Guggenheim Get-Down
Imagine yourself in an airy museum gallery filled with fine art and appreciative patrons.

But instead of the usual restrained hush of a sleepy Sunday afternoon, the bass is pumping as fashionable characters dance though the night.

No need to call the police -- it's simply a museum party, a growing trend in venerable art institutions across the country.

Faced with rising costs and lackluster admissions, museums have developed these unusual nighttime events to infuse themselves with new patrons and revenue.

Another big benefit to hosting the parties is a rise in memberships, Phyllis Lankiewicz, events manager at Orlando Museum of Art, points out.

City Scene

Those in the know in New York City wait in lines that extend around the block to attend " First Fridays" at the Guggenheim Museum on the Upper East Side.

The event, sponsored by the hip local newspaper The Village Voice, runs from 9 p.m. and attracts world-class DJs such as Telefon Tel Aviv, Ratatat and Pink Skull.

As night falls, the modern- and contemporary-art haven is converted into a vibrant dance party. Attendees can admire the collection while getting down, or simply sit back and watch.

Alcohol is served, but it's the intoxicating effect of the art itself that transports attendees to another world. The spectacular Frank Lloyd Wright-designed building is an ideal setting: The circular rotunda becomes lined with people taking in the other guests along with the stunning art.

The popularity has its price, however -- be prepared to wait an hour and pay $25 to enter.

But you can avoid the line by becoming a museum member ($75 per year). With this, you can go right inside and start mingling with the crowd.

First Fridays attract a diverse audience, from sophisticated, chic men and women still dressed in suits to urban hipsters wearing designer jeans and blazers. Partygoers make friends very quickly, as the art is an easily accessible sounding board for discussion.

Boston's Museum of Fine Arts gives museum patrons free access to its parties, which also run on the first Friday of every month.

Attendees come to enjoy the art, listen to the music, network and even take in performances: The 2006 fall season opened with a show of live acrobats.

The Orlando Museum of Art was the first museum in the city to offer a monthly art party, " First Thursdays." Admission is $9, but it's free for museum members.

Each month, this American contemporary museum offers a new theme.

Kicking off February, the theme is "Food of the Gods and Lovers," which looks at chocolate made by everyone from the Mayans through modern-day confectioners.

Future themes include a Degas dance exhibit, which will be held in collaboration with the Orlando Ballet, and one on the role symbolism has played for artists from Van Eyck to Goya to Picasso.

Have a Ball

The more-traditional museum parties are high-profile fund-raisers featuring gourmet dinners and exclusive tours, such as those at the Vizcaya Museum in Miami.

The Vizcaya, located right downtown, is a national historic landmark. The building itself was the former winter estate of the American industrialist James Deering from 1916 to 1925.

The Vizcayans Ball started in 1956, and is held every November on the weekend before Thanksgiving.

The gala event is known as the beginning of the fall social calendar in Miami, and more than 600 privileged guests attend the festivities.

Ticket prices range from $600 to $2,500 per person or $6,000 to $25,000 for tables of 10. Those who spend more are positively pampered, with personalized table and butler service.

Admission includes valet parking, a tour of the first floor of the museum, a commemorative photograph, a cocktail and hors d'oeuvre reception, several live-entertainment vignettes, a spirited silent auction and, finally, a formal dinner.

The Halloween Ball is another popular museum event. Started in 1986, this decadent party is one the most highly anticipated and well-attended local Halloween bashes.

Historically, this fundraiser boasts a sold-out crowd of around 3,000 guests.

Live staged performances occur all night, and there's a DJ to take over when the band goes on break, to ensure that the music and dancing never stop.

Mixing It Up

The Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago offers a different take: Every Tuesday, the institution hosts a themed get-together.

Art and Culture: Drink It In

The first Tuesday of every month is "Stitch and Bitch," where patrons come to knit, socialize and draw inspiration from the creative atmosphere.

The second Tuesday is "Bingo Tango," in which professional instructors demonstrate the art of tango in between bingo sessions, says Dorothy Coyle, director of the Chicago Office of Tourism.

A event focusing on the art of the printed and spoken word ushers in the third Tuesday: "Literary Gangs of Chicago," which gives Chicago poets and authors an opportunity to tell stories about local city life.

"The Magical Acoustical Musical Showcase" is held on the fourth Tuesday and features the eclectic talents of local musicians. The events are all free, Coyle notes.

Instead of just going to a museum for the art, why not attend a museum party? You'll no doubt enjoy socializing with crowds as much as appreciating the art itself.



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