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Les Mills International

US$45m Chicago Blues Experience coming to city's iconic Navy Pier

A museum dedicated to the Chicago blues is coming to Illinois, with plans by BRC Imagination Arts to give the genre a new home on the city’s historic Navy Pier.

The US$45m (€42.5m, £30m) Chicago Blues Experience, on track to open during Q3 of 2017, is based away from the south side of the city where the style originated. The area of the city, once home to many of the long-gone blues clubs, is now home to a large number of empty and boarded-up houses. The new development moves away from that area and is instead situated in a prime location on Navy Pier, with the development comprising a museum, educational and cultural complex, as well as a concert venue and restaurants.

“Chicago Blues is one of the roots of rock and roll,” said Christian Lachel, executive creative director and vice president at BRC speaking exclusively to Attractions Management. “When the great migration happened from the south, a lot of families went to big industrial cities like Chicago and Detroit looking for opportunity. What happened is this incredible industrial sound came out of that environment.

“Musicians needed to amplify their sound in order to cut through the urban hustle and bustle, electrifying the blues, creating a new sound which would influence bands from the Rolling Stones to the Black Keys. We’re going to tell that story.”

Working alongside VOA, the architecture firm that redeveloped Navy Pier in the 1990s, the 60,000sq ft (5,574sq m) BRC-designed attraction will chronicle the history of Chicago blues up to the modern day, featuring interactive exhibits such as ‘A Recording Date at Chess Records’, which will put visitors into a simulated recording session with Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon and Buddy Guy. In addition to the museum, the Chicago Blues Experience will feature a large performance venue with capacity 600 people, as well as a blues-inspired dining space by Levy Restaurants and a 200-seat music lounge.

Chicago venture capitalist Sona Wang is the driving force behind the project, which will be overseen by a team including Terry Stewart, who ran Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for 14 years, and the Grammy Museum’s Bob Santelli, who is acting as a consultant. Blues legend Buddy Guy has been named an equity partner for the project, which also affiliated with several other music venues and attractions. A not-for-profit group known as the Chicago Blues Experience Foundation will also be established to work with the city’s public schools on musical education.

“We always look for things that are inherent in a city,” said Lachel. “What is that story that everybody is looking for but is not being told?

“If you think about Buddy Guy – one of the last guys still alive from the original movement – every day at blues venue Buddy Guy’s Legends, people ask ‘where’s the museum, where’s the experience, how do I learn more?’. A lot of the areas where you would find this story are simply gone or not that safe to visit anymore.

“We want to make the blues relevant again and to bring that story to life,” he continued. “We want people to be able to come to Chicago and find this emotional story, and make a connection to the music they love today. They’re seeking it, they want to see these stories and want to know more about the music.”

With Navy Pier already welcoming more than nine million people annually, the Chicago Blues Experience would join the Chicago Children’s Museum and Chicago Shakespeare Theater as an anchor attraction for the iconic location, which celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2016.

“There’s a series of great blues museums that are happening,” said Lachel. “There’s going to be one in St Louis, there’s one that just opened in Memphis, there’s another one in Mississippi. It becomes kind of a blues trail, a series of pearls, and this is going to be one of the signature pearls.”

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A museum dedicated to the Chicago blues is coming to Illinois, with plans by BRC Imagination Arts to give the genre a new home on the city’s historic Navy Pier. The US$45m (€42.5m, £30m) Chicago Blues Experience, on track to open during Q3 of 2017, is based away from the south side of the city where the style originated. The area of the city, once home to many of the
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An all-star team including blues legend Buddy Guy are involved in the project / BRC Imagination Arts
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Company profile: SPARCSTUDIO
Sparcstudio offers a bespoke and comprehensive design service with real attention to detail. Logical and inspiring space planning forms the bedrock of all Sparcstudio projects.
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Les Mills International
Les Mills International