The Chicago Humanities Festival – A Return to in-person Events

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The Chicago Humanities Festival celebrates the return to in-person events with an exciting line-up of outdoor programs centering Chicago neighborhoods. CHF’s summer programs will kick off with an outdoor Community Gardens event on July 24th at Rainbow Beach in Chicago’s South Shore.

Summertime with CHF continues on August 11th at Navy Pier with a comedy showcase featuring sets from up-and-coming local comedians, curated by CHF and improv mainstay Abby McEnany, whose Showtime series “Work in Progress” returns this summer for a second season.

neighborhood-initiative music gardens filmmaking

On August 21st, CHF will host a screening and conversation highlighting the film culture of Chicago’s South Side at the Gary Comer Youth Center.

With in-person events returning all across the city, CHF is focusing on reflecting the concerns of Chicago’s diverse communities through collaborative partnerships, with support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. By co-creating events with local communities, CHF is developing a more sustained presence in the South Side, learning how we can re-engage with our neighbors to thrive. This approach to Neighborhood Programming will allow CHF to be a more active participant in local communities and host programs focusing on what is truly important to Chicagoans.

“Over the past year we’ve been meeting regularly with a number of community leaders and we’re really excited by how these partnerships are evolving,” said Alison Cuddy, CHF’s Marilynn Thoma Artistic Director. “The programs we’ve developed together reflect a wide range of community-driven experiences and underscore how essential Chicago neighborhoods are to the creative vitality of our entire city.”

Abby McEnany in WORK IN PROGRESS “66, 65, 64, 62”. Photo Credit: Adrian S. Burrows/SHOWTIME

Alison Cuddy, Chicago Humanities Festival’s Marilynn Thoma Artistic Director generously agreed to answer questions by Chicago Splash Magazine about the upcoming programming.  Please, read on:

What were the major challenges of the COVID-19 shutdown in terms of programming for CHF?

The challenge was the initial turn from in-person to digital, like everyone else we were navigating new or unfamiliar technology, uncertainty around audience participation and more. At the same time CHF already had a high level of nimbleness and flexibility built into what we do, given that we don’t own a venue, primarily present conversational-style programs, and partner with numerous organizations and do events in different outlets across the city. So we were able to hit the ground running and move forward pretty quickly. Thankfully audiences new and long-standing came along for the ride!

What challenges or opportunities do you foresee returning to in-person events?

We are really thankful and excited to be returning to in-person programming and focusing on our city and the incredible array of diverse creativity here – our Fall Festival is all about celebrating Chicago. That said every one of us is part of a much bigger story, one we are all watching to see how things play out. The pandemic isn’t fully over, it is still evolving and so the biggest challenge is the resulting uncertainty and continuing to deal with a scenario that shifts every day.         

Victory Gardens at Rainbow Beach

In terms of attendance, can you compare participation during COVID and in-person? 

Attendance was great – we picked up lots of new audience from all over the world. Accessibility is core to our mission and in addition to providing live captioning for all events (by a human, not AI), we provided continued access to livestreamed events on YouTube after their conclusion. So our digital YouTube audience has expanded as well.   

You refer to neighborhood partnerships.  Can you expand on this in terms of any expectations?

Our goal was to develop a co-created model of programming with our partners. Working with 20+ neighborhood-based partners over the past 6-8 months, we hosted a series of conversations to develop the content and format of these programs. We hope these initial programs reflect the interests and concerns of the broader community they represent.

Is there an ideal outcome toward which you are working regarding the neighborhoods?

Ideally these partnerships will further elevate the amazing people who are working tirelessly to make their neighborhoods thrive in all kinds of ways. We are building on 5+ years of neighborhood-based programming at the Chicago Humanities Festival but at the same time, we are just getting started in terms of deepening and extending these relationships and discovering what we can build together. One of the most delightful and meaningful outcomes of this project is the way it has brought people together who might not otherwise have met, and to see what comes out of those encounters, independent of the CHF collaboration. This is a project about our city’s neighborhoods but it is also about what it means to be neighborly and how that changes our city.

Victory Gardens at Rainbow Beach

What planning needs to be done as you consider each neighborhood having an individual character and culture? 

Part of the reason we’re working across a series of South Side neighborhoods – Bronzeville, Greater Grand Crossing, South Shore, Englewood – is the rich and vibrant histories and cultural traditions/legacies they represent. On the one hand there is a specificity to those neighborhoods – sometimes block by block – and dialogue and partnership helps reveal that and create programming that reflects that. On the other hand we hope what we’ve started with these partners can also be a model for working collaboratively in other communities.

With thanks to Alison Cuddy, Chicago Humanities Festival’s Marilynn Thoma Artistic Director

Happily, in-person programming won’t end in the summer but will continue with an extended fall season through November. The Chicago Neighborhood series will continue with a celebration of South Side musical legacies on September 17 at Hamilton Park. CHF’s annual benefit will take place on October 18th. During several weekends in October and November, in-person events will feature high-profile speakers at locations all across the city. CHF will also continue to host virtual events throughout the fall.

Victory Gardens at Rainbow Beach

Chicago Humanities Festival Programs from July 24 through November 2021

The Chicago Humanities Festival believes that humanity thrives when people gather, connect, and open themselves to ideas that go beyond their individual experience. For more than 30 years, the Festival has been curating live events that allow audiences to connect with the most provocative thinkers—both established and emerging—and to see the world differently.

Under the leadership of Executive Director Phillip Bahar and Marilynn Thoma Artistic Director Alison Cuddy, CHF is one of Chicago’s most vibrant civic institutions. Chicago Humanities Festival

Photos: Courtesy of  Chicago Humanities Festival

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