Mission and History

Ideas excite us. They propel us to do good. To create genuine interactions. To explore who we are as individuals and communities.


The Chicago Humanities Festival presents entertaining and smart programming about ideas that matter. But we do more than that. We shape ideas, helping our audiences see the world anew. We help them challenge the boundaries of contemporary knowledge and culture. We help them understand what it means to be human.


Our Mission

The Chicago Humanities Festival connects people to the ideas that shape and define us, and promotes the lifelong exploration of what it means to be human. CHF fosters curiosity, celebrates creativity, explores the boundaries of contemporary knowledge and culture, and challenges us to see ourselves and the world anew.

Our Vision

The Chicago Humanities Festival envisions a city and society in which its members engage in thoughtful dialogue, explore a diversity of ideas, and come together to find positive solutions.

Our Values

Quality //  We present the finest minds of our time and produce exceptional experiences.

Thoughtfulness // We enlighten and entertain with smart programs that provoke personal and collective reflection and action.

Diversity // We believe that pursuing a diversity of thought, experience, and audience is essential to strengthening our community.

Accessibility // We strive to eliminate barriers to participation related to age, income, and physical ability.



“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.