EMP Museum in Seattle Turns Meetings into Musicals

EMP Museum in Seattle

A meeting planner told us recently why Seattle is one of her favorite destinations for groups, and during our discussion she pointed out the Experience Music Project Museum. The Frank Gehry-designed building is located adjacent to the Space Needle downtown and it’s accessible via Seattle Center Monorail, which runs through the building. Created by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, EMP focuses on the history and culture surrounding popular music, including a massive array of memorabilia collected by Mr. Allen

So we chatted with Cate Nedved, senior manager of private event sales and operations, who told us about the jaw-dropping modern designs of some of their meeting spaces. For instance, the 5,400-sf Sky Church is a grand and eclectic space with a monumental 42×70-foot LED video wall, state-of-the-art acoustics and a soaring 65-foot ceiling illuminated with parasols and customized lights.

With temporary exhibitions and music programs, the museum offers function space for up to 3,000 pax, which makes groups feel like rock stars and engages each member with pop culture, music scenes and activities that revitalize everyone before heading into their next meeting.

Q: What does the museum offer to groups?

CN: Groups can produce whatever they like to in the building, whether it’s a networking event, a cocktail party, a seated dinner, a buffet dinner, an open house where people can come and go, etc. The benefit of the Experience Music Project is that because it’s so big, there are many places and opportunities to entertain people. We’re able to produce any kind of event they’d like and then add these great exciting galleries to be used as entertainment.

If it’s been four days of meetings and it’s been crazy, but you want your group to have a great time, you know that they can do that here.

Q: Could you describe some of the meeting spaces available to groups?

CN: We have a theater, our JBL Theater, which is a 190 fixed-seat theater much like a movie theater, which is great for presentations. Adjacent to that we have a couple of different rooms that serve more as traditional, almost conference-style rooms great for breakouts if you’d like to do different presentations. They can serve as stage trade shows adjacent to that theater where you’re doing the presentation, where perhaps other vendors can speak to folks one-on-one after a larger group presentation. We also have a space on our south side of the building that is very large, 4200 sf, that can serve as trade show space, presentation space, and larger corporate meeting space for folks that seek either theater-style or classroom-style meetings and do F&B if they’d like as well. It’s great for all.

Sky Church, one of our major spaces, has the ability to add on with adjacent space depending on how big it needs to be and what planners try to accomplish. We customize the event so it absolutely accomplishes the goals the client wants to accomplish.

Q: How do the museum, its collections and exhibitions contribute to group events?

CN: It’s interesting. I think it really resets the mentality of guests attending a meeting in this building. It isn’t like going to a conference center, to a convention center space or hotel ballroom space. It sets their expectations and you walk in with an open mind. It’s a place to brainstorm. It makes you feel creative, it’s lively and entertaining, and the galleries are exciting and interactive, so when planners add that it’s really a break for people. It brings them back to their corporate meeting or brainstorming sessions with a tremendous amount of energy and excitement. And that is turned in to that meeting, so they end up being incredibly productive that way.

Q: Would groups have access to your exhibitions, collections and any other activities?

CN: Yes. And our collections are incredibly interactive. It’s what makes them so exciting and so well-regarded throughout the community. We have several permanent collections with interactive elements, including what we describe as karaoke but on steroids. You play in your band and you preselect one of the songs. The cool part is the instruments, the lighting, everything is choreographed to that song, so when you go there, standing behind a keyboard, sitting on a drum stet, or holding a guitar, you are singing karaoke style as the instrument are playing for you. You have fans going wildly crazy for you, the lights are flashing and it’s just like being on stage.

Everybody feels like a rock star.

We also have some great temporary collections, including Battlestar Galactica, Nirvana, and Avatar the Exhibition, and each of those has state-of-the-art interactive features in them. In Avatar, you can use motion capture camera to learn different types of filming. Avatar revolutionized movie making. You can act in a scene with James Cameron or you can design plants for another world. In Nirvana, you can listen to amazing stories, watch clips, listen to songs, etc. And Battlestar Galatica, which doesn’t just follow the series, is a morality tale. It’s an interactive exhibition that asks you moral questions like do you stand firmly on what you believe or do you follow the masses? How would you feel about torture? Could you push a button to bomb a town knowing that for the most part bad guys would perish but that you might lose innocents as well?

Q: What kind of feedback do you get from groups?

CN: That it really is a place where people know they’re going to have a great time. They know that no matter how diverse is their demographic, somehow music, science fiction and pop culture are going to make sense to every individual attending, which is unique. You can go to other types of museums, types of institutions, and it might be already a focused presentation on a spectacular art form or story telling, but it doesn’t have that diverse reach that we are able to have, so planners there aren’t confident they’re going to be able to make an impact on everyone. This is an incredible vibrant place. they love the energy, they love that when their people come and attend their events here, they head to their next meetings with renewed energy and excitement because they’ve taken that from this experience.