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Carve Out a Memorable Occasion

Sculpture gardens serve as artful backdrops for meetings and group outings

By Kathy Gibbons

If art is the inspiration, sculpture gardens can be a revelation when it comes to choosing a meeting spot or backdrop for a group outing. Peppered around the state, such collections of outdoor art placed among gardens and other natural landscapes can help stage a truly memorable occasion.

Iron Tree sculpture by Ai Weiwei at Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park
Iron Tree sculpture by Ai Weiwei at Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park CREDIT Peter McDaniel

“We create unique event experiences by combining delicious food with beautiful presentations paired with unparalleled taste, service, and style,” says Stacie Niedzwiecki, director of culinary arts and events at Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park in Grand Rapids. “Wrap this in [with] an award-winning venue surrounded by natural beauty and the arts, and you have a one-of-a-kind event.”

Meijer Gardens can accommodate groups as small as 10 or as large as 2,000. Its 158-acre main campus includes Michigan’s largest tropical conservatory, five themed indoor gardens, outdoor gardens, nature trails, a boardwalk, sculpture galleries, and a permanent sculpture collection with nearly 300 works by artists that range from Auguste Rodin and Edgar Degas to Henry Moore and Alexander Calder. The greatest concentration of art is in a 30-acre sculpture park, where the works are situated in a natural environment. Temporary exhibitions at Meijer Gardens sometimes include outdoor installations as well. 

Event at the Marshall M. Fredericks Sculpture Museum. May 16, 2023
The Marshall M. Fredericks Sculpture Museum can host myriad special events. CREDIT Marshall M. Fredericks Sculpture Museum

“Some of the outdoor spaces like the Stuart and Barbara Padnos Rooftop Sculpture Garden have beautiful views of the wetlands along with multiple sculptures that are nestled in the garden beds surrounding the actual event space in this true rooftop garden,” Niedzwiecki says. “Then our newest outdoor garden is the Tassell-Wisner-Bottrall English Perennial Garden … another beautiful natural setting with meandering paths, water features, an open lawn, and garden beds with several sculptures featured throughout.”

Spanning the length of one city block in St. Joseph, the Krasl Art Center owns more than 40 pieces of public art placed throughout the St. Joseph and Benton Harbor communities. On its grounds, visitors will see 13 public art pieces. On view 24 hours a day, they include a chandelier from Dale Chihuly and works from Fritz Olsen, Richard Hunt, Burt Brent, and George Rickey. There are also four untitled pieces from sculptor Albert LaVergne.

The Oval Lawn at the Krasl Art Center. May 16, 2023
The Oval Lawn at the Krasl Art Center CREDIT Krasl Art Center

Krasl offers its library, first floor, or entire campus for rent. Marketing Manager Matthew Bizoe says group rentals are typically outdoors and accommodate up to 150 seated comfortably. “The real appeal is having a beautiful event outdoors among the public sculpture,” he explains.

The center partners with 1928 Planning Co. to execute on-site events and works with Scooter Joe’s, a bike and water equipment rental service, to offer a Public Art Scavenger Hunt. Each sculpture has a QR code that participants can scan to learn more about the art and ultimately navigate their way through the hunt, Bizoe says. 

Walkers Emergence of the Three Cities sculpture by Jason Graham at Elk Rapids Day Park. May 16, 2023
Walkers Emergence of the Three Cities sculpture by Jason Graham at Elk Rapids Day Park CREDIT Babs Young

The Jo Anne and Donald Peterson Sculpture Garden at the Marshall M. Fredericks Sculpture Museum on the Saginaw Valley State University campus in University Center—between Bay City and Saginaw—features bronze sculptures and botanical beds, along with the sounds of water created by the Day and Night Fountain and Otter Pool. Visitors will find two dozen of Fredericks’ sculptures placed along the winding walkways. Three of the artist’s works are also a short distance away: Leaping Gazelle near the Melvin J. Zahnow Library, Cleveland War Memorial in front of Founders Hall, and The Harlequin Clowns, located inside Curtiss Hall.

Indoor and outdoor space can be rented says Andrea Ondish, museum curator of education. “We often do opening receptions and special events,” she says, adding, “We encourage corporate events at our museum. Our museum is gorgeous.”

The Marshall M. Fredericks Sculpture Museum. May 16, 2023
The Marshall M. Fredericks Sculpture Museum CREDIT Marshall M. Fredericks Sculpture Museum

Groups visiting Traverse City might want to organize a field trip to the Walk of Art Sculpture Park in Elk Rapids. The outdoor sculpture gallery is located on the shores of Lake Michigan in the 15-acre Elk Rapids Day Park and features about 30 sculptures nestled in the woods and even on the beach. “It’s a woodsy setting—a very natural setting,” says Becky Lancaster, president of Art Rapids, a nonprofit organization that oversees the collection. 

“We have pieces there that fit right in … some area birds and things like that that one would expect to see, and some metal, very contemporary, and bright in colors. We want to showcase the diversity in people’s art.” Lancaster notes that the park is easy to access by foot or bike, and there are also picnic tables, grills, and bathrooms available to visitors.  “You can swim there—what’s not to like?” she says. “And it’s a great sunset beach to go [to] and look toward the west every night.”