Chicago Humanities Festival

The Chicago Humanities Festival is a foundation which organizes an annual series of lectures, concerts, and films in Chicago. The main festival takes place in the first and second weeks of November. The festival was started in 1990 by the Illinois Humanities Council and became an independent foundation in 1997. The annual Festival is generally built around a theme.[1] For example, in 2012, the Festival theme was "America". Scheduled events included David Brooks, Russ Feingold, Adam Hochschild, Nathan Gunn, Grant Achatz, Philip Kotler, Tricia Rose, and Adam Gopnik. The Foundation also presents other shows and lectures during the remainder of the year. In 2012, past year-round events included Marina Abramović, Nancy Pelosi, and Etgar Keret. The theme for 2018 was Graphic.


The Chicago Humanities Festival is designed to create opportunities for people to explore the humanities. In addition to its annual Festival of the Humanities, it presents programs throughout the year on the study and enjoyment of the humanities.[2]


Under the aegis of the Illinois Humanities Council and its then-chairman Richard J. Franke, the notion of a "humanities day" was proposed, and then expanded into a "festival". Eileen Mackevich created the first Chicago Humanities Festival, a one-day affair, held on November 11, 1990 at the Art Institute of Chicago and Orchestra Hall, before an audience of 3,500 people. Eight programs addressed the theme Expressions of Freedom, including a keynote address by playwright Arthur Miller. Founding co-sponsor institutions included the Art Institute of Chicago, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Lyric Opera of Chicago, and the University of Chicago.

In 1997, the Festival formally separated from the Illinois Humanities Council and established itself as an independent, nonprofit organization. Under Eileen Mackevich's leadership, by 2006, the independent Festival had expanded to nearly 150 programs over 16 days, in more than 30 venues, involving nearly 40 partner institutions and several hundred site volunteers, and attracting a combined audience of nearly 50,000.

A Children's Humanities Festival was introduced in 2000. In addition, a year-round slate of education programs is devoted to supporting classroom teachers and students. The Festival also expanded its presence year-round, offering public lectures, readings, concerts, and special events that anticipate and build interest in the November Festival.

In 2006, Lawrence Weschler was appointed as the first artistic director of CHF,[3] and in 2007 Stuart Flack joined as executive director.

In January 2010, Matti Bunzl was appointed as associate artistic director. In the fall, after four years with the festival, Lawrence Weschler became emeritus artistic director[3] and Matti Bunzl assumed the role of artistic director. Bunzl left in 2014 for Vienna's Wien Museum.[4][5]

Alison Cuddy has been the artistic director since 2017.[6][7]

Stages, Sights & SoundsEdit

In 2009, the Children's Humanities Festival was renamed to Stages, Sights & Sounds to better reflect the full breadth of the spring festival. Stages, Sights & Sounds is now[when?] in its third year. The spring festival's emphasis on performance provides contrast to the fall festival's adult-centered programming, which includes more lectures and discussions in exploration of a central theme that changes each year.

Past festivalsEdit

CHF I: Expressions of Freedom (1990)
Notable Presenters: Arthur Miller, Ed Paschke, Philip Gossett

CHF II: Culture Contact (1991)
Notable Presenters: Toni Morrison, John Edgar Wideman, Michael Ondaatje, Sandra Cisneros

CHF III: From Freedom to Equality (1992)
Notable Presenters: John Updike, Czesław Miłosz

CHF IV: From Communication to Understanding (1993)
Notable Presenters: William Safire, David McCullough, Marlo Thomas

CHF V: Crime and Punishment (1994)
Notable Presenters: Tom Wolfe, Scott Turow, Sherman Alexie

CHF VI: Love and Marriage (1995)
Notable Presenters: Stephen Sondheim, Stevie Wonder, Diane Ackerman, Betty Friedan

CHF VII: Birth and Death (1996)
Notable Presenters: Edward Albee, Jane Urquhart, Stephen Ambrose

CHF VIII: Work & Play (1997)
Notable Presenters: Peter O'Toole, Amartya Sen, Michael Moore

CHF IX: He/She (1998)
Notable Presenters: Wendy Wasserstein, Edward Hirsch, Galway Kinnell

CHF X: New & Old (1999)
Notable Presenters: Yusef Komunyakaa, Mordecai Richler

CHF XI: NOW! (2000)
Notable Presenters: Alan Lightman, Harold Ramis, Alison Lurie

CHF XII: Words & Pictures (2001)
Notable Presenters: Leonard Nimoy, Jonathan Franzen, Witold Rybczynski, Junot Diaz, Art Spiegelman

CHF XIII: Brains & Beauty (2002)
Notable Presenters: Francis Fukuyama, Joyce Carol Oates, Jeffrey Eugenides, Francine Prose, Mira Nair

CHF XIV: Saving + Spending (2003)
Notable Presenters: Roberto Benigni, Oscar Hijuelos, Tom Wolfe

CHF XV: Time (2004)
Notable Presenters: August Wilson, Maxine Hong Kingston, Clive Barker

