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Julia Mayer's Blog

Family Friendly Programs in the 2013 Fall Festival
CHF began producing a festival for children in 1998, and for years it was called, very straightforwardly, the Chicago Children’s Humanities Festival. In 2008, we rebranded it Stages, Sights & Sounds to reflect the interdisciplinary and performative nature of our international spring festival and to signal that we were not limiting ourselves to children-only programming. In reciprocal fashion, each year in the Fall Festival (which we used to refer to internally as the Adult Festival,... Continue Reading >>
Tracking the Migration of Jennifer Monson
Like other contemporary artists, choreographers use the word “source” as a verb. They source their choreographic materials in different ways. Some tap their own interior spaces, making visible (and visceral) emotions or experiences from their lives. Some are formalists, focusing primarily on framing, composition, and moving bodies through space.  Jennifer Monson finds her inspiration in nature. More specifically, she tracks and internalizes the migration patterns of birds and... Continue Reading >>
Eight Awesome Programs and the Partnerships that Helped Make Them Happen
The last few months have been full of fascinating conversations and scheduling negotiations as we put the finishing touches on our programming for the 24th Chicago Humanities Festival: Animal. As is our custom, we’ll be releasing the names of a handful of our wonderful speakers every few weeks this summer, in advance of the full Festival schedule going live online and in our printed program guide in early August. As I sat down to encapsulate each of the remarkable presenters and programs... Continue Reading >>
AMERICA dances on Saturday, Nov. 10
It’s my favorite email to write every year—dance at CHF! This Saturday, Nov. 10 we are featuring two very different and very wonderful dance programs. The Seldoms, photo by Brian Kuhlmann First up, at 12 noon at Francis Parker School, are Carrie Hanson and the Seldoms. The Seldoms is steadily gaining a national profile for their awesome dancing as well as their sophisticated treatment of complex subject matter. Artistic Director Carrie Hanson is quite masterful at calling... Continue Reading >>
"Sing Me the Universal"
I started pushing hard to get Fred Hersch and his amazing jazz oratorio Leaves of Grass to the Festival from the instant I heard it. “It's EXTRAORDINARY music and feels so aligned with what we are doing,” I gushed in an email to my colleagues as soon as I finished listening. That was back in March. And all thanks to my friend Adam, who knew we were in the early stages of planning our America Festival; he' d handed me the CD and said, simply, “You need to hear this.” Soaring.... Continue Reading >>
The City as Text
Bloomingdale Trail architect's rendering Reading Blair Kamin’s Monday post about the Bloomingdale Trail—in which he reflects on the city’s recent announcement about funding for the Trail—got me thinking about the many conversations I had about the Trail last year that culminated in Walter Hood’s amazing lecture “Industrial Past, Green Tomorrow” at last November’s Festival. Meetings with the Friends of Bloomingdale Trail and the Trust for Public Land and everyone’s favorite... Continue Reading >>
And the winners are . . .
We had a ball during the fall Festival with A Secret Poem. It was wonderful to see many of you seeking out clues and stickers at various Festival events. One of the many high points was hearing Charles Bernstein read “This Poem is in Finish,” the poem he wrote especially for this game, at his CHF program (at approx. minute 30). While we saw many of you playing, only a handful of people submitted completed poems. Thanks to all that participated, at every level. Winners... Continue Reading >>
A Secret Poem Revealed!
Big thanks to everyone that played "A Secret Poem." It was wonderful to see so many of you with your game cards seeking out clues and sharing answers during the Festival. Herewith the secret is revealed:   This Poem Is in Finishtoggle here for translationWhile I remain in English, either stranded orAs one drunken and wheeled to a paddyWagon. There was a time I drank blueberryWine but that was long ago and my powersOf recollection are still too strong to... Continue Reading >>
Game Clues Revealed: It's Not Too Late to Play!!
