2023 Cleveland Humanities Festival: WELLNESS

This spring, the eighth Cleveland Humanities Festival continues its annual exploration of some of society’s most pressing issues and concerns—through the lens of a single topic

This March through May, the 2023 Cleveland Humanities Festival (CHF) will probe one of the most objective and subjective topics in all humankind—wellness—through art, literature, music and more at 35-plus free public events throughout Northeast Ohio.

Marking its eighth year, the 2023 CHF will feature a diverse lineup of speakers and performers, including a lecture by a child-development specialist, a conversation about transgenerational trauma and an exploration of how comics have documented and responded to the shifting landscape of mental health in America.

“Few topics today are as relevant, important and vital to our society as wellness and what it means to flourish, individually and collectively,” said Michele Tracy Berger, director of the Baker-Nord Center for the Humanities at Case Western Reserve University, which is leading the festival.

The festival involves more than 30 diverse institutions and represents one of the most inclusive and wide-ranging cultural collaborations in a region known for its arts and humanities excellence.

“Everyone is invited to join in as we dive into this timely topic,” said Berger, the Eric and Jane Nord Family Professor at the university’s College of Arts and Sciences. “The performances, lectures, workshops and events should elicit questions and stimulate curiosity. Together we’ll learn, consider and discuss the power, uses and abuses of a concept that can mean so many different things to so many people.”

Most of the CHF’s programs are free, although some require online registration.

Browse all events for the 2023 Cleveland Humanities Festival: WELLNESS.

Key events include:

David Olawuyi Fakunle

“The Lion’s Side: The Utilization of Storytelling for Transformation in Arts, Culture & Health”

Friday, March 17

David Olawuyi Fakunle is a “mercenary for change,” employing any skill and occupying any space to help elevate everyone divested from their truest self, especially those who are Black, Indigenous and People of Color. He is an assistant professor of public health at the Morgan State University School of Community Health & Policy, an adjunct assistant professor at the University of Florida Center for Arts in Medicine and an associate faculty member in the mental health department of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. His interests include stressors within the built environment, societal manifestations of racism and the use of arts and culture to strengthen health, equity and, ultimately, liberation.

“Freudian Strips: A History of Comics and Mental Health in the U.S.”

Friday, March 24

During Reinberger Gallery’s Lunch on Fridays lecture series, Ursuline College Professor Valentino L. Zullo will explore how comics have documented and responded to the shifting landscape of mental health in America during the 20th and 21st centuries. From the horror comics of the 1950s to Spider-Man to the Joker, the medium has long been invested in better understanding the mind.

Jia Tolentino

“Against Optimization”

Monday, March 27

Jia Tolentino is a staff writer at The New Yorker and author of the essay collection Trick Mirror. A former deputy editor at Jezebel and contributing editor at The Hairpin, her talk will focus on thinking toward radical alternate visions of value, aspiration and potential.

“Your Healing is Killing Me”

Wednesday, March 29

Virginia Grise

Your Healing is Killing Me is a performance manifesto based on lessons learned in San Antonio free health clinics and New York acupuncture schools; from the treatments and consejos of curanderas, abortion doctors, Marxist artists, community health workers and bourgie dermatologists. The performance presents playwright Virginia Grise’s reflections on living with post-traumatic stress disorder, ansia and eczema in the new age of trigger warnings, the master cleanse and crowd-funded self-care.

“Fellini’s 8 1/2 (Italy/France, 1963)”

Sunday, April 2

A hugely successful Italian film director hounded by associates, the media and assorted hangers-on—and haunted by personal dreams, memories and transgressions—finds himself at a creative impasse. Federico Fellini must overcome outside distractions and private demons to continue living and working again. His autobiographical, phantasmagorical fantasy is one of the all-time great movies, starring Marcello Mastroianni, Anouk Aimée and Claudia Cardinale, with music by Nino Rota.

