By Brenna C. Cronin
The MSLCE cohort was warmly greeted by a six-member team at the Chicago Humanities Festival offices last week. With the sound of hammering and drilling in the air, the Chicago Humanities Festival (CHF) is the definition of a vibrant and expanding arts nonprofit, full of impact and growth—literally!
Beginning their 30th anniversary year with the theme, “Year of Power”, the CHF team shared with us equal parts history and a view towards the future. Boasting world-renowned speakers like Margaret Atwood, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Toni Morrison, Barack Obama, Elie Wiesel, Trevor Noah, and Marie Kondo, CHF aims to be a leader in public humanities, bringing together people for their seasonal festivals of speaking engagements, intellectual conversations, presentations, and community building. With over 3800 speakers and artists offering over 2800 unique events in their history, CHF has brought MacArthur Fellows, Nobel Laureates, and Pulitzer Prize Winning individuals together for the public good. This is deeply ingrained in their mission “to promote public appreciation, understanding, and support of the humanities through festivals and educational programs.”
Eddie Medrano, Production Manager, offered insight into the production world of CHF with both practicality and humor. Have you ever given thought to the amount of pixels needed to blow up a presenters image on a screen? Or given thought to how it is done differently at the UIC Forum vs. the Harris Theatre? Eddie has!
Tiff Beatty, Associate Director of Programming, shared CHF’s approach to programming. “Part of our uniqueness is a rigorous intellectual approach to a single theme.” The team echoed this idea of intellection being a pillar of the arts organization. Starting your morning at the festival listening to a poet, having engaging lunch discussions, and then listening to a policy maker in the afternoon creates a well rounded experience and informs how you’ll experience each event through the lens of the theme.
My particular passions for development and fundraising sparked a great conversation with Alexandra Quinn, who serves as Associate Director — Foundation and Public Sector Relations. She shared that the vast majority of CHF’s funding is through donations. Growing CHF’s impact is the cornerstone of their development work and interdepartmental teamwork is key to the organization’s overall success.
Kristen Fallica, Senior Digital Strategist, impressed on us that “sales are not the only measure of success… diversity, experience, and leveraging fundraising are all key rubrics and filters through which we view success of the festival. Sometimes it’s ok to sell 20% of the house when the program is of incredible quality.” CHF also aims to better connect with the neighborhoods that events are being presented in.
As always, there is so much more that could be shared about our site visits. As we started to wrap up our conversation, Mr. Medrano had nothing but kind things to share about the MSLCE program and how impressed he was with our cohort. With internship application season nearing its end, it was great to hear that there are arts organizations that support and believe in our work as leaders in the creative enterprises, and the power of the Northwestern name.