CHF XVI: Home and Away (2005)
Notable Presenters: Margaret Atwood, Salman Rushdie, Annie Proulx, Susan Orlean

CHF XVII: Peace and War (2006)
Notable Presenters: Paul Krugman, Azar Nafisi, Joel Meyerowitz, Frank McCourt, Joan Baez, Errol Morris, Wesley Clark, Garry Trudeau

CHF XVIII: The Climate of Concern (2007)
Notable presenters: Wangari Maathai, E.L. Doctorow, Philip Pullman, Majora Carter, Peter Singer, Roger Payne, Terry Tempest Williams, W.S. Merwin, Edward Burtynsky, Maya Lin, Dave Eggers, Colin Quinn, Cat Chow, Greil Marcus, Amartya Sen, and the head writers of The Onion

CHF XIX: Thinking Big! (2008)
Notable presenters: David McCullough, Jeffrey Sachs, Robert Darnton, Wendy Kopp, Erika Doss, Robert Irwin, Naomi Klein, Lawrence Lessig, Amitav Ghosh, Colonel Eileen Collins, Jonathan Alter, Ronald Mallett, and Laurence Tribe

CHF XX: Laughter (2009)
Notable presenters: Matt Groening, John Hodgman, Bob Sabiston, Lynda Barry, Jules Feiffer, Robert Mankoff, Barbara Ehrenreich, Paul Farmer, Claire McCaskill, Robert Reich, Billy Collins, Ronald K.L. Collins, Kay Ryan, Tim Reid, Tom Dreesen, Ian Frazier, John Adams (composer)

CHFXXI: The Body (2010)
Notable presenters: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Sam Shepard, Dan Savage, Sarah Jones (stage actress), Sherwin B. Nuland, Laura Kipnis, Frank Shorter, Alpana Singh

CHF XXII: tech•knowledgē (2011)
Notable presenters: Stephen Sondheim, Jonathan Franzen, Jeanne Gang, William Gibson, Michael Taussig, Cathy Davidson, Yuri Lane, Claudia Rankine, Jared Diamond

CHF XXIII: America (2012)
Notable presenters: Camille Paglia, Mark Helprin, Charles C. Mann, John Lewis Gaddis, Yves Béhar, Austan Goolsbee, Neil MacGregor, Nate Silver, Ian Frazier, Russ Feingold, David Brooks, Elie Wiesel, Richard Ford

CHF: Animal - What Makes Us Human (2013)
Notable presenters: David Axelrod, Rick Bayless, Jonathan Safran Foer, Kimberly Peirce, Martina Navratilova, Sherman Alexie[8]

CHF: Journeys (2014)
Notable presenters: Anne Rice, Andrew Ross Sorkin, Cheryl Strayed, eighth blackbird[9]

CHF: Citizens (2015)
Notable presenters: Ta-Nehisi Coates, Elvis Costello, Lawrence Lessig, Bob Mankoff[10]

CHF: Speed (2016)
Notable presenters: Gloria Steinem, Trevor Noah, Thomas Friedman[11]

CHF: Belief (2017)
Notable presenters: Al Gore, Reza Aslan, Samantha Power[12]

CHF: Graphic (2018)[13][14]


  1. ^ "Explore Chicago Humanities Festival". NBC Chicago.
  2. ^ "About - Mission and History - Chicago Humanities Festival". Archived from the original on 2011-02-01. Retrieved 2011-02-14.
  3. ^ a b "Lawrence Weschler". Depart of English. Brown University. Retrieved 26 March 2018. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  4. ^ "CHF Artistic Director Matti Bunzl Named Director of Vienna's Wien Museum". Chicago Humanities Festival. Chicago Humanities Festival. Archived from the original on 29 June 2016. Retrieved 26 March 2018. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  5. ^ Caro, Mark (14 September 2014). "Chicago Humanities Festival artistic director leaving for Vienna museum". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 26 March 2018. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  6. ^ "Profile - Bio - Chicago Humanities Festival". Archived from the original on 2018-03-27. Retrieved 2018-03-26.
  7. ^ Johnson, Steve. "Alison Cuddy promoted to Chicago Humanities Festival artistic director".
  8. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2014-03-10. Retrieved 2014-03-10.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  9. ^ "Journeys - Chicago Humanities Festival". Archived from the original on 2015-03-26. Retrieved 2015-03-18.
  10. ^ "CHF 2015: Citizens - Chicago Humanities Festival". Archived from the original on 2016-06-23. Retrieved 2016-06-12.
  11. ^ Johnson, Steve. "2016 Chicago Humanities Fest has its theme: Speed".
  12. ^ Mueller, Corey. "Al Gore to headline Chicago Humanities Festival, theme announced".
  13. ^ Johnson, Steve. "Chicago Humanities Festival gets 'Graphic!' with new year-long theme".
  14. ^ Yang, Rachel. "The 2018 Chicago Humanities Festival will focus on graphics and visual art".

External linksEdit