Mission and History


The Chicago Humanities Festival's mission is to create opportunities for people of all ages to support, enjoy and explore the humanities. We fulfill this mission through our annual festivals, the fall Chicago Humanities Festival and the spring Stages, Sights & Sounds, and by presenting programs throughout the year that encourage the study and enjoyment of the humanities.

Our Goals are to:

  • Bring the world's best and brightest humanists together to examine and celebrate the humanities
  • Showcase the riches of the world's cultures and their contributions to the humanities
  • Gather together new and diverse audiences to enjoy the humanities
  • Encourage and enable teachers and students in their study of the humanities
  • Draw international attention to the importance of the humanities
  • Foster collaboration, cooperation and dialogue among the artistic, cultural and educational communities that provide life and support to the humanities

The Chicago Humanities Festival is devoted to making the humanities a vital and vibrant ingredient of daily life. We believe that access to cultural, artistic and educational opportunities is a necessary element for a healthy and robust civic environment. Tickets for most Fall Festival programs are $12 and many programs are free of charge to students and teachers.


“Two years ago, on a beautiful fall day in November, I first encountered the Chicago Humanities Festival. And I fell for it at once.”—Margaret MacMillan

The Chicago Humanities Festival began in 1989 as a dream shared by a determined group of Chicago’s cultural leaders eager to extend the riches of the humanities to all who might benefit—that is, everyone.

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. The first Chicago Humanities Festival, a one-day affair, was held on November 11, 1990 at the Art Institute of Chicago and Orchestra Hall, before an audience of 3,500 people. Eight thoughtful and accessible programs centered on the theme Expressions of Freedom, including a memorable keynote address by playwright Arthur Miller, and inaugurated one of Chicago's most culturally rich annual events. Founding co-sponsor institutions included the Art Institute, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Lyric Opera Chicago, and the University of Chicago.

Since that first year, some of the world's most exciting thinkers, artists and performers have come to Chicago each fall for a festival that celebrates ideas in the context of civic life. Each festival brings together novelists, scholars, musicians, archaeologists, historians, artists, performers, playwrights, theologians, poets, architects, policy makers, and others—both established and emerging talents—to offer performances, screenings, exhibits, and discussions on a theme of universal interest, such as Love and Marriage, Crime and Punishment, Work and Play, Peace and War, and Thinking Big. Presented in partnership with some of Chicago’s premier cultural institutions, and produced in some of Chicago’s most remarkable public and performance spaces, the festival has become an annual highlight for thousands of people from Chicago and beyond.