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Fun and Free Things to do in Chicago at Navy Pier

Looking for fun and free things to do in Chicago? There’s always something going on at Navy Pier! From cultural programming and seasonal celebrations to special events, festivals, fireworks and more, discover fun and free Chicago events at Navy Pier all year long.

See also: free events & public programs

Navy Pier, Chicago’s mission-driven cultural district, proudly offers free events and public programming year-round. See a full listing of Navy Pier’s ongoing free events and public programs

Upcoming Events

Daily Cruises
Year-Round

Enjoy lake and river cruises departing from Navy Pier’s South Dock and Polk Bros. Park

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Please visit the following pages for daily cruises, special events, and fireworks cruises:

Seadog Cruises Shoreline Sightseeing Odyssey Spirit of Chicago Mystic Blue Tall Ship Windy

Chakaia Booker: Four Sculptures

Free Public Program

Friday, April 20, 2018 - Tuesday, April 30, 2019

View four sculptural works by artist Chakaia Booker, on display in locations throughout Navy Pier starting April 20, 2018.

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Since 1994 Chakaia Booker has made abstract sculptures from discarded rubber tires salvaged from city streets, auto body shops, and dump sites. Cutting, shredding, bending, and transforming them into wild organic shapes, she creates objects that evoke the human body and spirit, without being literal representations.  Today, she works almost exclusively with recycled tires—slicing, twisting, stripping, weaving, and riveting rubber and radials to create and exaggerate the textures, prickled edges, and torqued forms of her radical refashioning. Whether she is creating small-scale wall reliefs resembling ballistic blowouts, suggestively hairy and ovoid pedestal sculptures, or colossal landscape-like tableaux, Booker transforms tires—iconic symbols of urban waste and blight—into extraordinary compositions of renewal.

Booker received a B.A. in sociology from Rutgers University in 1976, and an M.F.A. from the City College of New York in 1993. She gained international acclaim at the 2000 Whitney Biennial with It’s So Hard to Be Green (2000), her 12.5 x 21 foot wall-hung tire sculpture. Booker received the Pollock-Krasner Grant in 2002 and a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2005. She has exhibited in group and solo exhibitions nationally and internationally.

Six sculptures by Booker have been on view in Millennium Park since 2016; four of those works will come to Navy Pier this April (two sited on Illinois Street just outside the entrance of Navy Pier; one on the south dock at the entrance; and one in Pier Park).

Pass the Buck

2008; Rubber tires and stainless steel, 102 x 96 x 84 inches

Booker’s inspiration for this sculpture was Madam C. J. Walker–best known for developing a successful line of hair-care and beauty products for black women–and considered by many to be the first African American businesswoman and philanthropist. For the artist, this sculpture evokes the pursuit of success and giving back to society.

Take Out

2008

Take Out is a whimsical piece embellished with large, looping, swirling tendrils of tire. Evoking photographs and reflections through its frame- or mirror-like rectangular shape, Take Out invites viewers to explore and engage in the Chicago cityscape and alternately, views of the Centennial Wheel in Pier Park.

Shape Shifter

2012; Rubber tires and stainless steel, 192 x 102 x 78 inches

 

Gridlock

2008; Rubber tire and stainless steel, 2 pieces, 100 x 48 x 20 inches

Gridlock represents a symbol of human journey and life—shows an interplay of concave and convex spaces. The title references travel patterns in cities.

“My work challenges the notion that tires are uniformly black. I want to encourage people to examine assumptions about color, patterns, textures, and functions…. Also, our assumptions about most subject matter, including people, their diversity, and the diversity of ideas and perceptions.” – Chakaia Booker

Iván Navarro: This Land is Your Land

Free Public Program

Friday, July 27, 2018 - Tuesday, April 30, 2019

An image that has been a part of the upper realms of Chicago’s landscape comes “down to earth” to Polk Bros Park, July 2018-April 2019.

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An image that has been a part of the upper realms of Chicago’s landscape comes “down to earth” to Polk Bros Park. Three hauntingly beautiful water towers are transformed as sculptural objects with neon interiors. Viewers are invited to stand beneath them and gaze above to experience. 

