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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 23, 2019

View four sculptural works by artist Chakaia Booker, on display in locations throughout Navy Pier, now through April 2019.

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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 - Monday, September 30, 2019

Artist Iván Navarro transforms three water towers into hauntingly beautiful sculptural objects, featuring infinitely reflective neon interiors.

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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

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 Shakespeare presents: An Inspector Calls
Tuesday, February 19, 2019

The National Theatre of Great Britain’s award-winning thriller comes to Chicago for a limited engagement.

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The National Theatre of Great Britain’s award-winning thriller comes to Chicago for a limited engagement. An Inspector Calls has become the theatrical event of a generation, amassing Olivier, Tony, Drama Desk, and Critics Circle awards. Esteemed director Stephen Daldry’s genre-spanning career includes the hit Netflix series The Crown, Oscar-nominated pictures, and Tony Award-winning productions, like Billy Elliot the Musical. His vision of this suspenseful masterpiece finds a peaceful dinner party at the prosperous Birling home shattered when an inspector arrives to investigate a young woman’s death. Revelations shake the foundations of the family’s lives, prompting an examination of their consciences—and ours. Tickets available at chicagoshakes.com.

Stroller Grooves: The Q Brothers

Free Public Program

Tuesday, February 19, 2019 | 12:00 pm - 12:45 pm

Free public program! Join us for a free children’s music series, presented in partnership with the Chicago Children’s Museum.

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Free and open to the public! Get your little one moving and grooving at Stroller Grooves! From noon to 12:45pm on Tuesdays in February and March, join local children’s musicians for a free, live performance in the Crystal Gardens. 

The Q Brothers at Stoller Grooves, a free children's music program at Navy Pier

The Q Brothers

Award-winning and internationally acclaimed theater artists, the Q Brothers generate original work fusing hip hop and theater, adapting classic stories to a wholly original, entertaining and fast-paced style of comedic performance that has been energizing audiences for over two decades. The Q Brothers conceived the term add-RAP-tation in 1999 with their Off-Broadway hit “The Bomb-itty of Errors.” MTV has called the Q Brother’s “Nothing short of brilliant” and Time Out London says “The rhymes—and the energy— just don’t stop…”

A perennial highlight of Lollapalooza and Austin City Limits, The Q Brothers’ Hip Hop for Beginners workshop allows kids to lay down their very own hip hop track, featuring the Q’s, in a matter of minutes. The track is then emailed to their parents as an mp3. Some kids have been to the booth 10 years straight and have an entire album they made with the Q Brothers!

Video: The Q Brothers at Austin City Limits 2017

About this Series

Presented in Partnership with the Chicago Children’s Museum, Stroller Grooves is a free series of musical performances by local children’s artists. Stroller Grooves takes place each Tuesday in February and March at Navy Pier’s Crystal Gardens.  Learn more about Stroller Grooves, and be sure to check out all of Navy Pier’s free events and programs throughout the year.

Chicago Shakespeare presents: An Inspector Calls
Wednesday, February 20, 2019

The National Theatre of Great Britain’s award-winning thriller comes to Chicago for a limited engagement.

Read More

The National Theatre of Great Britain’s award-winning thriller comes to Chicago for a limited engagement. An Inspector Calls has become the theatrical event of a generation, amassing Olivier, Tony, Drama Desk, and Critics Circle awards. Esteemed director Stephen Daldry’s genre-spanning career includes the hit Netflix series The Crown, Oscar-nominated pictures, and Tony Award-winning productions, like Billy Elliot the Musical. His vision of this suspenseful masterpiece finds a peaceful dinner party at the prosperous Birling home shattered when an inspector arrives to investigate a young woman’s death. Revelations shake the foundations of the family’s lives, prompting an examination of their consciences—and ours. Tickets available at chicagoshakes.com.

Chicago Shakespeare presents: An Inspector Calls
Thursday, February 21, 2019

The National Theatre of Great Britain’s award-winning thriller comes to Chicago for a limited engagement.

