Some 50 corporate meetings planners from throughout the Mid-Atlantic region gathered at leading Montgomery County group venue Normandy Farm Hotel & Conference Center in October 2017 for “an experiential cocktail party” billed as “Art & Soul.” The event was staged in the property’s new on-site Bluestone Fine Art Gallery, part of nearly $4 million in renovations completed in November 2017.

Intended to establish the nearly 300-year-old former farm-estate as the “Farm of the Future,” the property-wide investment, encompassing adjacent sibling Blue Bell Country Club, included guest room and meeting space overhauls, resort-wide Wi-Fi and bandwidth upgrades, and new in-room spa services.  

Designed in partnership with Philadelphia-based Bluestone Fine Art Gallery, additions to the common areas of the resort’s 23,000-plus-square-foot, IACC-certified conference center, create “a farm-chic art experience” for meeting attendees.

To help “stimulate the mind for a more productive day of strategy and business planning,” programs include guided art tours in the gallery during breaks.

“Our traveling corporate guests crave the education our staff provides on local farms, local craft breweries, and now the local artists of the region,” stated Gary Murray, director of sales & marketing of Hansen Properties, Normandy’s owner, in a release about the property, “and it brings us great joy to be able to add excitement and culture to a day of meetings while simultaneously supporting the surrounding communities.”

From teambuilding in Montgomery County to sprucing up Philadelphia, art is an animating force in the region’s meetings experience.

Paint the Town!

According to the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance, arts and culture drive some $3.3 billion in annual economic impact for Philadelphia. For groups, that means a treasure chest of tour and event options, starting with the pantheon of world-class institutions lining the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

Celebrating its centennial last year, the Parkway Museums District, or Museum Mile, stretches from City Hall to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, currently undergoing a major transformation.

Commenced in March 2017, the $196 million overhaul centers on star architect Frank Gehry’s sweeping plan to “unclog the arteries” of this iconic hilltop Greek Revival temple, which opened in March 1928 and houses some 227,000 works of art. Slated for completion by 2020, Gehry’s “Core Project” reportedly adds 11,500 square feet of exhibition space and 67,000 square feet of public areas within the existing structure.

The investment is part of a larger $525 million campaign aimed at enhancing education and public programming, improving access and community outreach, and introducing innovative new technologies.

Other District luminaries include the Barnes Foundation. Philadelphian Albert Barnes wrote in 1923 that he wondered why “French museum authorities would permit paintings of great character to leave France,” referring to his growing collection of Impressionist, Post-Impressionist and early Modern works. Relocated from his Merion, Pa., mansion to their new $150 million Museum Mile home in 2012, Barnes’ 181 Renoirs, 69 Cezannes, 46 Picassos and other masterworks are the breathless backdrop for tours and events. 

Next month, the Franklin Institute follows its China-focused exhibition Terracotta Warriors of the First Emperor with Game Masters, featuring 100-plus interactive video games and “original and transformative artwork.”

On the Avenue of the Arts, the multi-venue Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts includes the Academy of Music, home to Opera Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania Ballet.

Dating to the 1700s, Philadelphia’s public art collection is the oldest and largest in the nation.  

This spring, John F. Kennedy Plaza, better known as LOVE Park, reopens with its famed LOVE sculpture fully restored, plus modern fountains and lighting, a refurbished Mid-Century Modern welcome center and newly planted lawns and gardens. 

Among the city’s art-focused public agencies is the Mural Arts Program. Introduced in 1984 as part of an anti-graffiti campaign, this much heralded initiative is the driving force behind Philadelphia’s international renown as the City of Murals. More than 3,600 of these large-scale artworks adorn walls, buildings and other structures in neighborhoods across Philadelphia. Along with private guided tours, visual scavenger hunts and teambuilding exercises, groups can “Paint the Town” by participating in mural-making.

This summer sees the anticipated opening of Philadelphia’s tallest skyscraper—the $1.5 billion, 60-story Comcast Technology Center, with a new Four Seasons hotel occupying floors 48 to 60.

A Culture of Creativity

How seriously does the Valley Forge Tourism & Convention Board (VFTCB) take creative learning and engagement? In December 2017, the bureau, serving as the destination marketing organization for Montgomery County, launched its latest industry-specific brand, Arts Montco.

