Here’s the blog post I wish I would have been able to read prior to planning my wedding. There are plenty of listicles point you towards the most splashy museum-as-venue options but very few sources to tell you what to expect or give a realistic picture of the unique challenges it presents. This Brides.com article from 2021 is a particularly silly take on why you’d want to use a museum as your wedding backdrop (see #6 like, are they secretly dragging us?), diving headlong into all the stereotypes by naming those who get married at museums a “cultured couple.” The one allusion to the potential pitfalls of museum weddings in the article is a gentle warning to “just remember to double check your contract to make sure you follow all of the rules and regulations.” Um. Yeah.
As we all know, art museums are for lovers, but the type of museum that hosts weddings runs the gamut from art to science to history. There’s an unassuming Carousel Museum near where I grew up that puts on gorgeous events – and some genius on staff has put together a $250 “proposal package” to cash in on societal expectations! I always swore I would never get married at a museum – see meme above for details – but in the end, we did, and I wouldn’t have changed a thing. Here’s some things my husband and I, both museum professionals, learned along the way.
So first of all, it’s a bit misleading to say that we “got married in a museum,” because just about all the interaction we had with the museum itself was taking this photo:
This is the first thing I’d say about getting married in a museum – find out how the collection objects and the event space intersect because there’s a balance to wanting those prized artworks in your photos and how many rules you’re going to need to follow. Either way, rule-following is the name of the game for a wedding where you’re sharing space with a historic site or priceless artworks. A set up like Mount Gulian Historic Site, where we were married, or Burr Mansion, where my best friend was married, gives the best of both worlds. The exterior of the historic house serves as a backdrop to gorgeous photos, there are beautiful grounds for ceremony and party, and in the case of Mount Gulian, the historic barn serves as a sheltered party space so that no tent rental is necessary. The artifacts or preserved rooms inside of the historic house might be accessible to the bridal party (one of my incredible bridesmaids needed a space to pump) but generally are not part of the wedding and therefore there’s no stress about them being vulnerable to raucous guests.
When I sourced questions about museum weddings over on Museum Drip Instagram, the safety of the collections was the first thing on every museum person’s mind. This type of set up in which the architecture of the museum/serves primarily as a backdrop is a great way to ensure that isn’t on your mind as a museum professional on your big day. (Cut to my memory of attending a “Museum After Dark” party once where I just fully watched a girl spill white wine everywhere. If you work in a museum you do not want that emotion occurring on your wedding day.
Ok, so keep collections safe and being safe from side-eying your cousin’s frat bro boyfriend for his fist pump moves next to an O’Keeffe aside, what else should you take into consideration if you want to get married at a museum? In retrospect, this next one is so obvious to me, but prior to planning a wedding it certainly wasn’t. If there is language on their FAQ page that looks something like this:
“We strongly recommend that events have at minimum a DAY OF PLANNER to assist with
coordinating your vendors, ceremony processional, speeches, dances etc.
If multiple vendors (bands, floral, food trucks, upgraded rentals, videographers, etc.)
are involved we recommend a Full Planner who can alleviate your
stresses day off by being the main point of contact for you.” (from the New York Botanical Gardens, which would have been my “money is no object” dream venue.)
This is code for “the venue does not do anything other than provide a space and food” and it means that you need to seriously assess your budget and your loved ones to make sure someone is passing the checks along to the vendors night of, makes sure guests are getting to their seats for the ceremony or dinner at the proper time, and that someone is packing up your personal items at the end of the night. There are many different types of venues and different types of service you’ll receive from the different types of venues. Some venues are “wedding factories,” a term coined affectionately by my father for the types of places where weddings and parties are all they do. They have full-service staff, they have all the furniture, all you have to do is bring your florals, your precious little DIY accoutrements, and your pretty selves, and you don’t have to worry about a thing. Venues, like museums, that serve a different function the other 6 days of the year are a completely different beast. You’ll have to bring in your own decor, probably rent linens and tableware, assign point people, etc. Many museums, especially larger museums, have tables, chairs, a prep kitchen, etc., but some don’t. We had to bring our own trash cans and there was no running water for the event space. Be realistic about what you can handle doing yourself, what kind of angel Type A family members or bridesmaids you are blessed with, and what your budget will allow for hiring help.
Does the museum have in-house catering? Is there a bridal suite? If you’re relying on friends and word of mouth to help you anticipate wedding planning responsibilities and costs, your friends might be totally unfamiliar with the concept of having to hire out some of these items if they were a “wedding factory” or a “my family has access to a large home with a giant yard” couple. One upside of getting married at a museum or historic site is that you are likely to require far less decor because the setting is already so beautiful! Which is important, because the key thing to remember about this type of venue is, whatever you bring in, you’re gonna have to bring out. That being said, we kept costs down at Mount Gulian by buying reusable cups to be taken home by guests, disposable plates, buying linens, etc., so we may have brought in more things than some.
Finally, if you’re a museum person, you’re probably going to be thinking about the impact of the event on the museum staff. I think this is pretty rare, but one of the biggest reasons I felt great about Mount Gulian is because they do just ONE wedding per weekend. That means staff is only onsite for 1 night of the weekend. That means the week of your wedding, they are only coordinating and communicating with one couple. And for you, the couple, that means that you set up the day before and you finish your tear down the day after. Of course, since so much of the venue is outside, there’s plenty to do the day-of, but it’s a huge relief. I made the meme up top because the first museum I worked for had simply too many weddings! It impacted education programming and curatorial staff time. I learned that what a museum educator or curator means when they say “we have to remember we’re a museum first” versus what an events coordinator means when they say “the clients love our space because it is a museum first” are two phrases with very different meanings. Heavy Cardboard Cutout vibes – unlike the venues mentioned above in which the museum really does only serve as a backdrop, when museums turn around 5 rentals and 3 weddings per week, they’re acting as though the “museum” really is just a backdrop and not a living, functioning place. But get that money, I guess. Even if a museum does more than one wedding per weekend, there are some questions you can ask to ensure that they have a sustainable model that doesn’t burn out employees or put a ton of stress on programming. How long have they been doing weddings for? What type of dedicated event staff do they have? This matters because the more sustainable their model, the happier the staff working with you will be, and the easier that will make your experience.
Getting married at a museum is cool! Before you decide to go that route, ask yourself if the cool factor is worth the extra work, to you. It’s your day! It’s ok to take on extra work! And ask yourself if the type of party you want to throw is going to feel restricted by the extra rules that are in place to preserve the collection or historic site. Do you have a giant family that’s used to partying til 3 a.m. in an anonymous rental hall? Will you be inviting people who you’ll be setting up to get into fights with security officers when they want to take photos in front of pieces that have photo restrictions? Have your vendors ever worked at that type of venue?
Most importantly, weddings ARE cool, and getting married at a place that feels meaningful and makes you feel like yourself is worth an investment of time and money. And despite my meme, it’s all in jest, it’s neat that cultural institutions can help fund themselves through people feeling enough of a connection to their site that they’ll pay to get married there! Just make sure you’re asking the right questions to make sure weddings and events at your museum or site of choice are done sustainably and ethically so that your museum professional brain doesn’t turn on at an inopportune time. And even if you’re not a museum person, I hope this blog helps you a) know about what to expect and b) consider the impact that events have on the venue you choose.
And with that, here’s a shameless share of one of my absolute favorite photos from the big day, which just so happens to stay on-brand for me! If you’ve got further questions about wedding planning or hosting events in museums or historic sites, you can email me through the site (I think) or reach out on Instagram. I would love it if you did because, what exactly am I supposed to do with all this extremely specialized knowledge that I will probably never need again?