The Shedd Aquarium‘s Auxiliary Board celebrated 12 years of BLU, its signature fundraising event, on Aug. 18 with 900 guests in attendance. The evening highlighted the aquarium’s newest exhibit, “Underwater Beauty,” and included animal encounters, live music, a drag show, full access to exhibits, dancing, more than 30 premier food vendors and much more.
As guests entered the party, they passed larger-than-life sculptures of aquatic animals made entirely from plastic beach trash for the “Washed Ashore: Art to Save the Sea” project. There were 19 sculptures total scattered throughout the venue. Since 2010, the nonprofit has processed tons of plastic pollution from Pacific beaches to raise awareness and inspire people to take action against the global marine debris crisis.
The evening began with a VIP reception held on the North Terrace. Against dazzling skyline views, partygoers enjoyed music by Harlem Natural and a meet-and-greet with Ivy and Jasmine, two South American green tree pythons.
In the main foyer, a drag show featured performances by Chicago’s Kat Sass, Trannika Rex and Tenderoni. In a nod to the aquarium venue, Alexis Bevels performed on roller skates as a mermaid. More animal encounters included South American Magellanic penguins, a caiman lizard, a black and white tegu and a South American freshwater puffer fish.
During the Caribbean Reef presentation, volunteer diver Brian Siegel fed the fish in the 90,000-gallon tank as excited guests snapped photos. Siegel has been a certified diver at the Shedd for seven years and described his experience. “I pinch myself every day when they ask me to do this. The cownose stingrays are all over me. They’re very social and love to be touched. You can’t see it under my mask, but I’m smiling the whole time.”
An aquatic presentation in the Abbott Oceanarium, titled “Beauty Worth Saving,” emphasized an important message about plastic pollution. Shedd director Heather Barnes said, “It’s important for all of us to pitch in and make a difference by reducing or eliminating single-use plastics, like straws, that don’t disintegrate and remain on this planet.” The 25-minute show included amazing feats by Pacific white-sided dolphins and a frisky sea lion and ended with a slew of penguins marching across the stage in front of squealing, delighted guests. A paddle raise topped $60,000 — a record-breaking amount for this event.
Bridget Coughlin, Shedd president and CEO, said, “Every year, we have this opportunity to peel back the water’s surface to let millions of visitors see life beneath the water line. By looking nature in the eye, we can make a difference. … This can’t be a moment, this has to be a movement. Together, we are going to improve waterways, locally and afar, and learn more about animal species so that we can take better care of them since we all share this blue planet.” She acknowledged and thanked sponsors Lauran and Myrna Bromley and asked the 40 members of the Auxiliary Board in attendance to stand and be recognized.
A mission video included statistics such as in 2017, Shedd volunteers picked up more than 5,000 pounds of litter along Lake Michigan and the Chicago River; 80 percent of the trash in the ocean originates on land with straws, bags and water bottles making up the majority; and by 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish unless action is taken. Following the video, singers performed “My Shot” in a “Hamilton”-inspired act.
The night concluded with dancing to the sounds of DJ Chicago on the Sick Family Lakefront Terrace and a Navy Pier fireworks display. A shuttle bus provided transportation to an after-party at Rockit Bar & Grill in River North.
Co-chaired by Drew Gravitt, Jessica Morris and Nate Fencl, the event raised over $300,000 to support the aquarium’s conservation, sustainability and education initiatives as well as the care of the more than 32,000 animals that call Shedd home.
Freelance writer Candace Jordan is involved in many local organizations, including some whose events she covers.