About This Land is Your Land

Originally debuted at New York’s Madison Square Park in 2014, the three sculptures – BED, Ladder and ME/WE – are composed of neon-lit interiors with infinite reflections of each structure’s respective design. One tower consists of a limitless repetition of the word, “BED;” another features the boundless image of a ladder; and the third displays the words, “ME” and “WE” in redundancy. An internal arrangement of mirrors enables each word or image to repeat perpetually through a seemingly endless vertical space. Measuring at approximately seven feet in diameter and erected on roughly eight-foot-tall supports, each tower allows guests the ability to stand underneath the sculpture and gaze above for a truly unique viewing experience.

Ladder (Water Tower)

2014, Neon, wood, painted steel, galvanized steel, aluminum, mirror, one-way mirror, and electric energy, 189 x 105 1/8 x 105 1/8 inches, 480.1 x 267 x 267 cm, Edition of 3 + 1 AP

Photo by Elizabeth Bernstein Images courtesy of Iván Navarro and Paul Kasmin Gallery

ME/WE (Water Tower)

2014, neon, wood, painted steel, galvanized steel, aluminum, mirror and one-way mirror, and electric energy, 189 x 105 1/8 x 105 1/8 inches, 480.1 x 267 x 267 cm, Edition of 3 + 1 AP, (PK 18175)

Photo by Elizabeth Bernstein Images courtesy of Iván Navarro and Paul Kasmin Gallery

BED (Water Tower)

2014, Neon, wood, painted steel, galvanized steel, aluminum, mirror, one-way mirror, and electric energy, 189 x 105 1/8 x 105 1/8 inches, 480.1 x 267 x 267 cm, Edition of 3 + 1 AP

Photo by Elizabeth Bernstein Images courtesy of Iván Navarro and Paul Kasmin Gallery

About IVÁN NAVARRO

Born in Santiago, Chile 1972
Lives and works in Brooklyn, New York

Iván Navarro was born in 1972 in Santiago, Chile, where he grew up under the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet. He is known internationally for his socio-politically charged sculptures of neon, fluorescent and incandescent light. Navarro’s unique and captivating use of light transforms the exhibition space by means of visual interplay. Navarro represented Chile at the 53rd Venice Biennale.

Learn more at paulkasmingallery.com

We Are the Asteroid II

Free Public Program

Monday, September 17, 2018 - Sunday, December 2, 2018
South Dock

View this public artwork by artist and environmental activist Justin Brice Guariglia, utilizing a solar-powered LED highway message board.

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We Are the Asteroid II is a public artwork by artist and environmental activist Justin Brice Guariglia. Utilizing a solar-powered LED highway message board, Guariglia uses flashes of surprising poetry, metaphor, and humor to challenge audiences to think ecologically, while breaking down barriers to stimulate conversations about the environment. We Are the Asteroid II will be featured on display along the South Dock at Navy Pier.

Michael St Maur Sheil: Fields of Battle – Lands of Peace: The Doughboys 1917-18

Free Public Program

Friday, October 5, 2018 - Sunday, November 18, 2018
Polk Bros Park

Explore images of the World War I’s European battle sites, once places of devastating violence, now landscapes of great beauty, testament to peace and remembrance.

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Robert R. McCormick Foundation

Fields of Battle at Navy Pier is generously supported by the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.

A unique portrait of the First World War battlefields, Fields of Battle – Lands of Peace: The Doughboys 1917-1918 is a powerful outdoor photographic exhibition series, by Michael St Maur Sheil, which tells of the healed scars of the First World War through our only remaining living witness: the fields of battle themselves.

Completely free to view, the exhibition brings us the story of reconciliation across the lands of the warring nations. Once places of devastating violence, we now see landscapes of great beauty, testament to peace and remembrance.

With a focus on education and ideal for adults and children alike, this engaging exhibition features meticulously researched content including archive images and fascinating facts to support Michael’s contemporary battlefield images.

