanded to NYC, taking over the former “Church Mission House,” an ornate 1894 Renaissance Revival–style landmark on Park Avenue South.
The renovated six-floor building buzzes with creative energy. During a visit, you may see models working a fashion shoot get on and off the elevators as you head to the fifth-floor gallery for Stars, a retrospective of photographs of Hollywood stars, music legends, sports heroes and other icons taken by legendary late British photographer Terry O’Neill. In the swirl of rock music and images of the Rolling Stones, Sean Connery, Frank Sinatra, Faye Dunaway, Raquel Welch and other luminaries, it is the supreme A-list experience.
Group programs include guided tours and full-service rentals of evocative spaces including European-style Veronika restaurant, the Chapel Bar, the sixth-floor Loft, and galleries.
Museum of Sex, Manhattan
In the 19th century, the Tenderloin district by Madison Square Park was a notorious hive of bordellos, dance halls, theaters and saloons. Today, the neighborhood goes fashionably as NoMad, with “MoSex” among its signature attractions. Housed in a landmarked building, MoSex, which turns 21 this month, “preserves and presents the history, evolution and cultural significance of human sexuality” with impressive, often thought-provoking exhibits of erotica, photography, clothing, historical artifacts and more.
From album release parties, book launches and corporate mixers to panel discussions and workshops, MoSex is also hot number on the planning circuit. Full 600-capacity buyouts come with full museum access including Super Funland: Journey into the Erotic Carnival, an artfully imagined exhibition of racy interactive carnival-style games on four floors. The 50-capacity Dungeon Bar hosts more intimate affairs.
Museum of the Moving Image, Queens
After premiering 1912’s Queen Elizabeth on Broadway as the first full-length feature shown in the U.S., Hungarian immigrant Adolph Zukor founded Famous Players in Famous Plays, which through merger, became Paramount Pictures in 1927.
Built in 1920, the company’s studio in Astoria, Queens produced hundreds of silent- and early sound-era films. Revival in 1978 as Kaufman Astoria Studios, a major film and TV production center to this day, included transforming one studio building into the American Museum of the Moving Image. Renamed the Museum of the Moving Image (MoMI), this internationally acclaimed institution is the only U.S. museum to “explore the art, history, technique and technology of the moving image in all its forms.”
Absorbing exhibitions include a permanent showcase of Muppets creator and all-around master auteur Jim Henson. Closed to the public on Monday and Tuesdays and with evening availability, MoMI welcomes a wide range of events and buyouts. From versatile spaces including the 262-seat Sumner Redstone Theater, galleries and outdoor courtyard to superior A/V technology to branding opportunities, it’s box office gold for groups.
New York Transit Museum, Brooklyn
Subways and buses are NYC’s lifeblood. In 2021, total ridership exceeded one billion people. Housed in a decommissioned block-long underground subway station from 1936 in Downtown Brooklyn, the New York Transit Museum digs deep into the history of North America’s largest transportation network. Transporting time travel exhibits include vintage railcars featuring period advertising, historic maps, signs, equipment and other archives. While not accepting rental requests other than filming, group tours are welcome.
Hush Hip Hop Tours, The Bronx
On August 11, 1973, Jamaican-born Clive Campbell, aka DJ Kool Herc, spun the turntables at a back-to-school party in the Morris Heights neighborhood of The Bronx. Born that day, “hip-hop” turns 50 this year as the inner-city cultural movement that became a global phenomenon.
Groups can bust a real-life move on Hush Tours’ “Birthplace of Hip Hop Tour.” Narrated live by hip-hip pioneers, this bus ride through Harlem and The Bronx stops for photo-ops at landmarks including The Apollo Theater and Yankee Stadium, along with murals, rap battle sites, clubs and music video and film locations.
A Different Perspective on NYC, From the Water
After 36 years living in NYC, the city is as familiar as my hand. Fresh looks are always rejuvenating, though, such as my recent Classic Harbor Line experience.
Based at historic Chelsea Piers (where the Titanic was bound on her doomed maiden voyage), this renowned East Coast operator offers sightseeing, educational and other outings on the water, meetings and events included, aboard luxury yachts and schooners.
The “Around Manhattan Architecture Tour” is one of several programs offered in collaboration with the New York chapter of the American Institute of Architects, or AIANY. Circumnavigating Manhattan’s waterways, the nearly three-hour roundtrip voyage aboard the 1920s-style yacht Manhattan, which along with the Manhattan II, is available for 120-capacity group rentals, was an eye-opening joy.
Inside seating is at assigned tables, with food and beverage service provided. Guests can freely go outside to take pictures.
AIANY member Andrew Gustafson, from Brooklyn-based Turnstile Tours, gave an informative and entertaining presentation on NYC landmarks, infrastructure, urban planning, waterfront development and other topics.
Groups can privately charter some AIANY cruises. The organization also offers 20-plus NYC walking tours.