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Shedd Aquarium Black Tie Gala, Reflections, Celebrates 25 Year Anniversary and Raises Nearly $2 Million to Advance Mission

Annual Board of Trustees Fundraiser Celebrated Milestone with 631 of Chicago’s Philanthropists

May 22, 2019

The large aquatic presentation screen in Shedd's Abbott Oceanarium stretches from the surface of the water to the top of the ceilling. A large projected title in a light, modern font reads "Reflections, Tomorrow starts tonight."

A long table is set up in Shedd's historic galleries, surrounded by animal habitats and covered in delicate glassware and warm glowing white candles. A curtain of shimmering lights divides the table lengthwise.

Shedd's gallery is transformed for the Reflections Gala, the curved ceiling shimmering with projected clusters of light. Guests sit around round tables surrounded by animals wearing jewel-toned dresses and dark suits.

The Caribbean Reef rotunda is bathed in moody purple lighting for a dinner party, guests in fancy dress sitting around round tables to eat as starbursts are projected onto the floor around them and fish swirl through the habitat in the middle of it all.

Leaders from Chicago’s philanthropic community came together at Shedd Aquarium on Saturday, May 18, to support the aquarium’s vision for a world thriving with aquatic life to share with future generations.

The black-tie gala, Reflections, was presented by GATX and hosted by the aquarium’s Board of Trustees, and Co-Chairs Hilary and Lloyd Semple alongside Honorary Chair Marian Phelps Pawlick – first female Chair of the Board of Trustees and Shedd’s inaugural Gala Chair. The evening raised nearly $2 million to advance Shedd’s mission of sparking conservation, curiosity and compassion for the aquatic world.

“This is more than just a fundraiser, it’s a celebration of our founder’s inspired vision to bring the world to Chicago, married with today’s vision of a world thriving with aquatic life, sustained by people who love, understand and protect it,” Shedd President and CEO Dr. Bridget Coughlin said. “The generosity of our likeminded supporters who are animal enthusiasts and nature lovers help us advance our vision. Together, we can make a difference for our blue planet.”

To start the celebration, guests began their night walking through Shedd’s south lobby, adorned with giant mirrored décor and installations to play into the event’s theme and the silver jubilee anniversary. As they continued inside, attendees were greeted with opportunities to look nature in the eye with diverse and surprising array of animal encounters including two species of penguins, rescued red-tailed hawk and owl, a sea urchin, jelly ephyra, a caiman lizard, a blue-tongued skink, and more. Starting with a bubbly cocktail, guest made their way through the Abbott Oceanarium and treated themselves to Oysters with the Otters enjoying delicious sustainably sourced seafood near the Regenstein Sea Otter Habitat – even learning how to shuck oysters using their hands and tools, just like the otters.

“This is more than just a fundraiser, it’s a celebration of our founder’s inspired vision to bring the world to Chicago, married with today’s vision of a world thriving with aquatic life, sustained by people who love, understand and protect it.”

President and CEO Bridget Coughlin, Ph.D.

All attendees then made their way to a special aquatic presentation, titled Tomorrow Starts Tonight. A dynamic musical performance by Musicality – a local west Chicago musical group featured on America’s Got Talent - kicked off the show, followed by a mission-driven call-to-action from Dr. Bridget Coughlin and Co-chairs Hilary and Lloyd Semple. A delightful and stunning aquatic presentation, with a finale that included California sea lions, Pacific white-sided dolphins, green-winged macaws and more preceded a vigorous paddle raise to support Shedd’s marine and freshwater research, animal rescue efforts across the globe, accessibility efforts and more.

A surprise final musical number rang in the end of the paddle raise, as the show concluded, guests ascended into the main galleries of the aquarium for dinner. Among the rippling reflections and shimmering fishes from waters of the world, the dinner and service, donated in part by Sodexo, commenced with an Ahi Tuna Poke first course served in a seashell, followed by filet and sustainably sourced king prawns or a Mediterranean vegetable Neapolitan. A sparkly dessert cake pop and coffee service signaled the conclusion of dinner, but that did not mean the night was over.

From there, attendees were encouraged to choose their own adventure. This included:

  • Capturing the moment with a photo in Wild Reef
  • Taking in the aquarium’s newest special exhibit, Underwater Beauty, presented by Citadel
  • Dancing the night away to the True Blue Band or relaxing in the jazz lounge with the William Boris Trio under the twinkling stars
  • Visiting dessert and snack stations to enjoy donuts flambé, and other toppings for ice cream

Reflections was presented by GATX, and supported by sponsors AbbVie, Bank of America and more. The Shedd Aquarium Society’s Board of Trustees hosts the annual fundraiser.

EDITOR’S NOTE: ​Gala photos, a guest identification sheet and a list of vendors can be downloaded here:
Photo credit: ©Shedd Aquarium/Brenna Hernandez
Photo credit: ©Shedd Aquarium/Eva Ho
Photo credit: ©Shedd Aquarium/Heidi Zeiger