Best of 2010: 10 Chicago Event Industry Highlights

December 13, 2010, 10:00 AM EST

The Museum of Contemporary Art's Art Auction

Photo: Photography by Tay Kaune

As part of our Best of 2010 look back at the last year, we asked our local editors to share their—admittedly subjective—take on the most important things to happen in their markets this year. Here's what Chicago bureau chief Jenny Berg had to say.

1. Celebrity Chefs
Chefs became headline talent at fund-raisers, and attendance increased as a result. In July, for example, Vital Bridges hosted ”Chefs in the City,” a walk-around tasting that offered samples from 31 local restaurants. This year's event drew 600 guests; 2009's numbers were closer to 300. Chuck Benya, the nonprofit's chief business development officer, said the increased traffic was in part due to the fact that chefs have their own fan bases. The toques used social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook to help promote the event.

2. Kitchen-Focused Venues
With the increased popularity of chef-driven events, venues began advertising capabilities that are geared toward chefs. The West Loop's Room 1520, for example, advertised its commercial-style kitchens and hosted chef competitions and benefits. In a similar vein, Logan Square Kitchen opened late last year with a restaurant-style kitchen, a walk-in cooler, and enough space to seat 75 for dinner.

3. JW Marriott
Chicago got its first of this chain in November. The downtown property took over a Daniel Burnham-designed bank building, which underwent a $396 million restoration. With 610 rooms, the hotel is the largest to be constructed in Chicago since 1998, and it offers 44,000 square feet of meeting space.

4. The Museum of Contemporary Art's Hefty Haul
In October, the Museum of Contemporary Art raised $2.8 million at its art auction, making it the most lucrative event in the institution's history. Other fresh touches: The event took place at the museum itself for the first time, and Heffernan Morgan Ronsley's decor scheme was constructed entirely out of cardboard.

5. High-Tech Auctions
Wireless bidding became more prevalent, and helped boost fund-raising results. At the Food Allergy Initiative benefit in November, for example, planners employed wireless bidding devices for the first time, and the auction's take increased 25 percent increase from the previous year's. 

6. Association Events Stayed Strong
One only had to look to the Business Marketing Association's gala or the Association Forum of Chicagoland's week of events to see that association events remained healthy and strong in 2010. According to Susan Urbanczyk, director of marketing and communications for the Association Forum of Chicagoland, Chicago is second-largest market for associations and the top market for health-care associations. This year, Mayor Richard Daley and Governor Pat Quinn issued a proclamation that named June 21 to 27 “Association Week” in Illinois.

7. Make-a-Wish's Celebrity Auctioneer
Here's a smart idea: Debbie Purcell, special event manager at the Make-a-Wish Foundation, used celebrity assistance with the live auction at June's Wish Ball. In her contract with comedian and headline act Dana Carvey, Purcell enlisted him to participate in the auction, announcing packages and encouraging guests to bid. That way, the auction became an extension of the entertainment, engaging even the guests who weren't able to bid.

8. Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo
The Reed Exhibitions Pop Culture Group launched this expo at McCormick Place in April. The three-day event offered 200 exhibitors and 175 panels and screenings. The event drew 27,500 attendees, which producer Lance Fensterman said was about “5 percent short of a very aggressive goal. This is the second-best performing launch we've ever had.”

9. McCormick Place Union Changes
Sweeping changes took place in legislation at McCormick Place. In May, the city authorized a new bill that made the venue more attractive for convention business by—among other things—allowing exhibitors to do their own setup work and setting limits on union workers' overtime.

10. Nostalgic Decor Themes
Event themes took a toward toward the whimsical. In February, a Joffrey Ballet luncheon got a Cinderella theme replete with chocolate pumpkin desserts and costumed stepsisters. In May, the Museum of Contemporary Art's ArtEdge benefit included indoor teeter-totters and hopscotch courts.

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