Out of The Blu- Shedd Aquarium, Chicago raises funds for sustainability

Sick Family Lakefront Terrace dance floor, Shedd Aquarium; photo by Eva Ho
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 On Saturday, July 27, 2019, the Auxiliary Board of Shedd Aquarium hosted the 13th annual fundraiser, OUT OF THE BLU on behalf of wildlife enthusiasts who want to make a difference for aquatic animals everywhere. OUT OF THE BLU was a Zero Waste event whose aim was to keep litter out of our waterways and help protect this great blue planet. From the moment a ticket was purchased to the last “selfie” taken by the last guest, the issue/essence of sustainability was obvious in every aspect of this party with a purpose.

The night was filled with OUT OF THE BLU experiences: special animal encounters, food and drink from top restaurants from across Chicago, and dancing on the beautiful outdoor terrace. Down the blue carpet of the Shedd Oceanarium toddled Magellanic penguins, and guests got up close and personal with 10-foot octopus tentacles.

Shedd Aquarium main entrance, adorned by 10 foot octopus tentacles; photo by Danielle Dolan

Shedd employee Charley walked about with an incredibly gorgeous green winged macaw. I asked about the significance of a bird at the Shedd. He advised me that these brightly colored parrots flock to the banks of the Amazon basin to gather clay that they will later consume in nearby trees. This substance, it is believed, neutralizes toxins, much like the charcoal ingested by humans with stomach problems. However, more recently, it’s been learned that clay may also augment a sodium-poor diet. The appearance of the vibrant bird at BLU was to emphasize the importance of keeping rivers pristine for all animal life.

Over 900 of Chicago’s wildlife enthusiasts and socialites came together at Shedd Aquarium for the sold-out signature fundraising fête to make a difference for the aquatic animals everywhere. Hosted by Shedd Aquarium’s Auxiliary Board and Co-Chairs, Caroline Conese, Ronak Danak, and Dana Waud  Floberg, the event raised more than $330,000 from generous sponsors, donors and attendees to support Shedd’s ongoing sustainability, conservation and rescue efforts for aquatic wildlife around the globe and for the animals that are represented at Shedd.

BLU co-chairs and Shedd auxiliary board members, Dana Waud Floberg, Caroline Conese and Ronak Danak; photo by Danielle Dolan

I had an opportunity to chat briefly with co-chair Caroline Conese about the thrust of the impetus, “zero waste”, behind this year’s BLU. “The items used tonight, and a lot of the money raised tonight, will demonstrate the importance of sustainability, specifically teaching how important and yet how easy it is to recycle”, she affirmed. “As always, the goal of the Shedd’s efforts is to take action for animals, to support and restore populations and ecosystems”, she added. Conese pointed out that her fabulous sequin-encrusted dress had been rented for the night, underscoring her devotion to ecological awareness.

This year’s theme, OUT OF THE BLU focused heavily on helping guests keep litter out of our waterways and away from landfills and instead reallocate as much waste as possible generated throughout the evening with the help of the aquarium’s robust composting and recycling programs.

VIP guests kicked off the event an hour early and had the aquarium to themselves, though many chose to spend their time at the private lounge, presented by Citadel, on the North Terrace with a backdrop of an unbeatable view of Lake Michigan and the Chicago skyline. In this one-of-a-kind setting, there were opportunities to come face-to-face with Shedd’s Magellanic penguins in Shedd’s North Lobby and enjoy a private acoustic performance from Daniel Wade outside while sipping on drinks provided by Heaven’s Door Whiskeys served in compostable cups.

Magellanic penguins surprise the audience; photo by Eva Ho

The sparkling-clear aquariums at Shedd revealed a fantastic array of life, from pipefish to alligator, seahorse to eel, starfish to sharks. An incredible universe of creatures who live within the waters of the world and participate in the inter-relationship of all species call the Shedd home.

As the celebration got underway, guests began their night walking through the main entrance, adorned by 10-foot octopus tentacles for a one-of-a-kind photo opportunity. In the main foyer, artists from Ink Factory worked feverishly to create a real-time art piece about how attendees can incorporate Zero Waste into their daily lives and their favorite memories at Shedd with visual notes and hand-drawn illustrations. Between sipping cocktails and experiencing special animal encounters to tastings from Chicago’s top restaurants like Nude Dude Food and Shaw’s CrabHouse, guests also had the opportunity to marvel at a “trashion” show, hosted by Gordon Salon, with models wearing upcycled couture outfits made from plastic bottles and bags. These activities and experiences helped inspire “Out of the BLU” attendees to think twice before reaching for single-use plastic materials.

Nude Dude Food serve watermelon gazpacho, smoked salmon, and summer squash succotash; photo by Danielle Dolan

The stylish socialites then made their way to an exclusive aquatic presentation titled Tomorrow Starts Tonight, in the Abbott Oceanarium that featured a dynamic musical performance by Musicality – a local west Chicago musical group featured on America’s Got Talent. During the special program, there was a call to take action for animals by Shedd’s President and CEO, Dr. Bridget Coughlin, who highlighted the aquarium’s ongoing plastic pollution reduction efforts alongside recent heartwarming animal rescue stories. Following the stunning aquatic presentation with California sea lions, Pacific white-sided dolphins and Magellanic and rockhopper penguins, guests participated in a paddle raise, raising more than $47,000 in donations to benefit the aquarium’s mission.

From there, attendees went to the Sick Family Lakefront Terrace where the dance floor opened with special performances by some of Chicago’s most popular drag performers, including Kat Sass and Lucy Stoole. Guests could enjoy food and drink in the downstairs foyer or dance the night away and gaze at the fireworks over Navy Pier. Concluding the eventful evening, guests had the option to keep the party going at LiqrBox Chicago for the BLU After Party. While exiting, guests picked up a reusable bag, with SWZLE reusable straws, Ferrara candy, reusable food wraps, and more, to encourage them to embrace the Zero Waste theme and choose alternatives to single-use plastics in their daily lives.

OUT OF THE BLU was sponsored, in part, by Citadel, Ferrara, Arcelor Mittal and more. Shedd Aquarium’s Auxiliary Board hosted the annual fundraising event.

“Trashion Show”, hosted by Gordon Salon, with models wearing up cycled couture made from plastic bottles and bags; photo by Danielle Dolan


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