Chicago’s popular Shedd Aquarium has revealed its new $500 million Centennial Commitment, future-proofing the attraction by transforming its historic galleries, working on science and research, and expanding access for everyone.
The aquarium will be celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2030, and as it heads towards this milestone, the strategic vision reinforces its commitment to a more sustainable and equitable future, for both people and sea life. The plan will require eight years and half a billion dollars to complete.
“Five years ago, we began to imagine a visionary future in response to the needs facing the aquatic animal world, our city, and our society in order to advance solutions to the biodiversity, climate, and equitable access to nature crises that exist around us,” says Dr Bridget C. Coughlin, president and CEO of Shedd Aquarium.
“To ensure a shared future where resilient ecosystems and communities thrive together, it is going to take everyone to create collective impact and change. This means engaging neighbours, schools and local businesses in authentic conversations, elevating science literacy, cultivating a shared environmental identity, and helping to inform conservation solutions that safeguard the most vulnerable species across the globe.
“The Centennial Commitment is our pledge to do the work that is necessary now, to ensure the next 100 years includes a world thriving with aquatic life that is sustained by people who love, understand and protect it.”
A sustainable future
The plan covers three key pillars: “For People, For Communities, For Aquatic Life”. It will see increased community investments and partnerships, a modernised visitor experience, new educational programmes, more digital engagement. The aquarium also plans to accelerate advancements in animal care and welfare, as we. as aquatic research and science.
Work will be done to renovate the aquarium’s historic Beaux-Arts-style building for a more modern experience and increased accessibility, as well as improve habitats. The investment will also fund programmes and partnerships.
“The Shedd is one of Illinois’ great gems, and this new vision for the next 100 years reflects Illinois’ leadership and their partnership in protecting the environment, educating the next generation and serving as an unmatched cultural asset,” says Illinois Governor J. B. Pritzker.
“The Shedd’s Centennial Commitment will raise awareness, empathy and the importance of natural spaces and aquatic resources, further cement Illinois’ role as a national leader on climate action, educate and support more students and teachers annually, and bolster our statewide tourism investments to draw guests from all over the world.
“I’m proud to continue to support this great institution and applaud their deep commitment and investment in our collective future.”
Work on the aquarium’s new Experience Master Plan construction project will begin in late 2022 and is expected to conclude in 2026. This will result in more accessible, immersive and interactive galleries, a new experiential learning hub, a centralised state-of-the-art science hub and activated outdoor spaces.
Sparking interest and shifting attitudes
“We know that when people experience animals up close, it motivates an emotional, empathetic response that has the power to shift attitudes and foster stewardship of local waters, global oceans, and wildlife,” Coughlin says.
“In an age of increased urbanization, and as a national resource for aquatic conservation and education, we have a deep responsibility and obligation to help close the nature deficit gap. The onsite modernization of the aquarium experience is a significant tool that will help to enable this and several of our ambitions within the plan.
“We are excited to unveil this first, significant facet within the Centennial Commitment today, and look forward to sharing more exciting details about the other strategic investments throughout the year.”
The project is expected to create over 2,000 jobs in the state and stimulate over $340 million in economic activity through its construction phases. On completion, the estimated total economic impact will be greater than $410 million per year.
“Since the first day it opened its doors to the public, the Shedd Aquarium has attracted visitors from near and far—helping to spark interests and spread knowledge about aquatic life,” says Chicago Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot.
“Through this incredible Centennial Commitment, the Shedd Aquarium will be able to build on this reputation as well as give back to the surrounding community, modernize their facility and deepen their ongoing environmental research. We look forward to continuing to partner with our world-class aquarium to advance their ambitions, which will undoubtedly strengthen our city’s economy and tourism scene.”
Recently, Coughlin contributed to a conversation for blooloop on the topic of “What makes a great aquarium?”
Images © Shedd Aquarium in collaboration with Thinc/Valerio Dewalt Train/Visualized Concepts