Second annual festival unites 25 cultural institutions for artistic and educational events from March 15 to April 24, including a presentation by Vicente Fox, former president of Mexico.

The history and contemporary shape of immigration in Northeast Ohio—itself a rich fabric of diverse neighborhoods and cultural traditions—sets the stage for the second annual Cleveland Humanities Festival.

Peter Knox

Peter Knox, director of the Baker-Nord Center for the Humanities

Most of the events—lectures, exhibits, theatrical performances, tours and films—are free and open to the public, though many require registration at

“Exile, immigration, deportation, migration—the history of every nation includes challenges and opportunities caused by the movement of people. Nowhere is this more true than in our own country,” said Peter Knox, director of the Baker-Nord Center for the Humanities at Case Western Reserve University, which is coordinating the festival.

“We hope people think about this topic in new and challenging ways, with the humanities as our gateway,” Knox added.

The opening keynote will be delivered March 23 by Henry Louis Gates Jr., host of the PBS program, Finding Your Roots, and history professor at Harvard University.

Vicente Fox

Vicente Fox, former president of Mexico

On April 3, Vicente Fox, former president of Mexico and a sharp critic of President Donald Trump, will discuss immigration reform in a free public address.

“I hope people gain a richer appreciation for how immigration shapes our communities,” said Knox, who holds the university’s Eric and Jane Nord Family Professorship. “That may be a deeper interest in their family background; a sense of sympathy for current refugee or migrant groups; or perhaps an energized attitude toward helping new members of our communities.”

2017 Cleveland Humanities Festival logoThe festival, which debuted last year, is intended to become an annual fixture in Cleveland, with a new theme each year that engages the public by addressing meaningful issues and pressing concerns.

“The humanities help us understand who we are, what we’ve done and created along the way,” Knox said. “I understand that some will think immigration is a politically charged theme, but we’re not treating it that way, nor are we taking any side of a political question. We’re here to think more deeply about this unmistakable force.”

Highlighted events


Anand Giridharadas

March 24: Author of A Polish Doctor in the Nazi Camps, Barbara Rylko-Bauer will tell her mother’s story of World War II imprisonment to examine how echoes from the past are re-appearing.

March 25New York Times columnist Anand Giridharadas will deliver his “A Tale of Two Americas” TED Talk.

March 27: Pulitzer-Prize winning playwright Ayad Akhtar will discuss the Muslim experience in America.

March 27: John Grabowski, the Krieger-Mueller Joint Professor in History at Case Western Reserve, will give a lecture titled “Who Should Enter the Golden Door: American Immigration Policy in Historical Perspective.”

Ayad Akhtar

Ayad Akhtar

March 29: Norwegian composer and accordionist Frode Haltli will team up with Swedish nyckelharpa virtuoso Emilia Amper for an evening of Scandinavian folk-inspired music.

April 3: Vicente Fox, former president of Mexico, will emphasize why America must establish sensible pathways for citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

Events take place at Case Western Reserve and at many partner institutions in the region.

Facts and figures

There are 25 Northeast Ohio partners for the 2017 Cleveland Humanities Festival: Immigration.

They are: Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards, Apollo’s Fire, Armenian Cultural Organization, the Baker-Nord Center for the Humanities, Books@Work, Cleveland Archaeological Society, Cleveland Cinematheque, Cleveland History Center, Cleveland Institute of Music, Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland Museum of Natural History, Cleveland Play House, Cuyahoga Community College, Cuyahoga County Public Library, Dittrick Museum of Medical History, Facing History and Ourselves, Global Cleveland, Kelvin Smith Library, Lake View Cemetery Foundation, Literary Cleveland, Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage, Montessori High School at University Circle, Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) Cleveland, Schubert Center for Child Studies, University Circle Inc., and Wick Poetry Center at Kent State University.

Funding is provided by Ohio Humanities and Cuyahoga Arts & Culture.

Baker-Nord Center for the HumanitiesThe festival is coordinated by the Baker-Nord Center for the Humanities at Case Western Reserve, which was founded in 1996 with a gift from Eric and Jane Nord. The center supports research and creative endeavors and hosts humanities events around the region.

In 2018, the Cleveland Humanities Festival will focus on health and health care. The inaugural event, in spring 2016, explored the impacts of war.

This article was originally published March 6, 2017.