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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.

Chicago Shakespeare presents: Nell Gwynn
Friday, September 21, 2018
Chicago Shakespeare Theater

The 2016 Olivier Award Winner for Best New Comedy has its American Premiere.

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The Olivier Award Winner for Best New Comedy, which took audiences by storm in its Shakespeare’s Globe London debut, has its American premiere in the Courtyard Theater this fall. Be transported to the flamboyant world of seventeenth-century London, dripping with decadent excess and bawdy amusements. Her quick wit and exceptional beauty propel the winsome Nell Gwynn from selling oranges on the streets of London’s burgeoning theater district to performing on its stages. Nell captures the hearts of her audiences—and England’s King Charles II. Thrust into the royal spotlight, the king’s mistress is dealt a new role as the nation’s sweetheart in this joyous song- and dance-filled romantic comedy. Tickets available at chicagoshakes.com.

Chicago Shakespeare presents: BigMouth
Friday, September 21, 2018
Chicago Shakespeare Theater

A tour-de-force performance pays tribute to the 2,500-year history of oration.

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Smash hit of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival! Equipped with just nine microphones, his voice, and an indefatigable energy, Valentijn Dhaenens’ tour-de-force performance celebrates the power of words and language to change the course of history. Spanning 2,500 years of oration, he weaves together seminal speeches—ranging from the ancient Greeks to George W. Bush, and spanning political extremes from Osama bin Laden to JFK and Martin Luther King. Audiences are immediately transported across the millennia by Dhaenens’ virtuosity, as he illuminates the tricks of rhetoric that have remained unchanged since the dawn of language. Tickets available at chicagoshakes.com.

BigMouth is presented as part of a series of three pioneering works that represent the next wave of boundary-pushing International theater—fueling a dynamic engagement between artist and audience.

Chicago Shakespeare presents: Nell Gwynn
Saturday, September 22, 2018
Chicago Shakespeare Theater

The 2016 Olivier Award Winner for Best New Comedy has its American Premiere.

Read More

The Olivier Award Winner for Best New Comedy, which took audiences by storm in its Shakespeare’s Globe London debut, has its American premiere in the Courtyard Theater this fall. Be transported to the flamboyant world of seventeenth-century London, dripping with decadent excess and bawdy amusements. Her quick wit and exceptional beauty propel the winsome Nell Gwynn from selling oranges on the streets of London’s burgeoning theater district to performing on its stages. Nell captures the hearts of her audiences—and England’s King Charles II. Thrust into the royal spotlight, the king’s mistress is dealt a new role as the nation’s sweetheart in this joyous song- and dance-filled romantic comedy. Tickets available at chicagoshakes.com.

Chicago Shakespeare presents: BigMouth
Saturday, September 22, 2018
Chicago Shakespeare Theater

A tour-de-force performance pays tribute to the 2,500-year history of oration.

Read More

Smash hit of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival! Equipped with just nine microphones, his voice, and an indefatigable energy, Valentijn Dhaenens’ tour-de-force performance celebrates the power of words and language to change the course of history. Spanning 2,500 years of oration, he weaves together seminal speeches—ranging from the ancient Greeks to George W. Bush, and spanning political extremes from Osama bin Laden to JFK and Martin Luther King. Audiences are immediately transported across the millennia by Dhaenens’ virtuosity, as he illuminates the tricks of rhetoric that have remained unchanged since the dawn of language. Tickets available at chicagoshakes.com.

BigMouth is presented as part of a series of three pioneering works that represent the next wave of boundary-pushing International theater—fueling a dynamic engagement between artist and audience.

VIBEUP Yoga Social: Fall into Yoga

Free Public Program

Saturday, September 22, 2018 | 9:00 am - 11:00 am
Crystal Gardens

Guests of all ages and experience levels are welcome to master the art of Zen with guidance from some of Chicago’s top yoga instructors.

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Join us for a VIBEUP Yoga Social, featuring weekly rotating teachers and class styles from Chicago’s top yoga studios, provided by VIBEUP. Guests of all ages and experience levels are welcome to master the art of Zen with guidance from some of Chicago’s top yoga instructors. Bring a yoga mat and a friend along every Saturday morning at 9am in the Crystal Gardens.

Schedule

  • 9am: Registration opens
  • 9:30am-10:20am: Class
  • 10:20am-11am: ‘Mindful Mingle Market’ 
Pink Nation ❤ Chicago

Free Public Program

Saturday, September 22, 2018 | 4:00 pm - 5:00 pm
Polk Bros Park

Victoria’s Secret PINK is celebrating the all-new Pink Nation by taking over Chicago on SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 22 with a double-decker bus and a FREE live performance by Marshmello. 

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Victoria’s Secret PINK is celebrating the all-new Pink Nation by taking over Chicago on SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 22 with a double-decker bus and a FREE live performance by Marshmello. 

Chicago Shakespeare presents: Nell Gwynn
Sunday, September 23, 2018
Chicago Shakespeare Theater

The 2016 Olivier Award Winner for Best New Comedy has its American Premiere.

