How to launch a cultural landmark? With a landmark series of events. The famed Art Institute of Chicago teamed with TBA Global to do just that, creating events for the May opening of the new Modern Wing that drew 65,000 attendees and worldwide attention.
Art Institute director of constituent relations Linsey Foster relied on her background in mega events—including stints working on Olympics events for Coca-Cola and Chicago's own Ravinia Festival, as well as seven years on the staff of Chicago's Shedd Aquarium—to guide her approach to the task. "I thought about how they accomplished opening events, logistics and gathered staff teams," she tells Special Events. The key, Foster says: "They relied on the strength of people who know the audience."
Foster did the same, working closely with Institute staff in various departments for more than 25 events that started with a staff party on May 6 and ended with huge public celebrations on May 16.
For the final week of events, Foster teamed with TBA Global over the course of a year to develop events targeting the broad range of audiences—including the international art world, museum members and potential members, and Chicago's citizens—that the institute wanted to reach.
The final week started with four days of tours, first for public school students and their teachers and then museum members. The highly choreographed tours followed a one-way route that maximized the guest experience while moving big groups through the new space.
Friday, May 15, saw the premiere party for 1,500 members of the international art community—a given since the Modern Wing's architect is superstar Renzo Piano.
At 10 p.m., the event changed gears to become the Young Modern gala—aimed squarely at tomorrow's art patrons. A lounge atmosphere, performance artists, DJs and cocktail bars entertained guests until 2 a.m.
With its stunning design, the Modern Wing needed little in the way of decor—just lighting to show it off. "We were very conscious of what we were spending," Foster notes.
Saturday, May 16, brought the big-gun public events. Dignitaries—including mayor Richard M. Daley and White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel—cut a red silk ribbon leading the way over Nichols Bridgeway, the physical and spiritual bridge between the public Millennium Park and the high-art Modern Wing.
TBA Global's executive vice president of creative Leo Fitzpatrick developed a musical dialogue between art and the public by having a 12-piece classical horn ensemble, positioned on the bridgeway, exchange musical volleys with a street-wise percussion troupe, perched on a stage below. The two groups alternated their classic and urban riffs starting with Aaron Copeland's famed "Fanfare for the Common Man," ending by playing together. The sequence "rocked," Fitzpatrick says, and the memory of the ribbon-cutting "still makes me cry," Foster says.
Foster says she is most proud of the pride felt by Art Institute staff for the events. "From a planner perspective, the biggest thing was that it came from all different departments," she says. "It was planned with an eye toward ensuring that everyone was proud of what we pulled off."
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