BLU: Behold the Beauty review- Shedd’s spectacular summer fundraising fête

Guests on Shedd Aquarium's North Terrace for BLU:Behold the Beauty
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On August 18, 2018, a balmy late-summer evening, a beautifully dressed crowd consisting of 900 Chicago philanthropists and socially conscious citizens gathered at Shedd Aquarium for its yearly summer fundraising event, BLU.

While the fête is given in support of Shedd’s mission to generate compassion, curiosity and conservation for the aquatic animal world, it’s also a terrific party!

BLU: Behold the Beauty showcased the aquarium’s new and very special 5-room exhibit, Underwater Beauty. The stunning exhibit, filled with wonderful shimmering, patterned, rhythmic, multi-colored animals, displays the vast diversity of aquatic life and celebrates how beauty is irreplaceable and worth saving.

Harlem Natural provided kickoff music on Shedd’s North Terrace

The festivities began on Shedd’s famous North Terrace, against an unbeatable view of Lake Michigan and the Chicago skyline, to the organic sound of rock-and-roll cover band Harlem Natural. Sipping libations provided by MillerCoors, Breakthru Beverage, Cutwater Spirits, Constellation Wines, Crafthouse Cocktails and Chicago Cocktail, guests enjoyed premier access to Underwater Beauty.

Sodexo Quality of Life Services at Shedd, and Chicago’s top restaurants, including Beatrix, Warm Belly Bakery, The Gwen Hotel, and Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises contributed delectable finger food to sample while touring the many unique exhibits.

DJ Jacob Bjorge and drag performers provided diverse entertainment

A non-stop round of learning experiences and entertainment throughout the evening included a diver among the sharks and rays in Caribbean Reef, DJ Jacob Bjorge and drag performers, the opportunity to interact with eels, acquiring a unique design in a glitter tattoo, and purchasing Threadless items.

Naturally, there were opportunities for philanthropic donating, from an onsite donation to join the aquarium’s #SheddTheStraw campaign, to participating in a call to take action for animals by Shedd’s President and CEO, Bridget Coughlin and sponsors Lauran and Myrna Bromley. When stylish socialites came together for an exclusive aquatic presentation titled Beauty Worth Saving in the Abbott Oceanarium, featuring a dynamic Hamilton-inspired musical performance, and a captivating exhibition of Shedd’s Pacific white-sided dolphin, they participated in a paddle raise that collected over $60,000 in donations to benefit the aquarium.

Shedd’s Magellanic and Rockhopper penguins in “Beauty Worth Saving”

Afterwards, attendees went back outside to the spectacular Sick Family Lakefront Terrace where they danced the night away to DJ Chicago and gazed at the fireworks over Navy Pier. Late night eats from Aurelio’s Pizza and Trader Todd’s were available in Bubblenet.

At the conclusion of this memorable evening, shuttle service was provided at Shedd’s bus turnaround for a complimentary ride to Rockit Bar & Grillfor the BLU After Party. Exiting guests picked up reusable bags to encourage them to choose alternatives to single-use plastics.

This year, BLU: Behold the Beauty, hosted by Shedd Aquarium’s Auxiliary Board and co-chairs Nate Fencl, Drew Gravitt, and Jessica Morris, raised more than $300,000 from generous sponsors, donors and partygoers. The funds are earmarked to support Shedd’s many conservation efforts in aquatic habitats around the globe and for the animals that call Shedd their home.

BLU co-chairs Drew Gravitt, Nate Fencl and Jessica Morris

This reviewer had the opportunity to meet co-chair Jessica Morris at BLU and interview her afterwards:

What was the most challenging part of acting as a co-chair for Shedd BLU? “The most challenging part of co-chairing BLU is balancing the time requirements with other competing demands like family and work. Luckily, my family loves Shedd and was fully of supportive me taking time away to help further its mission.”

What kinds of ideas did you consider when planning and directing this special event, such as the auction, the Hamilton-themed aquatic presentation, and the drag queens? “We worked closely with Shedd staff to find a balance of new ideas like the drag performances and BLU traditions like the late-night dance floor. This year, we pushed for a lot of animal encounters during the event. I think the encounters, like the penguins during the VIP reception, were really special for the guests and helped foster a connection to the Shedd’s mission to spark compassion, curiosity and conservation for the aquatic animal world.”

Was the event successful from your perspective-how and why? “I thought the event was a huge success. In addition to raising funds to support Shedd’s mission, the event beautifully showcased the Shedd’s animals, mission and global impact. My guests all had a wonderful time and came away from the event with a new appreciation for all that Shedd does both within its four walls and beyond.”

Attendees noshed on bites from Chicago’s top restaurants

For information about the mission, exhibits, and programs of Shedd Aquarium, go to

Photo credit: ©Shedd Aquarium/Heidi Zeiger Photography





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