by Tasha Zemke | December 01, 2016

Imagine exchanging ideas over an 18th century–style dinner followed by an evening of English country dancing or donning protective eyewear before giving glassblowing a try. Robot building might be preferable for groups with a focus on science. Some of the most unique gatherings—and innovative team-building activities—have been created with groups in mind at cultural centers and museums, many of which also offer meeting and event space for associations.

Gadsby’s Tavern Museum, operated by the City of Alexandria, Virginia, brings the nation’s Colonial past into the present. Named after the English proprietor who turned the tavern into a political, business and social hub, the establishment consists of two buildings—the 1785 tavern and adjoining 1792 City Hotel, both filled with historic decor. Groups of up to 40 can enjoy dinner in the tavern assembly room and then move to a ballroom for dessert and English country dancing, taught by an instructor in 18th-century attire. Alternately, both spaces can host special events of up to 160. “Our tavern and hotel were built to entertain guests. This is what we have done for over 200 years,” said Liz Williams, the museum’s acting director.

A few miles north, in Washington, D.C., the International Spy Museum has ways of making your attendees talk! Various 60- to 90-minute interactive spy experiences will test your group’s ability to decrypt audio conversations, interrogate suspects, evade capture, learn secret terminology or find clues, either within the museum or in the surrounding neighborhood. Lecturers can also be brought in to discuss some of the most confounding cases in espionage history. For sessions of a more standard sort, there’s space for up to 200 people, and on their breaks, attendees can marvel at the 200 real spy artifacts on display, including cigarette lighters fitted with a camera, lipstick pistols and concealment rings.

Criminal investigations are also touched upon at the Mütter Museum in Philadelphia, though from a medical perspective. Short lessons are designed to “engage with our visitors and marry the arts and sciences in creative, thought-provoking ways,” said Meredith Sellers, its program assistant and arts instructor. Examples include “Bone Detective,” “Botanical Medicine, Then & Now” and “Comparative Skull Drawing.” Lessons are usually capped at 24 people, but larger groups can be accommodated for talks and tours. The museum is part of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, which offers a variety of gathering spaces, or museum educators can travel to present lessons at event sites within a 25-mile radius.

Colorful, creative events are hosted every day at the Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, New York, encouraging visitors to take part in an art form that dates back more than 3,500 years. No experience is necessary to create a frosted drinking cup, a flower ornament or a glass pendant, examples of sandblasting, glassblowing and flameworking, respectively. All classes last less than two hours and are led by accomplished artists. Highlights of the 11-acre campus are its new, 100,000-square-foot, light-filled Contemporary & Design Wing, whose 500-seat theater is one of the world’s largest facilities for glassblowing demonstrations, and a half-dozen meeting spaces, including a lobby adorned with Dale Chihuly’s “Fern Green Tower” or its Innovation Center, with an enormous suspended glass-egg centerpiece.

The MIT Museum in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is an interactive outpost for engineering creativity. During organized, 25-person workshops, groups can construct chain-reaction contraptions, mechanisms for ship propulsion, bridges from recycled materials or a robot—the latter its most-requested team-building workshop and the perfect tie-in to a banquet in its Robots & Beyond gallery. “Introduction to Robotics using Lego Mindstorms helps attendees think outside of the box, whether they are mimicking programmatic movements or building a moving sculpture,” said Faith Dukes, its education coordinator. “But similar to the world of professional engineers, all workshops include a bit of team collaboration and problem-solving.”

A popular free event in Seattle—the Center for Wooden Boats’ Public Sail—can make for the perfect recreational outing for small groups. Each Sunday morning for the last 25 years, museum volunteers have taken out some of the center’s historic Northwestern wooden watercraft, boats such as a restored cedar gillnetter or a steam launch, for excursions on Lake Union. The center has become so popular in recent years that it is undergoing a multimillion-dollar expansion, and the 9,200-square-foot Wagner Education Center is tentatively scheduled to open this spring with classroom and exhibit space, a boat shop, adult workshops, boat rentals and sailing lessons. Until then, groups can hold events at the center’s floating boathouse gallery and deck, which has space for up to 75 people.

Native American heritage is the focus of New Mexico’s Museum of Indian Arts & Culture in Santa Fe’s Museum Hill area. Keeping in line with its philosophy that “protecting cultural resources is a collaborative effort,” the museum offers an art- and artifact-identification program called “Let’s Take a Look,” in which curators attempt to place or explain historic objects attendees bring in (though preferably of Southwest origin). Southwestern-styled meeting space for up to 210 is available indoors, or groups can hold functions at its outdoor plaza, sculpture garden or performance circle.

And when all else fails, join the circus. This is possible at several locations in “Circus City”—that is, Sarasota, Florida—including the Ringling Circus Museum, where attendees can cram into a tiny circus car, walk the tightrope and hold an event for up to 80 people beneath a tent resembling the Big Top. Its collection of performing props, carved parade wagons and sparkling costumes all offer insight into the Greatest Show on Earth—second only to your own great association event, of course.