By Bonnie DeShong
During Women’s History Month and the Day of the International Woman, the person who stuck out in my mind was my good friend, Navy Pier’s Chief Program and Civic Engagement Officer, Michelle Boone.
Michelle, I had never heard of International Women’s Day. Had you?
Michelle: Journee de la femme. I first learned about International Women’s Day when I was a Peace Corps volunteer and that was in Chad, Africa, which is a Francophile country.
It’s called the National Journee De La Femme, and when I was there the women in my village would all get together and have a little mini parade through the village. The women would dress up like men, because they never get to do that, wear pants.
It was a really wonderful experience just to see the women of the village kind of come together and have a day where they were celebrated. Because women, at least in the country that I was in, work hard. They are getting the water for their family and tending the fields. Many are not educated. They have to cook all the meals, I mean working from sun up to sun down. So, it was great to see them being celebrated on those days.
You have brought some amazing programs here since you’ve been in charge. When you create programs for Navy Pier what is the thought pattern in involving the community?
Michelle: For me in doing programs, collaborations and partnerships is at the heart of it. It has really been the basis for the work that I’ve been doing in arts administration since I’ve started back in the late 90s at Gallery 37. It was built on collaborations and partnerships.
I did a lot of that at the Joyce Foundation. I certainly did a lot of that when I was a commissioner at DCASE, so you know, it’s kind of in my arts administrator DNA to approach the work in a collaborative spirit. The other reality was that Navy Pier quite frankly just didn’t have the human resources to produce and present the types of programs that I had imagined.
So, the organizations not only bring the credible works, but they bring with them also their audience. It was a great way to introduce those people to the Pier. It was kind of a win-win on both sides. We’re exposing the work of organizations to our audiences, but we’re also reconnecting Chicagoans to the new Navy Pier, so it was a great way for them to see a lot of the work that’s been happening here.
Up to this point what is your standout program that makes you smile when you think about it?
Michelle: Well, there are a lot. I guess the one that’s freshest in my mind is the Beach Chicago project. It was here for three weekends and just closed in February. It’s probably by far the most ambitious project that we’ve done here at the Pier.
Our ballroom was totally transformed into a beach. What I loved about it was that in the heart of winter, in January, even through the polar vortex, we had over 21,000 people show up here over 11 days. And it was so cool and great to see Chicagoans from every corner of the city all together having fun, and you hear all these multiple languages.
It didn’t matter what neighborhood you were from, it didn’t matter about your ethnicity or cultural background, everybody just connected with the joy of the project.
Now if I win the Mega Millions or the Powerball and I say, “Michelle, I want to give you money to do your dream program for the Pier,” do you have any idea what that would be?
Michelle: I do. I have lots of ideas. So, it’s not necessarily a program, but what I would ask for is someone to invest in an indoor performance space for the Pier. So, while we got creative in transforming the ballroom, for example for the installation of the Beach, we really want the Pier to be a year-round destination.
To have an indoor space that could be a multi-purpose space that could support indoor performances, spoken word, exhibitions, talks and conversations with artists … that’s what I would want you to spend your Mega Million bucks on.
Is there enough talent to support such a venture?
Michelle: There’s so much talent in Chicago, and it’s great to bring artists here to the Pier and introduce them to so many kinds of people so you don’t have the limitations.
And the Pier is beautiful in the summer. Just to have a place where you can come and look out on the lake, and when you get tired you can walk, you know, half a block and turn around and then you’re looking at the majestic skyline. The views and just enjoying the beauty of the city and the environment of Chicago is wonderful.
Nature, people don’t think about nature with Navy Pier but that’s here. It’s the way I see families come out here with their picnic baskets packed and their blankets and they kind of park it over in the park and they have a great day, all day. And then they can lay back and enjoy the free fireworks at night. While I think the perception may be that it is expensive to visit the Pier, you can come here and not have to spend a lot of money and bring the whole family and have really a good time.
I can’t let you go without you suggesting some great programs to see at Navy Pier.
Michelle: Most of our public programs are free. We have LOOP which is an illuminated, interactive, and musical art installation in Polk Park through May 12th. Great for the entire family. The Chi Soul Fest, second annual music festival celebrating soul legends and traditions unique to Chicago is June 21 and 22. And of course, the Aon Fireworks begin Memorial Day, every Wednesday and Saturday nights. You can easily find a list of all our programs by visiting www.navypier.org.
Thank you, Michelle. I plan to spend a lot of time here at Navy Pier.
Until next time, keep your EYE to the sky!