Fields of Battle – Lands of Peace: The Doughboys 1917-18

‘Doughboys 1917-18’ is a photographic exhibition designed to be shown outdoors in public places thus providing easy access for the maximum number of people. Using simple, modular construction, it is easy to transport and construct, making it an ideal medium for reaching out to people in city centers across the United States.

The National World War I Museum and Memorial in Kansas City, Missouri, is the organizing institution for this U.S. tour.

This exhibition, comprised of photographs of the battlefields as they are today together with archival photographs, will act as a visual gateway to the fields where the conflict was fought, thus enabling the visitor to see for themselves how one hundred years ago the history of the world was changed in such a dramatic and tragic fashion.

The exhibition is compelling in an outdoor setting. By being presented in public places, such as city parks and squares, this exhibition reaches people who have varied interests in the subject who are simply attracted by the power of the imagery, and does not require knowledge of World War I.

About the Photographer: Michael St Maur Sheil

Fields of Battle, Lands of Peace 14-18 is the work of photo-journalist, historian and battlefields guide, Michael St Maur Sheil. Captured over a period of eight years, Michael’s photography combines a passion for history and landscape and presents a unique reflection on the transformation of the battlefields of the Great War into the landscape of modern Europe.

Michael commented: “This collection represents a legacy which I hope will create a gateway to the battlefields themselves, thus encouraging people to visit these historic landscapes during the centennial period and so create awareness and understanding of the events and historical implications of the First World War”.

After studying Geography at Oxford, in the early 1970’s Mike began his life as a photo-journalist by covering ‘the Troubles’ in Northern Ireland. Here he became associated with the New York picture agency, Black Star, and over thirty years later he is still in the fortunate position of being paid to do what he loves doing – taking photographs.

Michael has visited over 60 countries around the world, working for a wide range of clients such as ABC-TV, BBC, Anti-Slavery International, British Red Cross, European Commission, National Geographic, New York Times, Shell, Time & Time Life.

Zoom Room
Friday, October 26, 2018 - Sunday, April 21, 2019

Exhibit now open in the Chicago Children’s Museum

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Zoom Room is a multilevel race course that lets kids send toy cars hurtling through the curves, loops, dips, and crash sites. Developed and designed by Chicago Children’s Museum, Zoom Room features hundreds of toy cars and more than 40 tracks of every length, height and angle, including two bi-level crash courses. It’s the ultimate toy car experience— for children and adults.

Click here for more information.

Chicago Toy & Game Fair 2018
Saturday, November 17, 2018 - Sunday, November 18, 2018
Festival Hall

Explore, discover and experience ChiTAG 2018, North America’s largest non-hobby toy and game fair open to the public.

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The 16th annual Chicago Toy & Game Fair (ChiTAG) – North America’s largest non-hobby toy and game fair open to the public – has events, exhibitors and activations for all ages!  Play is pivotal in cognitive development and social skills. Expand your brains, get social, come out and play with us at the Fair! 

For more information, visit the Chicago Toy & Game Fair website. Tickets are on sale now!

ChiTAG 2018 Dates and Hours

Saturday, November 17th, 2018
10am – 6pm

Sunday, November 18th, 2018
10am – 5pm 

Get the party started early at Harry Caray’s Tavern on Navy Pier! For noon Bears home games, a selection of brunch items will be available starting at 9 a.m. For night home games, Harry’s will offer a selection of tailgate specials.

Park at Navy Pier for the reduced rate of $20 with validation and cruise to the game using an Uber Voucher! Minimum purchase required. First come, first served. 