Read More

The Olivier Award Winner for Best New Comedy, which took audiences by storm in its Shakespeare’s Globe London debut, has its American premiere in the Courtyard Theater this fall. Be transported to the flamboyant world of seventeenth-century London, dripping with decadent excess and bawdy amusements. Her quick wit and exceptional beauty propel the winsome Nell Gwynn from selling oranges on the streets of London’s burgeoning theater district to performing on its stages. Nell captures the hearts of her audiences—and England’s King Charles II. Thrust into the royal spotlight, the king’s mistress is dealt a new role as the nation’s sweetheart in this joyous song- and dance-filled romantic comedy. Tickets available at chicagoshakes.com.

World Music Festival meets World Dumpling Fest

Free Public Program

Sunday, September 23, 2018 | 1:00 pm - 7:30 pm
Polk Bros Park

Celebrates diverse cultures throughout Chicago and the world with cultural performance, art, and of course, dumplings!

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World Dumpling Fest celebrates diverse cultures throughout Chicago and the world with cultural performance, art, and of course, dumplings!

In partnership with Navy Pier and World Music Fest, part of the Department of Cultural Affairs, this all-ages event features the world’s cultural music and art vendors selling cultural goods and interactive craft tables. World Dumpling Fest features diverse cultural “dumplings” from neighborhood-based ethnic restaurants in and around Chicago. This free event (although you must pay for dumplings!) is produced by the Chicago Cultural Alliance membership.

Band highlights include Jupiter and Okwess, led by Jupiter Bokondji, playing the Congolese rhythms, funk and rock—referred to as “Bofenia Rock”—with lyrics promoting positive social messages; Delgres from Guadeloupe, combining their native Caribbean rhythms with the delta blues for a deep roots sound of their own; and the Zhou Family Band from China, playing traditional wind and percussion music.

The World Dumpling Festival will feature dumplings of the world from 10 neighborhood ethnic restaurants, cultural artists and family activities. This event is free to the public, for complete details visit ChicagoCulturalAlliance.org.

Chicago Shakespeare presents: Nell Gwynn
Tuesday, September 25, 2018
Chicago Shakespeare Theater

The 2016 Olivier Award Winner for Best New Comedy has its American Premiere.

Read More

The Olivier Award Winner for Best New Comedy, which took audiences by storm in its Shakespeare’s Globe London debut, has its American premiere in the Courtyard Theater this fall. Be transported to the flamboyant world of seventeenth-century London, dripping with decadent excess and bawdy amusements. Her quick wit and exceptional beauty propel the winsome Nell Gwynn from selling oranges on the streets of London’s burgeoning theater district to performing on its stages. Nell captures the hearts of her audiences—and England’s King Charles II. Thrust into the royal spotlight, the king’s mistress is dealt a new role as the nation’s sweetheart in this joyous song- and dance-filled romantic comedy. Tickets available at chicagoshakes.com.

Chicago Shakespeare presents: Nell Gwynn
Wednesday, September 26, 2018
Chicago Shakespeare Theater

The 2016 Olivier Award Winner for Best New Comedy has its American Premiere.

Read More

The Olivier Award Winner for Best New Comedy, which took audiences by storm in its Shakespeare’s Globe London debut, has its American premiere in the Courtyard Theater this fall. Be transported to the flamboyant world of seventeenth-century London, dripping with decadent excess and bawdy amusements. Her quick wit and exceptional beauty propel the winsome Nell Gwynn from selling oranges on the streets of London’s burgeoning theater district to performing on its stages. Nell captures the hearts of her audiences—and England’s King Charles II. Thrust into the royal spotlight, the king’s mistress is dealt a new role as the nation’s sweetheart in this joyous song- and dance-filled romantic comedy. Tickets available at chicagoshakes.com.

EXPO CHICAGO
Thursday, September 27, 2018 - Sunday, September 30, 2018
Festival Hall

Opening the fall art season each September, EXPO CHICAGO hosts leading international art galleries presented alongside one of the highest quality platforms for global contemporary art and culture.

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Each September, EXPO CHICAGO opens the fall art season at historic Navy Pier. Now entering its seventh edition, EXPO CHICAGO presents artwork from 135 leading galleries, including 3,000 artists representing over 20 countries. The exposition offers a dynamic roster of programming including panel discussions, uniquely curated site-specific projects, cutting-edge film and new media work, curator-led tours, and special exhibitions by renowned institutions.

EXPO CHICAGO welcomes you to experience the best in contemporary art!

September in Chicago. Be here.
@expochicago | #expochicago

Hours

Friday, September 28 | 11:00am–7:00pm
Saturday, September 29 | 11:00am–7:00pm
Sunday, September 30 | 11:00am–6:00pm

For tickets and information, visit expochicago.com

Special EXPO Chicago Ticket Offer

Purchase tickets to EXPO CHICAGO at a reduced rate! Visit expochicago.com/tickets and use discount code “NAVY PIER” at checkout.

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