THE MAGAZINE

Party Planning Under the Gun

By Jeffrey A. Hawkins

Art for Dollars’ Sake

The sacred museum that used to close its doors to the public at the end of the day and turn off its lights is now reopening for evening and sometimes all-night events. The push for increased profits has led cultural properties to rent their facilities for corporate parties, board of directors meetings, and even weddings.

According to Alan Smetana, manager of special events at The Field Museum in Chicago, “Since September 11th, the market trend in the corporate hospitality industry has been strongly influenced by the economy and security. As a result, companies are doing business differently and looking for hospitality opportunities in a more controlled environment.” A museum’s security environment can be adapted to fit a corporate client’s needs in a cost effective way.

As special events have proven lucrative, special events departments in many cultural properties have burgeoned. The Frazier’s Special Events Department went from one part-time person to three full-time staff members very quickly, points out Craig Mooney, the Frazier Museum’s director of business operations and finance, who oversees special events.

“Calls for special events are coming in daily and the museum has already hosted dozens of events, several weddings, and numerous corporate meetings and training sessions,” says Mooney. The department is ahead of its projections for the number of events for the year, he says.

While the payoff can be a boost to income, there are significant risks and liabilities associated with hosting special events. Several cultural properties have already experienced notable security and safety incidents.

For example, in mid-2001, the day after an evening singles cocktail hour was held at the Jewish Museum in Manhattan, a janitor noticed that a Chagall painting was missing. Chicago’s Field Museum had to call the city police when a New Year’s Eve AIDS fundraiser almost turned into a riot when the organizers misrepresented the event and let in an unruly crowd. In August 2002, the Garfield Park Conservatory in Chicago had a glass sculpture by Dale Chihuly broken during a wedding anniversary party. And a museum on the West Coast faced criticism when it was discovered that one of its maintenance staff was a convicted sex offender and worked during an overnight event where children spent the night in the museum.

Most cultural properties expect attempts at theft, vandalism, and damage. And most institutions take great measures during public hours to staff their galleries with security guards, guest relations staff, and docents to watch over artifacts. They also deploy the customary security devices, such as alarms, CCTV, and physical barriers.

What museums may not realize, however, is that special events pose a host of new risks. “There are a number of factors to consider in planning for special events, and the primary importance is to gain preliminary administrative approval for the enactment of a policy, which applies to any groups wishing to book special events through the institution,” says Stevan Layne, CPP, a Colorado-based museum security consultant.

For example, says Layne, any organization that wants the museum to host an event should be asked to fill out a form that gives security personnel advance information such as the number of people to be present, whether alcohol will be served, hours of operation, whether outside caterers will be used, and how guests will be identified, Layne says.

The Collection

The Frazier Historical Arms Museum was the dream of Kentucky businessman and philanthropist Owsley Brown Frazier, who over the last five years donated half the funding and his collection of hundreds of private arms to help found the institution. (The other funding came from loans and other financial arrangements, which are still being paid off from gate receipts, income from special events, and the like.)

What began as a small two-story, $1 million project quickly grew to a $32 million renovation project. It encompassed four dilapidated 100-year-old buildings in downtown Louisville that would house a priceless collection of American arms, armor, and related artifacts.

Items come from conflicts ranging from the Revolutionary War through and beyond the Spanish-American War. But the American collection of arms and armaments, which includes the Colt pistols of George Armstrong Custer, Indian Chief Geronimo’s bow and arrow, and the Boone family bible, is only the tip of the extensive collection that makes this museum a world-renowned cultural property.

In addition, The Frazier is the first non-U.K. museum ever to house artifacts from the British Royal Armouries, the oldest museum of arms and armor in Great Britain. Never before had the Royal Armouries allowed their artifacts, which date back 1,000 years, out of the United Kingdom. In a unique partnership, the Royal Armouries sent The Frazier historical items dating from the Battle of Hastings in 1066 through the Zulu Wars in the late 1800s.

The Royal Armouries collection takes up a whole floor of this five-story museum. Armor, swords, pikes, lances, and shields depict the evolution of the art of arms and armor and some of the famous battles in England’s history. The Frazier has been visited by about 100,000 people in its first year.


Jeffrey A. Hawkins, CIPM (Certified Institutional Protection Manager), CIP (Certified Investigative Professional) is the director of operations and chief security officer for The Frazier Historical Arms Museum. He is a member of the ASIS Museum, Library, and Cultural Properties Council.

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