View Menu Schedule

Tailgate Park & Ride Restrictions

  • Parking offer valid for self-parked cars in Navy Pier garages at 600 E. Grand on Chicago Bears home game days for cars parked up to 3 hours prior to game time until up to 3 hours post game time. 50 vouchers are available per home game. Maximum one parking voucher per party; available on first come, first served basis while supplies last.
  • Shoreline cruise offer valid on Chicago Bears home game days through October. 175 Shoreline tickets are available per regular season home game; 100 Shoreline tickets are available per preseason home game. Shoreline water taxis operate weather permitting. Uber Vouchers will be provided if the water taxi is unable to operate. Maximum four water taxi tickets (or one Uber voucher) per party; available on first come, first served basis while supplies last.
  • For November and December games, we will be offering $10 Uber vouchers for every 2 guests in your party who meet the minimum.
  • $15 per guest purchase ($7.95 per child 10 years and under) required at Harry Caray’s Tavern Navy Pier to receive parking voucher and transportation tickets. Validation must be obtained at Harry Caray’s Tavern Navy Pier.
  • ​Vouchers and tickets valid only on day of purchase. 
Chicago Shakespeare presents: Q Brothers Christmas Carol
Tuesday, November 20, 2018
Chicago Shakespeare Theater

The hip-hop treat based on the Dickens classic returns for a limited holiday engagement.

Read More

The holiday treat set to a bangin’ beat is back! Chicago hip-hop sensations, the Q Brothers Collective, turn up the volume on Charles Dickens’ beloved tale, mixing everything from reggae, dancehall, and dubstep to epic rock ballads. Brighten your festivities with some cheeky spirit and a whole lot of heart—complete with visits from a Jamaican Jacob Marley and that youngest of Cratchits, Lil’ Tim. A live DJ plays through the night as the ghosts of Hip-hop Past, Present, and Future lead Scrooge on a journey of rhythm, rhyme, and redemption. Tickets available at chicagoshakes.com.

Chicago Shakespeare presents: Q Brothers Christmas Carol
Wednesday, November 21, 2018
Chicago Shakespeare Theater

The hip-hop treat based on the Dickens classic returns for a limited holiday engagement.

Read More

The holiday treat set to a bangin’ beat is back! Chicago hip-hop sensations, the Q Brothers Collective, turn up the volume on Charles Dickens’ beloved tale, mixing everything from reggae, dancehall, and dubstep to epic rock ballads. Brighten your festivities with some cheeky spirit and a whole lot of heart—complete with visits from a Jamaican Jacob Marley and that youngest of Cratchits, Lil’ Tim. A live DJ plays through the night as the ghosts of Hip-hop Past, Present, and Future lead Scrooge on a journey of rhythm, rhyme, and redemption. Tickets available at chicagoshakes.com.

Sequence Chicago: Housegiving

Free Public Program

Wednesday, November 21, 2018 - Thursday, November 22, 2018 | 8:30 pm - 1:00 am
Aon Grand Ballroom

Join us for a free house music celebration and donation drive for the homeless.

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Join us for Sequence Chicago: Housegiving, a free house music celebration and donation drive for the homeless, featuring special DJ performances from local artists, including DJ Terry Hunter (Chosen Few), Paul Johnson, DJ Heather, and Ron Trent!

Donation Drive: What to Bring

Guests are encouraged to bring items to donate, such as coats, hats, gloves, scarfs, hand and foot warmers, socks, underwear, personal hygiene items, sleeping bags, dental kits, towels, and blankets. All items collected will be given to the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless and distributed at various locations throughout the city by Big Bus Chicago.

Let’s celebrate our city’s rich house music tradition in an iconic Chicago space while giving back to those in need!

Performance Schedule

Cajmere to perform at Housegiving as part of Sequence Chicago at Navy Pier.

Cajmere
12:00am-1:00am

Curtis Alan Jones (born April 26, 1967, in Chicago, Illinois) is an American electronica and house music singer, songwriter and producer. His style of house music has been compared and inspired by the likes of Lil Louis, Frankie Knuckles, Jamie Principle, Giorgio Moroder and Kraftwerk. Jones grew up in a tradition of music. His father was an occasional DJ and eventually became a budding musician. Curtis’ passion for this genre of music came out of his innate love and understanding of Chicago’s deep-rooted house music scene that had grown throughout the mid-1980’s. Learn more

DJ Paul Johnson to perform at Housegiving as part of Sequence Chicago at Navy Pier.

