Washington, from the Pacific Coast and Puget Sound to the snowcapped peaks in the Cascades, is an inspiring place. It’s no wonder the state’s arts and cultural offerings are as plentiful as its scenic surroundings, and there are countless ways planners can incorporate them into the agenda—from gathering in off-site venues such as museums, historic sites and galleries, to checking out festivals that celebrate the destination’s culture.
by Carolyn Blackburn
Seattle and Puget Sound
Inherent in first-tier cities like Seattle is a thriving creative scene. According to a recent study by Americans for the Arts, in fact, Seattle is home to more arts-related businesses and organizations per capita than any other metropolitan area in the U.S., says Anne Cleveland, national account director at Seattle’s CVB (SCVB).
"A visiting group can find just the right arts and culture experience for their time in Seattle," she adds.
For starters, SCVB, in collaboration with its partners, facilitates walking tours that are popular with groups. One such tour features the culturally rich Chinatown-International District, where groups visit the Wing Luke Asian Museum, shop at Uwajimaya Seattle, one of the largest Asian grocery stores on the West Coast, and dine on dim sum.
"For groups who prefer a more hands-on activity, there is Travel to Sketch, a walking and sketching tour, and Shutter Tour, a walking tour that integrates mini photography lessons,"Cleveland says.
For receptions, she says the destination’s performing arts venues, fine arts institutions and other museums are ideal options, including Benaroya Hall, Seattle Art Museum, Experience Music Project/Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame, and the Museum of Flight.
Just nine miles east of Seattle is Bellevue, with a downtown that has evolved over the past decade to include public plazas with water features, sculpture and open spaces that are often filled with live music and other arts events, according to Sharon Linton, spokesperson for Bellevue Washington Conventions and Meydenbauer Center.
Within the six-square-block downtown is Bellevue Arts Museum, one of the finest craft and design museums in the country, located within walking distance of Meydenbauer Center.
"Their main floor is in frequent use for parties and special events," Linton says. "Curators are often available to provide special guided tours. The museum offers a unique array of free or low-cost educational programs, such as artist demonstrations, lectures and workshops, as well as ‘Teambuilding through Art’ workshops that include guided gallery tours and interactive art workshops and exercises."
The city also hosts annual festivals, including June’s Bellevue Jazz Festival and July’s Bellevue Arts Museum arts fair, which runs simultaneously with the Bellevue Downtown Association’s 6th Street Fair and the Bellevue Festival of the Arts.
The communities of Tukwila, Kent and Des Moines, plus Seattle Tacoma International Airport (SeaTac), make up Seattle Southside.
According to Ashley Comar, marketing communications coordinator at Seattle Southside Visitor Information, the area’s arts scene includes unique culinary options.
One is Albert Lee Culinary Event Center, which can host up to 85 people and provides an intimate team-building atmosphere for groups interested in learning about and creating native culinary dishes.
Other standouts include SeaTac’s Shakespeare in the Park and its annual International Festival, featuring artisans and food vendors.
Comar notes the Northwest Symphony and the Rainier Symphony are available to play at events.
Farther south, downtown Tacoma is another walkable destination that makes it easy for delegates to explore cultural options, according to Shauna Lunde, director of sales and marketing at the Tacoma Regional CVB.
"Conventioneers can easily take the free Link Light Rail to the Museum District to explore art and history, to the waterfront for a refreshing stroll, or to the Theater District for some performing arts," Lunde says.
One of the best ways to incorporate arts into a meeting agenda is to explore the work of Tacoma’s native son and artist Dale Chihuly, whose glass sculpture work has become a national treasure.
Groups can check out the Chihuly Bridge of Glass, a 500-foot pedestrian bridge that holds three spectacular Chihuly glass art installations. The Tacoma Glassblowing Studio facilitates team-building activities and board retreats. The Grand Hall at the Museum of Glass is an ideal setting for an off-site reception.
Snohomish County focuses on culture with its many activities and attractions, according to Amy Spain, executive director of the Snohomish County Tourism Bureau.
Native American cultural riches are prominently featured throughout the destination, Spain adds.
"In Snohomish County, the Tulalip Tribes and the Stillaguamish Tribe all work toward preserving these riches and sharing them with the world," she says, citing the Tulalip Tribes’ Hibulb Cultural Center and Natural History Preserve, which honors the ancestors of the Snohomish, Snoqualmie, Skykomish and other tribes. "Native art and story poles carved by masters are found throughout their facilities, including the first-class Tulalip Resort Casino."
