Humanities Festival provokes laughs

By KatherineGamby

Celebration of the arts, particularly through festivals, is a longstanding tradition in Chicago.  As fall approaches the city, one of the first festivals of the season is already underway.

The Chicago Humanities Festival, which opened on Oct. 17, is celebrating its 20th anniversary. This festival is a part of many programs held throughout the year to celebrate and encourage the study and enjoyment of the humanities, stated in the mission of the Chicago Humanities Festival.

“We are offering 100 programs that examine laughter through a lot of different subjects in the humanities and in the arts,” said Jara Kern, associate director of Marketing and Communications for the Chicago Humanities Festival.

Five organizations collaborated to start a festival where humanities could be consumed by Chicagoans. The organizations include the Illinois Humanities Council, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Lyric Opera, University of Chicago and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

“It was the idea of several of our founding board members and a founding executive director to offer a day of public humanities consumption to the city of Chicago,” Kern said. “It … brings ideas

and lecturers and performers and singers together in a way that [was open] to the Chicago public.”

The festival began as a one-day symposium and now spans over a period of weeks. This year’s programs include those featuring laughter and politics with Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill from Missouri and  cartoonists, like Matt Groening who created “The Simpsons.” All of the programs will take place in and around the Loop.

“[The locations vary] to really put people in as many of Chicago’s cultural spaces as possible, and it’s also to make the festival events available to different neighborhoods—it’s just an experience,” Kern said.

Chicagoans will experience laughter, the theme for this year’s festival.

The theme was developed by a team who researched and collaborated with outside parties to properly reflect what the people of Chicago would want to see at the festival.

“The team works very collaboratively to discuss and decide what’s in the cultural ether and what might make sense … in this case, laughter felt like a good thing to do in the face of the recession,” said Julia Mayer,  senior program manager for the Chicago Humanities Festival.

She said the individuals involved and the programs were of interest to the festival,

as well as subjects they wanted to focus on within the theme.

“In some instances [the theme ideas] were people that we were interested in working with, and in some instances they were topics,” Mayer said.

She said the team researches prospective people and ideas for the festival. From there, they inquire about their ideas and decide whether to develop them or not.

“It’s really a creative process of what our thoughts are and we are in touch with a lot of different people …  and we try to tap them for ideas,” Mayer said.

The University of Chicago has partnered with the Chicago Humanities Festival since its inception 20 years ago. The university officially became involved after faculty saw there were no humanities programs available to Hyde Park residents.

“The partnership is very longstanding,” said Kineret Jaffe, director of the Office of Cultural Partnerships at the University of Chicago. “What has changed in the last few years is the Chicago Humanities Festival clearly became more of a city-wide activity. [However], they did not do programming in Hyde Park and many of us thought that was unfortunate because there are lots of wonderful cultural activities here in Hyde Park.”

The Chicago Humanities Festival opened on Oct. 17 and will be closed until November when it will run from Nov. 2 – 15. Many programs are free for students and teachers with a valid ID. Tickets generally range from $5-20 in advance. For more information, visit