First-ever Cleveland Humanities Festival explores impacts of war

Cleveland Humanities Festival: Remembering War brings together 20 of Northeast Ohio’s cultural institutions for artistic, educational and performance events

Warrior Chorus
Warrior Chorus, of The Aquila Theatre Company

While war exposes our capacity for brutality, the humanities offer the possibility of understanding—and transcending—it through art, thought and performance.

The inaugural Cleveland Humanities Festival—a partnership of 20 Northeast Ohio institutions—will explore the impact of war on societies and cultures with events around the region April 1-10.

“The idea is simple: bring together the strength of our world-class humanities organizations around a topic that has affected all of our lives in profound ways, large and small,” 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.”

Most of the lectures, movies and shows are free and open to the public—though some require registration at

Peter Knox
Peter Knox. Photo by Annie O’Neill Photography.

Organizers hope the festival will become an annual fixture in Cleveland, with a new theme each year that engages the public by addressing meaningful issues and pressing concerns. The effort is loosely patterned after the Chicago Humanities Festival, which was created in 1989, but with a distinctive Cleveland flair. Immigration will be the theme of the 2017 festival.

“With an election year rich with implications for our military, recent anniversaries of a number of our country’s major wars and our ongoing campaigns in the Middle East, war is simultaneously present, past and likely to be a part of our future,” said Knox, who joined Case Western Reserve in early 2015 and holds the university’s Eric and Jane Nord Family Professorship.

Highlighted events

  • Performing music for Nazis during World War II to avoid execution, Russian/Ukrainian Jewish music prodigy Zhanna Arshanskaya survived and became a prized pianist and music professor. She will join a discussion of a documentary about her life, followed by a recital.

    Jonathan Shay
    Jonathan Shay
  • Jonathan Shay—a MacArthur “genius grant” winner—will speak of treating combat veterans with severe psychological injuries using narrative and other literary devices.
  • In the Baker-Nord Distinguished Faculty Lecture, John Grabowski will revisit the response by Case Western Reserve students to the May 4, 1970 Kent State shootings, in which students staged strikes and blocked traffic on Euclid Avenue—considered by some a brief campus flirtation with radical protest.
  • In a performance by the Warrior Chorus, from The Aquila Theatre Company in New York City, military veterans trained in dance and other forms of expression will present pieces that focus on critical social issues, including war, conflict, comradeship, home and family.
  • Mourning for Lost Art,” a talk by Pakistani novelist Kamila Shamsie, will explore why armies destroy art and cultural artifacts in times of war.

    Kamila Shamsie
    Pakistani author Kamila Shamsie
  • A discussion of the Armenian Genocide and its continuing ramifications will be led by Richard Hovannisian, a Guggenheim Fellow and professor emeritus at UCLA.
  • Cleveland Museum of Art curator Mark Cole will discuss the influence of World War II and the Cold War on artists working in the mid-20th century.
  • Remembering War,” a concert by the Cleveland Institute of Music Orchestra, will be held in the Cleveland Institute of Music’s Kulas Hall and broadcast live on WCLV 104.9.

A full list of events, venues, dates and times is available at

Facts and figures

There are 20 Northeast Ohio arts, cultural and academic partners for the 2016 Cleveland Humanities Festival: Remembering War.

Civil War letter by Randall Wade
Civil War letter by Randall Wade, son of Jeptha Wade

They are: Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards, 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, Cuyahoga Community College, Cuyahoga County Public Library, Dittrick Museum of Medical History, Kelvin Smith Library, Lake View Cemetery Foundation, Literary Cleveland, Louis Stokes Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage, Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) Cleveland, University Circle Inc., Wick Poetry Center at Kent State University, and the Armenian Genocide Centennial Committee of Ohio.

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

The festival is coordinated by the Baker-Nord Center for the Humanities at Case Western Reserve University, 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.