Read More

The National Theatre of Great Britain’s award-winning thriller comes to Chicago for a limited engagement. An Inspector Calls has become the theatrical event of a generation, amassing Olivier, Tony, Drama Desk, and Critics Circle awards. Esteemed director Stephen Daldry’s genre-spanning career includes the hit Netflix series The Crown, Oscar-nominated pictures, and Tony Award-winning productions, like Billy Elliot the Musical. His vision of this suspenseful masterpiece finds a peaceful dinner party at the prosperous Birling home shattered when an inspector arrives to investigate a young woman’s death. Revelations shake the foundations of the family’s lives, prompting an examination of their consciences—and ours. Tickets available at chicagoshakes.com.

Chicago Shakespeare presents: An Inspector Calls
Friday, February 22, 2019

The National Theatre of Great Britain’s award-winning thriller comes to Chicago for a limited engagement.

Read More

The National Theatre of Great Britain’s award-winning thriller comes to Chicago for a limited engagement. An Inspector Calls has become the theatrical event of a generation, amassing Olivier, Tony, Drama Desk, and Critics Circle awards. Esteemed director Stephen Daldry’s genre-spanning career includes the hit Netflix series The Crown, Oscar-nominated pictures, and Tony Award-winning productions, like Billy Elliot the Musical. His vision of this suspenseful masterpiece finds a peaceful dinner party at the prosperous Birling home shattered when an inspector arrives to investigate a young woman’s death. Revelations shake the foundations of the family’s lives, prompting an examination of their consciences—and ours. Tickets available at chicagoshakes.com.

Chicago Shakespeare presents: An Inspector Calls
Saturday, February 23, 2019

The National Theatre of Great Britain’s award-winning thriller comes to Chicago for a limited engagement.

Read More

The National Theatre of Great Britain’s award-winning thriller comes to Chicago for a limited engagement. An Inspector Calls has become the theatrical event of a generation, amassing Olivier, Tony, Drama Desk, and Critics Circle awards. Esteemed director Stephen Daldry’s genre-spanning career includes the hit Netflix series The Crown, Oscar-nominated pictures, and Tony Award-winning productions, like Billy Elliot the Musical. His vision of this suspenseful masterpiece finds a peaceful dinner party at the prosperous Birling home shattered when an inspector arrives to investigate a young woman’s death. Revelations shake the foundations of the family’s lives, prompting an examination of their consciences—and ours. Tickets available at chicagoshakes.com.

Chicago Shakespeare presents: Short Shakespeare!: Macbeth
Saturday, February 23, 2019 | 11:00 am - 12:15 pm

A 75-minute abridged production of the classic tragedy, for family and student audiences.

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Driven by the desire for power, Macbeth struggles with his conscience and chooses a tragic path. This 75-minute abridged production of the classic tragedy is a perfect introduction to Shakespeare. Adapted and directed by Marti Lyons—who is quickly becoming one of the most sought-after directors in American theater—it will be performed for more than 30,000 students during weekday Team Shakespeare matinees, with public performances on Saturdays, making Shakespeare accessible for audiences of all ages. After the performance, the actors remain on stage for a question-and-answer session, and then join the audience in the Lobby for informal conversations and photos. Tickets available at chicagoshakes.com.

Chicago Shakespeare presents: An Inspector Calls
Sunday, February 24, 2019

The National Theatre of Great Britain’s award-winning thriller comes to Chicago for a limited engagement.

Read More

The National Theatre of Great Britain’s award-winning thriller comes to Chicago for a limited engagement. An Inspector Calls has become the theatrical event of a generation, amassing Olivier, Tony, Drama Desk, and Critics Circle awards. Esteemed director Stephen Daldry’s genre-spanning career includes the hit Netflix series The Crown, Oscar-nominated pictures, and Tony Award-winning productions, like Billy Elliot the Musical. His vision of this suspenseful masterpiece finds a peaceful dinner party at the prosperous Birling home shattered when an inspector arrives to investigate a young woman’s death. Revelations shake the foundations of the family’s lives, prompting an examination of their consciences—and ours. Tickets available at chicagoshakes.com.