Paul Johnson
11:00pm-12:00am

Born and raised on the south side of Chicago, the birthplace of house music, Paul Johnson, started making waves in the music community at the early age of thirteen. In the summer of 1984, Paul Johnson taught himself how to spin after watching his cousin Marc spin and scratch in his bedroom. As a self taught artist, Paul’s pulsating energy and passion are apparent in all his work. In high school while his peers were holding down after school jobs, Paul was a popular radio DJ. Raw talent, dedication and a deep love for house music have made Paul Johnson one of the most sought after DJ’s in the world. Learn more

Terry Hunter to perform at Housegiving as part of Sequence Chicago at Navy Pier.

DJ Terry Hunter (Chosen Few)
10:00pm-11:00pm

With his roots intertwined in house music for the past 25 years, Terry Hunter has traveled the globe sharing his passion for soulful house music while continuing to produce dance-floor packing hits for his Ts Box record label. Pleased with the success he has garnered in the house music community, but still looking to fulfill his appetite with new genres of music Terrys latest adventure in his musical journey showcases his production talent in the hip hop arena. Learn more

DJ Heather to perform at Housegiving as part of Sequence Chicago at Navy Pier.

DJ Heather
9:15pm-10:00pm

DJ Heather has become one of the Windy City’s main Dj exports, widely regarded as one of the premier selectors in the nation. She was named one of Chicago’s Top Forty-Five Artists alongside Kanye West, Billy Corgan and Green Velvet. In 2016, Dirty Sole (Classic, Robsoul) kicked off the new Apollo label in with their single “Driving”, featuring Chicago comrade & label partner, DJ Heather (20:20 Vision, OM, Seasons) on vocals. “At the end of the day to make a room full of people happy is difficult to do. You become part mind reader, guru, sensei, educator, entertainer and babysitter all at once. All the experiences I have had, made who I am today. As a person and DJ, I love what I do.” Learn more

DJ Ron Trent to perform at Housegiving as part of Sequence Chicago at Navy Pier.

Ron Trent
8:30pm-9:15pm

Considered to be one of the architects of the Chicago music scene, Ron studied and collected various types of music as a young boy, taking cues from his father who ran a record pool in the late 70’s. Later, becoming a respected DJ in his early teens in the mid 80’s. Ron began to work on his own productions, which lead to his first release, the highly recognized classic “Altered States” in 1990, giving him international acclaim. Through his 13 year old Prescription Records, Ron has notched up an extensive back catalogue of his own productions and introduced several key players. Prescription Records is widely regarded as one of the most influential Deep House imprints of the period. Learn more

About Sequence Chicago

Presented by Paul M. Angell Family Foundation, Sequence Ch!cago is a free performance series celebrating local artists, musicians and cultural organizations and showcasing their works. Navy Pier will display Chicago’s diverse arts scene over the course of 9 dates this fall and winter. All performances are free and open to the public.

Learn more and view the full lineup of upcoming Sequence Ch!cago performances at navypier.org/sequence-chicago.

Chicago Shakespeare presents: Q Brothers Christmas Carol
Friday, November 23, 2018
Chicago Shakespeare Theater

The hip-hop treat based on the Dickens classic returns for a limited holiday engagement.

Read More

The holiday treat set to a bangin’ beat is back! Chicago hip-hop sensations, the Q Brothers Collective, turn up the volume on Charles Dickens’ beloved tale, mixing everything from reggae, dancehall, and dubstep to epic rock ballads. Brighten your festivities with some cheeky spirit and a whole lot of heart—complete with visits from a Jamaican Jacob Marley and that youngest of Cratchits, Lil’ Tim. A live DJ plays through the night as the ghosts of Hip-hop Past, Present, and Future lead Scrooge on a journey of rhythm, rhyme, and redemption. Tickets available at chicagoshakes.com.

Chicago Shakespeare presents: Q Brothers Christmas Carol
Saturday, November 24, 2018
Chicago Shakespeare Theater

The hip-hop treat based on the Dickens classic returns for a limited holiday engagement.