Public art, walking tours, lively events and historical sites add character and culture to downtown Olympia, Washington’s capital located at the south end of Puget Sound.
According to Heather Antanaitis, spokesperson for the Olympia/Lacey/Tumwater VCB, groups can do crafts at Ship Wreck Beads; explore artist galleries and take public art walking tours; and visit the Washington State Capitol, housing the largest collection of Tiffany lamps in the world.
The city of Port Townsend, the only Victorian seaport in Washington, is home to Fort Worden State Park, which features 16 organizations, including Centrum, a frequent host of music and arts festivals.
"We also provide walking tours and van tours of all historic sites and can also incorporate artist studio tours into a group’s time here," says Christina Pivarnik, marketing director for the city of Port Townsend. "Port Townsend is also home to the annual Wooden Boat Festival, when approximately 25,000 people come to town to celebrate our maritime history and the beauty of wooden boats."
The annual Port Townsend Film Festival is also a cultural draw, as is the Gallery Walk, held the first Saturday of every month.
Bellingham/San Juan Islands
Situated in the shadow of majestic Mt. Baker, just 90 miles north of Seattle, is Bellingham.
"Downtown Bellingham’s Arts District is alive, thriving and continually expanding," says Caroline Kinsman, director of marketing at Bellingham Whatcom County Tourism. "It has become an excellent buzz of culture; groups of all sizes and logistics can easily be accommodated throughout the district."
Two cultural standbys that host group gatherings are the Smithsonian-certified Whatcom Museum, which is opening a new building this fall, and the circa-1927 Mount Baker Theatre, an icon of Bellingham that underwent a recent renovation.
The San Juan Islands, accessible via floatplane or a scenic ferry cruise, inspire creativity, according to Robin Jacobson, spokesperson for the San Juan Islands Visitors Bureau.
"When groups come here, creativity flows, work gets done and people who thought they didn’t like meetings have fun," she says.
Groups can have a reception at the 19-acre Westcott Bay Sculpture Park, while Roche Harbor, a historic seaside village and resort that was once a favorite getaway spot for President Theodore Roosevelt, does a lot of meetings business.
Southwest and Central Washington
Southwest Washington (anchored by Vancouver) offers interesting cultural experiences, according to Rosemary Cooke, director of sales at the Southwest Washington CVB, including glass-blowing demonstrations at Firehouse Glass; dance lessons at Vancouver Ballroom; private performances at Slocum House Theater; and guided tours, complete with historical re-enactors, of the tree-lined Officers Row, bordered by 22 fully restored and stately Victorian homes.
In Yakima Valley, wine-making is considered an art form, and the area has 71 wineries. Winery tours are popular with many attendees.
Groups are also encouraged to learn about Yakima’s imaginative pioneers at the Yakima Valley Museum; hear stories of the Confederated Tribes of the Yakama Nation at the Yakama Nation Cultural Museum; and watch an artist creating a mural on a city building at the Toppenish Mural in a Day Festival.
Situated just north of Yakima is the Wenatchee Valley, another wine hot spot.
According to Roger Clute, executive director of the Wenatchee Valley CVB, groups enjoy Chateau Faire Le Pont Winery’s wine-blending class after a private tasting and tour.
Meanwhile, the Wenatchee Valley Museum and Cultural Center, which is located in two historic buildings in downtown Wenatchee, welcomes group visits.
Southeast of Wenatchee is the Tri-Cities area, encompassing Kennewick, Pasco and Richland.
"We have the three Ws: water, weather and wine," says Gretchen Strother, director of sales at the Tri-Cities VCB. "Plus, the arts come alive in the Tri-Cities with musicals, exhibits and works of national distinction."
In Spokane, the local arts commission is available to work with convention groups to make their events unique and keep them budget-friendly, says Keith Backsen, vice president and director of sales for the Spokane Regional CVB.
"The director of the Spokane Arts Commission has held several meetings with the CVB and local artists to figure out ways to be involved," Backsen explains. "The artists are offering to create funny one-act productions specific to the group’s interests, or to write songs—any number of ideas."
Groups can enjoy live entertainment at the Rockin’ B Ranch Cowboy Supper Club and the Knitting Factory Concert House.
"The National Association for Music Educators utilized the Spokane Symphony’s experts and historic venue to hold simply amazing concerts," he adds.
With 18 historic districts, Spokane also boasts several walking tours.