Chicago Shakespeare presents: An Inspector Calls
Tuesday, February 26, 2019

The National Theatre of Great Britain’s award-winning thriller comes to Chicago for a limited engagement.

Read More

The National Theatre of Great Britain’s award-winning thriller comes to Chicago for a limited engagement. An Inspector Calls has become the theatrical event of a generation, amassing Olivier, Tony, Drama Desk, and Critics Circle awards. Esteemed director Stephen Daldry’s genre-spanning career includes the hit Netflix series The Crown, Oscar-nominated pictures, and Tony Award-winning productions, like Billy Elliot the Musical. His vision of this suspenseful masterpiece finds a peaceful dinner party at the prosperous Birling home shattered when an inspector arrives to investigate a young woman’s death. Revelations shake the foundations of the family’s lives, prompting an examination of their consciences—and ours. Tickets available at chicagoshakes.com.

Stroller Grooves: Deep Fried Pickle Project

Free Public Program

Tuesday, February 26, 2019 | 12:00 pm - 12:45 pm

Free public program! Join us for a free children’s music series, presented in partnership with the Chicago Children’s Museum.

Read More

Free and open to the public! Get your little one moving and grooving at Stroller Grooves! From noon to 12:45pm on Tuesdays in February and March, join local children’s musicians for a free, live performance in the Crystal Gardens. 

The Deep Fried Pickle Project to perform at Stoller Grooves, a free children's music series at Navy Pier

Deep Fried Pickle Project

In 2002 a mysterious green iceberg was discovered by a band of pirates in Lake Michigan . Frozen inside were the Pickles, cold solid in a chunk of sour brine. The DFPP were hoisted aboard, chiseled free and re-animated by the ships crude pirate scientist chef using a combination of spirits and pickle juice. As the DFPP awoke from their icy slumber they started singing and have never stopped. Where the Pickles came from and where they are going remains a mystery

From outhouse to henhouse to waffle house to public house both hither and yon the Pickles have caused a rafter-shaking ruckus wherever they roll, dreaming a hobo’s knapsack of stories and songs along the way.

These Pickle folks have wobbled their magical musical gypsy medicine wagon from one end of this here country to t’other, with stops including LOLLAPALOOZA, WAKARUSA and TELLURIDE along the way.

What fanciful fuel powers this bubbling band of minstrels you say? Why, it is Pickle Power- the power to make mutant musical instruments and sea shanties. The power to shatter a bar full of whisky glasses with sonic ferocity one night, then serenade a giggling group of itty bitty kids the next morning. From the great Depression to the Great Recession, the Pickles run the gamut of old timey styles while grabbing an occasional 80’s pop tune and turning it into a flap happy chicken scratchy 78 RPM tune.

Armed with a Frankenststonian array of homemade monster instruments, their recipe is flavored with Jug Band, Hokum and Honkeytonk spices. You’ll relish the Pickles!

About this Series

Presented in Partnership with the Chicago Children’s Museum, Stroller Grooves is a free series of musical performances by local children’s artists. Stroller Grooves takes place each Tuesday in February and March at Navy Pier’s Crystal Gardens.  Learn more about Stroller Grooves, and be sure to check out all of Navy Pier’s free events and programs throughout the year.

Chicago Shakespeare presents: An Inspector Calls
Wednesday, February 27, 2019

The National Theatre of Great Britain’s award-winning thriller comes to Chicago for a limited engagement.

Read More

The National Theatre of Great Britain’s award-winning thriller comes to Chicago for a limited engagement. An Inspector Calls has become the theatrical event of a generation, amassing Olivier, Tony, Drama Desk, and Critics Circle awards. Esteemed director Stephen Daldry’s genre-spanning career includes the hit Netflix series The Crown, Oscar-nominated pictures, and Tony Award-winning productions, like Billy Elliot the Musical. His vision of this suspenseful masterpiece finds a peaceful dinner party at the prosperous Birling home shattered when an inspector arrives to investigate a young woman’s death. Revelations shake the foundations of the family’s lives, prompting an examination of their consciences—and ours. Tickets available at chicagoshakes.com.

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