Unfolding about 18 miles west of Philadelphia, Montco is home to more than 200 arts organizations and attractions, many available for tours and events. This diverse collection, backed by the destination’s rich artistic and cultural tradition, is a powerful driver for the region.

In a release accompanying the campaign’s official launch, held at the Philip and Muriel Berman Museum of Art at Ursinus College, Michael Norris, chief strategy officer for the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance, noted that the arts in Montgomery County represent over $100 million in economic impact. 

For groups, the rewards are an inspiration. Spanning the county, Montco’s multi-genre artistic venues and experiences offer a plethora of planner options, adding to the destination’s 75 hotels, 1,600-plus restaurants and 300 meeting venues, which collectively offer 1 million-plus square feet of versatile space.

“Arts Montco is the unifying force for promoting the arts in Montgomery County,” said Jessica Willingham, the VFTCB’s director of arts & culture. “With Montco’s many museums and galleries, vibrant performing arts scene, live music, award-winning playhouses, historic movie theaters, and some of the finest gardens and arboretums in the country, there’s truly something for everyone to enjoy before, after or during the meeting.”

Montgomery Medley

Unique Montco museums include the National Historic Register-listed John James Audubon Center at Mill Grove, former home of the famed artist and naturalist.

Set to reopen this April following a two-year renovation project, this 175-acre sanctuary’s attractions include Audubon’s master work, Birds of America, and exhibits of preserved birds. The 19th century fieldstone barn and outdoor pavilion are options for gatherings of up to 250 guests.

Focused on religious iconography, the Glencairn Museum is part of Bryn Athyn Historic District, a national landmark where groups also have Cairnwood, a Gilded-Age Beaux-Arts mansion.

Comedy legends The Three Stooges are showcased with 100,000-plus exhibits at the memorabilia-packed The Stoogeum in Ambler, with group visits by appointment.   

Montco’s restored vintage movie houses are just the ticket for private screenings, corporate meetings, presentations, cocktail receptions and more. Pearls include the landmark Spanish Colonial-style Ambler Theater; Hiway Theater in Jenkintown; and acclaimed Bryn Mawr Film Institute, housed in the 1926 Seville Theatre. 

Famously featured in the 1958 Steve McQueen sci-fi classic The Blob, the Colonial Theatre (1903) in Phoenixville rents its four theaters for events. These include the main 1903 Theater, seating 658, and 174-seat White Rabbit Theatre. Plus, groups can use the Garden Suite and rooftop deck. 

Legendary event-capable rock clubs include the 1,300-seat Keswick Theatre (1928) in Glenside, just northwest of Philadelphia’s city limits. Relocated to historic Pottstown a decade ago, the intimate Steel River Playhouse, named in homage of the area’s steel industry days, is a leading regional arts center featuring year-round musicals, concerts and recitals.

Educational offerings include performance-based classes and workshops for all ages.

This summer, world-renowned Cirque Du Soleil comes to Montco, presenting its latest touring show, Volta, in a 2,500-seat tent near the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center in Oaks. Offering some 240,000 square feet of contiguous meeting and exhibition space on one level in four distinct halls, the Expo Center is one of Montco’s two large-scale convention venues. 

The other is the Valley Forge Resort Casino. With 479 rooms in total, including the Radisson Hotel, and multiple dining, entertainment and nightlife venues, the property, near the King of Prussia Mall, offers more than 100,000 square feet of flexible space. Highlights include 54,000 square feet of prime divisible exhibition space, and five ballrooms among 45 meeting rooms.

In December 2017, Las Vegas-based Boyd Gaming Corporation announced its intent to purchase the property for $280.5 million. Expected to close in the third quarter of 2018, the deal increases Boyd’s portfolio to 29 properties in 10 states and positions Valley Forge Resort Casino for marketing to new customers in the Midwest and Northeast. 

Since 2015, significant Valley Forge Resort Casino reinvestments include a $1 million convention space upgrade, addition of the Valley Beach Poolside Club and $6 million refresh of 150 Casino Tower rooms.