Over the next two months, the annual festival from Case Western Reserve University partners with numerous cultural organizations to stage a diverse spate of events on race, class, gender, ethnicity and other identity-related topics

The 2021 Cleveland Humanities Festival (CHF) will explore a theme of “IDENTITY” in dozens of public events regionwide through May 24 that bring together—and celebrate—the great arts and educational institutions of Cleveland and Northeast Ohio.

Each event is shaped around addressing basic questions about why personal identity matters, especially in a world reshaped by pandemic and economic distress.

The annual festival, now in its sixth year, will be held virtually, and many events require pre-registration at case.edu/artsci/chf.

Coordinated by the Baker-Nord Center for the Humanities in the College of Arts and Sciences at Case Western Reserve University, the CHF partners with the region’s major museums, educational institutions and arts organizations. IDENTITY is presented with the support of Cuyahoga Arts & Culture.

Peter Knox
Peter Knox, director of the Baker-Nord Center for the Humanities, which coordinates the Cleveland Humanities Festival.

“The question of how we identify ourselves, always important, takes on added significance now,” said Peter Knox, the Eric and Jane Nord Family Professor in the College of Arts and Sciences and director of the Baker-Nord Center at Case Western Reserve. “What matters most to a person’s identity: race and ethnicity, gender, class, religion, sexual orientation, nationality, or something else?  And what matters most now to our collective identity as a society?

“Even though we will not gather physically this year,” Knox said, “we’ll still be able to discuss and consider some of society’s most challenging issues and pressing concerns together.”

A full list of events can be found on the Cleveland Humanities Festival site. Festival highlights include:

  • Building Trust through Representation: At the Intersection of Disability, Race and Parenting – March 25, noon. Authors of We Dare Be Brave: African American moms and the emotional journey of raising children with disabilities will share their personal experiences as Black parents and as advocates to improve the experiences and health outcomes of children with complex medical needs. Increasing empathy, equity and inclusion will require significant changes in how families, educators and health care providers think. 
  • Rick Guidotti & Positive Exposure: Recognizing Beauty in Difference – March 25, 6 p.m. After a chance encounter with a young woman living with albinism, award-winning international fashion photographer Rick Guidotti began exploring images in medical textbooks.
Joy Harjo
  • Campus Conversations on JUSTICE: Cats, Dogs, Teens, and Soldiers: Reflections on the Virtue of Obedience – March 26, 12:45 p.m. Pauline Shanks Kaurin, professor in the College of Leadership and Ethics at the Navy War College and the Admiral James B. Stockdale Chair in Professional Military Ethics, will launch her new book On Obedience: Contrasting Philosophies for the Military, Citizenry, and Community.
  • A Conversation with Joy Harjo – March 29, 6 p.m. Critically acclaimed indigenous poet Joy Harjo discusses her work with David Lucas, former poet laureate of the State of Ohio and lecturer in the CWRU Department of English. Harjo, a member of the Mvskoke/Creek Nation, is the 23rd U.S. poet laureate and the first Native American poet to serve in that position.
  • Designing Victory – March 30, 4:30 p.m. Award-winning architect Robert Madison was the first African American to graduate from Case Western Reserve’s School of Architecture, as well as the first to gain a degree in architecture in Ohio. His firm has been both the lead and associate architects for the design of major projects, including the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Great Lakes Science Center and Cleveland Museum of Art.
Kevin Young
  • A Conversation with Kevin Young – April 7, 6 p.m. Kevin Young, director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture and poetry editor of The New Yorker, discusses his work with Ben Vinson III, the Hiram C. Haydn Professor of History and provost and executive vice president at Case Western Reserve. Young was named a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 2020. 
  • Campus Conversations of Justice – April 9, 12:45 p.m. M.R. Sauter, assistant professor at the University of Maryland College of Information Studies, will participate in a live-streamed discussion on disruptive activism, such as hacking as a form of activism (“hacktivism”) and/or justice related to smart cities, municipal governance and neo-corporate colonialism.
  • Virtual Panel Discussion: Slovenian Neighborhoods of Cleveland – April 29, 7 p.m. Cleveland is home to the largest settlement of Slovenians outside of Europe. Slovenian-Americans took advantage of the resources the city made available to them to build families and institutions and develop a lively cultural scene.
  • The LatinX-Perience – April 29, 7 p.m. While all Latinx individuals have varied backgrounds and unique family histories, we also encounter common threads that tie us together.
  • Understanding Alzheimer’s and Dementia – May 24, 7 p.m. Cynthia Davenport, from the Alzheimer’s Association Cleveland Area Chapter, will provide basic information that everyone needs to know about memory loss issues and what they mean for all of us

Last spring, the fifth CHF explored “TRUTH,” but many events were canceled due to the onset of the pandemic.

Collaborating institutions for IDENTITY are: Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards, Armenian American Culture Network, Cleveland Buddhist Temple, Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque, Cleveland History Center, Cleveland International Film Festival, Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland Public Library, Cleveland State University Black Studies Program, Howard A. Mims African American Cultural Center, Cuyahoga County Public Library, Dittrick Museum of Medical History, Flora Stone Mather Center for Women, Inamori International Center for Ethics and Excellence, Literary Cleveland, Mareyjoyce Green Women’s Center, Rocky River Public Library, and the CWRU Medicine, Society and Culture Program.


For more information, contact Daniel Robison at daniel.robison@case.edu.

This article was originally published March 18, 2021.