Located just a few blocks from the Magnificent Mile is something even more spectacular than the upscale shops and historic buildings that attract more than 22 million visitors a year. Millennium Park made its official debut July 16, 2004 with a three-day festival featuring free concerts, parades, art installations, tours, dancing, yoga and (literally) a three-ring circus. And that was just the beginning.
“I feel very excited about the opening weekend and about the park,” said Peter McDowell, Program Coordinator for the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs. “I think the celebration will have something for everyone.”
That’s been the plan since day one. In the making since 1997, this 24.5-acre park includes work by a collection of artists, designers, landscapers and architects, including Kathryn Gustafson, Frank Gehry, Juame Plensa and Anish Kapoor. The park began to open in bits and pieces toward the end of 2003, first introducing the 300-seat Park Grill, where patrons can enjoy dinner under the stars. Right next to the Park Grill is a 16,000-square-foot ice skating rink that converts in the summer to a 150-seat star-lit dining area featuring outdoor concerts and fashion shows.
The weekend included three days of art, tours, parades and photographs of families from around the world. “We have put together a series of events that’s as exciting and distinctive as the park,” said mayor Richard Daley in a Department of Cultural Affairs press release. “It is much more than a park; it is a showcase for the visual and performing arts and a tribute to the vitality and creativity or our city.” And once the Grand Opening was over, a whole new chapter for Millennium Park began.
“We expect ongoing that 2-3 million additional visitors will flock to Millennium Park each year,” says Donna Metz, Public Relations Manager for the Chicago Office of Tourism. And what better way to bring people together than through the love of art?
As you make your way through the park in either direction, you’ll find beautiful fountains, various forms of art on display, murals and one of the most ambitious installations the general population has ever seen. Two towering digital screens display a series of puckered faces; each face reflects the diversity of the city’s population. Situated directly across from one another atop a slick surface, you’ll wonder what these 50 foot faces are all about. Look a little closer and you’ll notice a spout in the middle of each screen-right in the pucker! As water shoots out from screen to screen, you’ll realize what this installation is all about.
The Frank Gehry-designed Jay Pritzker Pavilion, the site of opening weekend’s Grant Park Orchestra concerts, features layers of stainless steel that can be viewed from blocks away, along with a large band shell and a Symphony Center-sized stage with room for 120 musicians and 150 singers. The pavilion itself can seat up to 4,000, while the lawn area can accommodate more than 11,000. The 1,500-seat music and dance theater will bring in dozens of ballet, folk, opera and classical artists and groups from around the world.
It’s not just the performance areas that are huge. July 6, 2004 saw the unveiling of one of the world’s largest outdoor sculptures. Created by world-renowned artist Anish Kapoor, the elliptical-shaped sculpture reflects the park, weighs in at more than 100 tons, and measures 66 feet in length, 33 feet tall and 47 feet wide. “It looks stunning!” said McDowell. “It really makes me proud of the theme we selected for Saturday-Reflecting Chicago.”
In an effort to encourage more Chicagoans to bike to work, the park will also offer a bicycle parking facility at Columbus and Randolph that includes bike repair, lockers, showers and space for at least 300 bikes.
For more information and a complete listing of Millennium Park events, visit: www.Millenniumpark.org. Millennium Park is bordered by Randolph, Monroe, Michigan Avenue and Columbus. Access Millennium Park via L. Nearby stations include: Washington (Red Line) and Madison/Wabash (Brown/Green/Orange/Purple Lines).