By Ellen Wulfhorst
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Kids have been sleeping overnight in museums across the country for years, dozing off among live sharks and dinosaur bones. Now adults are getting to join the fun.
The American Museum of Natural History is hosting its first adults-only sleepover this week, with a champagne reception, live jazz and a three-course dinner. Guests will spend the night in sleeping bags beneath the iconic 94-foot-long blue whale suspended in the cavernous Milstein Hall of Ocean Life.
The event sold out in three hours, organizers said.
Adults-only overnights are rather rare, yet experts say they can be an excellent and innovative way for U.S. museums to attract new supporters.
"Every museum is looking for a new way to engage different demographics," said Paul Johnson, a fund-raising consultant.
"It's a way to engage people, get people in the door who may not otherwise come," he said. "It's about cultivating future audiences and future donors."
Scores of museums offer overnights for children, popularized by the children's tales "From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler" about runaways hiding in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the book and movie "Night at the Museum," about a watchman who discovers exhibits come to life after visitors leave.
Children taking part in overnight programs can solve crimes at the Carnegie Science Center in Pittsburgh, explore caves at the Cincinnati Museum Center, watch sharks at the Aquarium of the Bay in San Francisco and snooze inside a submarine at the Wisconsin Maritime Museum.
At the Museum of Natural History, some 62,000 children have participated in overnight events since they began in 2006, said Brad Harris, senior director of visitor services.
About 175 people are scheduled to attend the adult event.
"Obviously we hit on something people want to do," Harris said.
DREAMING OF ART
At New York's Rubin Museum of Art, adults can attend a "Dream-Over," sleeping under works of art and having their dreams interpreted when they awake.
New Yorker Carolyn Robbins attended a recent "Dream-Over" at the Rubin, which houses collections from Himalayan Asia, and said it left her wanting more.
"I would actually be interested in doing it at other museums because it's an incredible opportunity," she said. "There's a lot that happens when you're asleep. You gain knowledge in a different way than when you are awake."
And a museum with a crowd is incomparable, she said.
"Being there when it's quiet and dimly lit is a completely different experience," she said.
That's what happens at the Georgia Aquarium, where adult sleepovers provide the chance to commune with residents that are more active at night, said Kelli Edwards, assistant manager of interpretive programs.
The giant Pacific octopus is nocturnal and gets busy, as do the whale sharks, she said. The four beluga whales are more prone to come to the windows they share with visitors and blow ring bubbles, she said.
The overnights are not money makers, museums say. The $108 price at the Rubin covers planning, security and overtime, the museum said. The $375 event at the Museum of Natural History is not out of line with a meal, music and a hotel stay in New York City.
The Georgia Aquarium charges $99.95 For an overnight.
"The reason behind it is exposure," Edwards said. "Our mission is to be the most engaging experience, not focused on money but on the guests' experience."
(Editing by Jill Serjeant and Bill Trott)