Celebrating Chicago’s

inventive genius at home.

Columbian Ball 2020


  • A virtual gala event attended by 600+ guests in October 2020.
  • Delivered food, drink, and an immersive 3-screen interactive event for guests to watch, socialize and share.
  • Raised $1.4MM (equal to prior year’s in-person event).

The black-tie Columbian Ball held each October is the Museum of Science and Industry’s premiere fundraising event. With a Covid-19 vaccine still around the corner, having an in-person gala was not possible in 2020. Instead of canceling the annual event, we worked with the Museum’s fundraising and events teams to reimagine what a virtual gala could be. 

Seven months into the pandemic the Museum needed to do something more than a passive pre-recorded video event. Interactivity was in the very nature of the organization. It needed to feel like a party. It needed to be a party... just with everyone at home.

The elements of a good gala are known: food, drinks, a show, socializing, and a bit of see and be seen. To deliver this, we sent food and cocktail kits and created a unique 3-screen experience (watch, socialize, and share) that leveraged technology guests had at home. TV, computer, phone.

Coordinating the entire experience was the microsite, which guests accessed using their personal email link. This easy-to-use site gave guests everything they needed to enjoy the evening.


On the large screen (TV) was the livestream hosted live by Demetrius Ivory from a studio in Chicago. His live segments were intermixed with filmed performances and words from Bill Curtis, chairs, and sponsors.


By October 2020, everyone was more than familiar with Zoom. For this reason, we used Zoom as the underlying platform for the Ball’s virtual tables. Guests made one click on the microsite and they were automatically taken to their company or host’s private virtual table. 


The final element was the most experimental. Would guests want to share photos with everyone at the Gala after more than six months of shelter-in-place and salon closures? The answer was surprisingly… yes. To make this as simple as possible, we gave guests a phone number to text photos, which after a brief review, would appear on the Ball microsite. 

“The virtual Columbian Ball was a seamless blend of digital and physical moments that created an incredible experience for the Museum’s donors and helped us nearly double our fundraising goal.”

Lindsay Bennett, Manager Annual Fund & Columbian Ball

Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago

Hiplet dancer.

The one-hour virtual event raised more than $1.4MM, on par with past galas that were in-person full-evening affairs. More than 600 guests attended. Based on the event’s success, the learnings and platform for the event would be used for the Museum’s upcoming Black Creativity Gala.