Read More

The holiday treat set to a bangin’ beat is back! Chicago hip-hop sensations, the Q Brothers Collective, turn up the volume on Charles Dickens’ beloved tale, mixing everything from reggae, dancehall, and dubstep to epic rock ballads. Brighten your festivities with some cheeky spirit and a whole lot of heart—complete with visits from a Jamaican Jacob Marley and that youngest of Cratchits, Lil’ Tim. A live DJ plays through the night as the ghosts of Hip-hop Past, Present, and Future lead Scrooge on a journey of rhythm, rhyme, and redemption. Tickets available at chicagoshakes.com.

Sequence Chicago: Chicago Culture Market

Free Public Program

Saturday, November 24, 2018 | 3:00 pm - 6:00 pm
Food Experience

Join us for a free performance series celebrating local artists, musicians and cultural organizations and showcasing their works.

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Join us for Sequence Chicago, featuring special performances from local artists and a culture market featuring local artisans. This week’s Culture Market vendors include Pilsen OutpostReformed School, Bodega 18 and Adorn Chicago.

Performance Schedule

Ursa Ensemble to perform at Sequence Chicago at Navy Pier.

Ursa Ensemble
3:00pm-4:00pm | Food Experience

The Ursa Ensemble is a Chicago-based chamber music ensemble that seeks to present uncommon music to our audiences in unique ways, in unconventional places, and with individual interpretations. The Ursa Ensemble is currently in its fifth official season, and has performed at a variety of locations across the Midwest including Constellation Chicago, Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park, The Green Mill Jazz Lounge, DePaul University School of Music, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, the DANK Haus, Tavern of Fine Arts, The Musical Offering, Uncommon Ground, PianoForte Studios, and the Narloch Piano Studio. Visit Website

Lamajamal to perform at Sequence Chicago at Navy Pier.

Lamajamal
4:00pm-5:00pm | Food Experience

Lamajamal, a palindrome for jamal, the Arabic word for beauty, is an ensemble that performs classical, folk, and sacred music traditions from around the world. With each member trained in various musical styles and instruments, the group has an extensive repertoire from the Middle East, North Africa, Balkans, Turkey, Greece, and Kashmir. For nearly fifteen years, Lamajamal has established itself as a vanguard in the world music market performing at international festivals, renowned venues, interfaith events, as well as houses of worship for Jewish, Christian, and Muslim services. The group has produced five albums and was voted as one of the top world music groups by the Chicago Reader two years in a row. Visit Website

Free Write Sound & Vision presents DJ 1 Solo

Free Write Sound & Vision presents DJ 1 Solo
5:00pm-6:00pm | Food Experience

Free Write Sound & Vision provides full-service sound reinforcement and production support for all sizes and styles of events. Unlike similar services, Free Write S&V is committed to social justice and employment equity in the arts industry. We hire and train alumni of Free Write Arts & Literacy and other young adults with barriers to employment. We support them as they make their way into an arts industry that is in need of a diverse, young workforce. Visit Website

About Sequence Chicago

Presented by Paul M. Angell Family Foundation, Sequence Ch!cago is a free performance series celebrating local artists, musicians and cultural organizations and showcasing their works. Navy Pier will display Chicago’s diverse arts scene over the course of 9 dates this fall and winter. All performances are free and open to the public.

Learn more and view the full lineup of upcoming Sequence Ch!cago performances at navypier.org/sequence-chicago.

Chicago Shakespeare presents: Q Brothers Christmas Carol
Sunday, November 25, 2018
Chicago Shakespeare Theater

The hip-hop treat based on the Dickens classic returns for a limited holiday engagement.

Read More

The holiday treat set to a bangin’ beat is back! Chicago hip-hop sensations, the Q Brothers Collective, turn up the volume on Charles Dickens’ beloved tale, mixing everything from reggae, dancehall, and dubstep to epic rock ballads. Brighten your festivities with some cheeky spirit and a whole lot of heart—complete with visits from a Jamaican Jacob Marley and that youngest of Cratchits, Lil’ Tim. A live DJ plays through the night as the ghosts of Hip-hop Past, Present, and Future lead Scrooge on a journey of rhythm, rhyme, and redemption. Tickets available at chicagoshakes.com.

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