Since fall weather is such a rare and precious commodity, it seems cruel to ask anybody to spend any more time than necessary indoors listening to people talk. But please hear us out on Chicago Ideas Week, which starts up October 16. And anyway, it might rain.
This is actually the seventh iteration of Chicago Ideas Week. It began when a group of Chicagoans noticed that a lot of symposiums going on around the world—TED talks, Davos seminars—were inaccessible to regular people, except maybe via YouTube, which somehow lacked the excitement and immediacy of being in the same room with other attendees. Chicago, they felt, had a good mix of world-class academics and the blue-collar ethos of getting shit done.
This year’s Chicago Ideas Week has 30 stage events with speakers and panels, punctuated by artistic performances, and 90 labs around the city. “These are behind-the-scenes looks at Chicago institutions,” says Sona Jones, the festival’s director of marketing and media. “They open their doors to people in unique ways, show what they’re up to and the innovations they have.” Among the offerings are a chance to see the Joffrey Ballet in rehearsal, watch chef Brian Jupiter of Frontier butcher an animal, produce a commercial (in Spanish) with Univision, and tour the Calumet region with Field Museum geographer Mark Bouman.
In addition, Chicago Ideas will be setting up 20 “Hello” booths for visitors to have video chats with other people in other booths around the city. “It’s an opportunity to engage in civil discourse,” Jones explains. “There are prompts to encourage you to talk with another person about something you might disagree on and find some common ground and gain a better sense of understanding.”
The goal of all this, Jones says, is to inspire audiences to think about issues that are affecting their city and their lives and then leave the program with some idea about how to take action. (Chicago Ideas helps by sending postevent e-mails with practical suggestions.)
Jones and her colleagues have been collecting stories of projects that have been directly inspired by Chicago Ideas. One of her favorites is a Yale student who, after hearing a lecture about artificial intelligence, went up to talk to the speaker, who ended up introducing her to a Yale professor. Together, they collaborated on an assisted learning lab to create tools for educating autistic children in Rwanda.
Although many programs have already sold out, Jones has a few recommendations: “State of Our Union” on October 16, a talk about what it means to be an American, and “Breakthroughs: Advancing the Way We Live” on October 17, a look at both gene splicing and mass social movements. “We want to get people inspired,” Jones says, “and then do something about it.” v