“The Emotional Lives of Teenagers: Raising Connected, Capable, and Compassionate Adolescents”

Lisa Damour

Monday, April 3

Author Lisa Damour will discuss her latest book, The emotional lives of teenagers, Raising Connected, Capable, and Compassionate Adolescents, in which she addresses how adolescent mental health isn’t about feeling good, calm or relaxed, but having the right feelings at the right times and knowing how to manage those feelings effectively. She offers guidance on how to help teens open up, and how to keep teens from being overwhelmed by their emotions or feeling at the mercy of their moods; and provides specific strategies for supporting teens as they manage their feelings at home, with peers, online and at school. Her talk will be followed by a conversation with Habeebah R. Grimes, chief executive officer of Positive Education Program.

“Exploring queer-trans intimacy, disability aesthetics and community care in JC Pankrat’s “Seahorse.” A Talk. A Performance. A Gathering.”

Friday, April 7, and Saturday, April 8

Reuben is a trans man continuing his attempts to conceive a child after the death of his husband. In processing his grief and hope, Reuben turns his insemination endeavors into moments of self-recognition by donning different costumes and personas for each try. (Juliet, Zeus and St. Francis all make appearances.) Instead of a funerary parade, this play seeks the purpose of life for the living, for the dead and for the not-yet-arrived. Surrounding Reuben is an ensemble of actors who provide live audio description of the onstage action. Inspired by disability aesthetics, the production approaches accessibility—not as simply accommodation—but as a rich opportunity for creative exploration.

What Makes Us Well: A Staged Reading

Saturday, April 8

Join Literary Cleveland and Cleveland State University for a dramatic reading of original literary works by local writers addressing themes of wellness. Under the direction of Christine Howey, Northeast Ohio performers will enact scenes of illness and health, poems mindfulness and spiritual mystery, dialogues on the body and the spirit and reflections on social ills and common good. By combining the words of local writers with the talents of local theater professionals, this staged reading will showcase multiple perspectives that expand our understanding of what makes us well.

“Navigating Family Secrets and Healing Intergenerational Trauma: A Reading and Conversation with Cassandra Lane”

Cassandra Lane

Tuesday, April 18

Cassandra Lane’s memoir, We Are Bridges, weaves the story of her great-grandfather’s lynching with her experience of becoming a mother, attempting to unearth the lives of her ancestors and provide her child with a family record. Lane confronts the limits of the archive as she weaves together the present day with the imagined lives of her great-grandparents, Burt Bridges and Mary Magdalene Magee. In this haunting, poetic debut, Lane dares to construct a new story for herself and her family—one that encapsulates the brutal inheritances of the past and the hope of Black futures to come. Lane will read from her book and discuss the issue with Berger.

About the Cleveland Humanities Festival

Over its first half-decade, through hundreds of events, the festival has grown into a widely collaborative spate of events celebrating the great cultural institutions of the city of Cleveland and Northeast Ohio.

Last year’s festival explored discourse; 2021: identity; 2020: truth; 2019: nature; 2018: health; 2017: immigration; and the inaugural event, in 2016, examined the impacts of war.

Founded in 1996 at Case Western Reserve with a gift from Eric and Jane Nord, the Baker-Nord Center for the Humanities supports research and creative endeavors and hosts humanities events around the region.

The 2023 festival is co-sponsored by:

  • 47th Cleveland International Film Festival
  • Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine
  • Cleveland Institute of Art
  • Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque
  • Cleveland Museum of Art
  • The Cleveland Orchestra
  • Cleveland Public Library
  • Cleveland Review of Books
  • Cleveland State University
  • Cuyahoga County Public Library
  • Department of Bioethics, CWRU
  • Dittrick Museum of Medical History, CWRU
  • ENCORE Chamber Music Institute
  • Humanities in Leadership Learning Series, CWRU
  • Literary Cleveland
  • Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Humanities Center, Cuyahoga Community College
  • Northeast Ohio Medical University
  • Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
  • Rocky River Public Library
  • Schubert Center for Child Studies, CWRU
  • Social Justice Institute, CWRU
  • Synecdoche Works Theatre
  • Wick Poetry Center at Kent State University

This article was originally published March 6, 2023.