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Programming and Community Engagement Are Keys to Navy Pier Revitalization

By Brenna C. Cronin
With a stack of impact reports in hand, Michelle Boone—Chief Engagement Officer of Navy Pier, started our site visit with the power of information. Programming and community engagement are the drumbeats of her department and deserve incredible recognition for the revitalization of Navy Pier as it stands today.

For those of us who grew up in Chicago, we remember the old food court, shops, and Ferris wheel. “It was really interesting to learn about Navy Pier through a different perspective and to see all the changes that have been made,” shared Hannah Arata, who grew up in Evanston and has visited the Pier before.

After a great conversation about her role in the organization and career journey, we discussed corporate partnerships and naming opportunities, a part of the Development world that is of great interest to me. From the “Fifth Third Family Pavilion”, “Aon Grand Ballroom” (and summer fireworks festival!), and “People’s Energy Welcome Pavilion”, the opportunities for corporate partnerships seem limitless. Ms. Boone even shared with us a future naming opportunity for the soon-to-be revitalized Crystal Gardens. Two of the major partners onsite include the Chicago Children’s Museum and Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, both leaders in their respective industries.

We spent the majority of our walking tour discussion time in “Polk Bros. Park”, which boasts a $20 million investment through landscaping, interactive water fountains, play areas, landscape art, bee hive conservation, and walking paths. Two stages allow for spaces to engage the local community, the Lakeside stage and City stage, lovingly named for the stunning view the audience has from their lawn chairs. “Michelle acknowledged that most Chicagoans tend to view Navy Pier as a prime tourist destination, which I would agree with. I was excited to hear that Michelle and her team are developing programs with local communities in mind. I know where I’ll be this summer,” shared Chicago resident and MSLCE student, Matt Meade. Community engagement through these two stages is a big focus of their summer programming.

“Michelle is such an established arts leader in Chicago and her passion for the Pier really came through in our conversations,” continued Hannah Arata. A past MSLCE Commencement speaker, it was clear that Ms. Boone’s achievements and experience with civic engagement in Chicago is part of what brought her to Navy Pier. Her previous roles include Commissioner of the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE) and Senior Program Officer at The Joyce Foundation, both dream jobs for some in our cohort!

Our cohort continues to be grateful for the incredible civic leaders that the MSLCE program brings into our view. Their stories are a true inspiration as we launch into careers of arts and culture leadership.