We know a lot of you love to do crossword puzzles. And we know that many of you were aware that during the Festival there was a CHF game afoot. Well, that game, "A Secret Poem," is very much like a crossword puzzle. During the course of the Festival, there were a lot of clues to hunt down and from the feedback you've given us, we think we might have made it a little too hard to find them all. So, we want to help. It was never our intent to make the game too hard to play. (Next... Continue Reading >>
Dancing with Science
When we were considering our options for including dance in this fall’s Festival, we didn’t set out to find collaborations between choreographers and scientists. But, with technology in mind, the projects we felt most drawn to were indeed such collaborations. This weekend, we partner with the Museum of Contemporary Art to present the Dance Exchange performing Liz Lerman’s latest work The Matter of Origins. This is rich, fully-realized work that Lerman developed from a residency with the... Continue Reading >>
CHF's Got Game
I’ve done a very unscientific poll and discovered that folks young and old do not generally associate the word “game” with the Chicago Humanities Festival. Dialogue. Philosophy. Lecture. Edification. These are some of the words that come to people’s minds when I ask them for one word they associate with CHF.  “Game” is never mentioned. Well, that’s about to change.  And for any of you with an inclination toward crossword puzzles, word play, poetry, friendly competition, trafficking in... Continue Reading >>
The Quest to Learn How Kids Learn Best
Katie Salen on the first day of school at Quest to Learn in New York City. Katie Salen is a game designer, executive director of the Institute of Play and recently appointed professor in the College of Computing and Digital Media at DePaul University. Several years ago, while teaching at Parsons The New School for Design, Salen and her collaborators began more closely observing how kids learned and played videogames. Kids spent hours... Continue Reading >>
Stages, Sights & Sounds Redux
44 programs in 13 days! It’s been a bit of a blur—and many of my colleagues stayed up much later and had more frontline responsibilities than I did. But we’re a small shop and everyone in our 16-person office pitched in. I’m exhausted and incredibly proud of the work CHF just brought to Chicago. Here are some of my personal highlights: Week 1 —Monday, May 2: Hanging lights for Baobab from the catwalk above the stage at the Barber Theater. So great to get out from behind my... Continue Reading >>
CHF Goes to Argonne National Laboratory
Once in a while there is an opportunity for my programming colleagues and me to do some collective research. One such opportunity was a fascinating field trip we took to Argonne National Laboratory in early February, where we toured several of Argonne’s research divisions. At the Transportation Center, we got a primer in how a lithium-ion battery works from Jeff Chamberlain, Argonne’s Head of Chemical Sciences and Engineering Electrochemical Energy Storage and learned about Argonne’s... Continue Reading >>
Springing Forth with Stages, Sights & Sounds 2011
The melting snow has me thinking about spring. Freshness, green, innocence, nurturing our young; it’s an actual and metaphoric time of rebirth. It’s a good time for stories: creation stories; stories that explain and reveal the radical changes occurring in the natural world all around us. It’s also the perfect time for Stages, Sights & Sounds, CHF’s international performance festival. Stages is geared toward children and families but is ripe with wondrous imagery and storytelling that... Continue Reading >>
Taking on Technology
Human experience is inextricably linked to technology. At its root is the impulse to craft a better, easier, more informed life. From the creation of the first stone tools to the development of the printing press, from the blast furnace  to the assembly line to the microprocessor, technology is the expression of human ingenuity and the catalyst for the next big idea. Today tech permeates everything: our professional lives, our personal relationships, our... Continue Reading >>
Food News and Views
Last week the New York Times and other news outlets reported on a new voluntary food labeling system developed and soon-to-be implemented by many of the largest US food manufacturers.   While I’m sure this was news to many readers, for those of us who attended CHF’s “Reformulating Food” program last fall, it was not. On that November day, Danielle Greenberg, Director of Nutrition and Scientific Affairs at PepsiCo, shared details of this new initiative and audio from the... Continue Reading >>
Hypochondria: What's going on in there?
Writing about anatomy last week got me thinking about the difference between actually looking inside the body and doing so imaginatively, which most folks are probably more comfortable doing than heading over to their nearest cadaver lab. And so I re-read Catherine Belling’s essay “Graphic Brain-Imagining” in Atrium, the quarterly journal of the Northwestern University Medical Humanities and Bioethics Program. The first time I read it was during my “body” research last winter. Katie Watson, a... Continue Reading >>
Hayes's Anatomy
One of my strongest visual and olfactory memories of my graduate studies in dance at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign was the afternoon that my “anatomy & physiology of dance” class visited the UIUC College of Medicine’s cadaver lab.   Up until that day, we’d been studying anatomy in books and putting to test that book-knowledge in the dance studio. Probably more than many med students, we dancers were eager to palpate the origins and insertions of as many muscles as we... Continue Reading >>
More Dancing!
I have a bit of unfinished business from my last post. There are even more fabulous dance offerings this Fall: two more very exciting programs that are coming at dance from very different directions and moving it into some exciting new territory. Ananya Chatterjea, who runs the Dance Program at the University of Minnesota and is a committed fighter for social justice, will consider the ways in which dance can be a creative bridge from ideas to action. Two members of her company, Ananya... Continue Reading >>