Over 10,000 people gathered at the Field Museum recently to immerse themselves in Chicago’s first-ever “Night of Ideas.” Held in conjunction with the Consulate General of France, the event promised to host the best and brightest minds in Chicago for a “six-hour marathon” of ideas. With no cost to any of the attendees and over 150 world-class presenters, the Night of Ideas was an undeniable hit.
One of the best aspects of the event was its variety. Attendees were bound to spot something of interest, with dozens of topics to choose from. The event offered everything from science lectures to philosophical discussions to social justice panels to juggling performances. Every 30 minutes,a new set of events would start up, featuring a fresh set of topics and presenters. Each of the events was held in different exhibits within the museum, adding an otherworldly backdrop to the presentations.
The night kicked off at 6 p.m. as thousands of attendees packed into the grand lobby of the Field Museum. Tables filled with presenters lined the room for people to interact with before the event. Attendees could, for instance, learn about research conducted at Fermilab, or examine butterflies under glass. Eager volunteers directed attendees across the spacious room, handing out glossy programs filled with information and maps. Consul General Guillaume Lacroix took to the stage for a brief speech stressing Chicago’s importance on the world stage and promising that this event would showcase the strength and ingenuity of the city. The first presenters of the night, Natalie Moore and Amanda Williams, took the stage for a fascinating discussion titled, “What Color is Utopia?” which examined the racial and socioeconomic disparities in Chicago and proposed solutions for a more equitable future.
Shortly after, audience members dispersed to attend the session of their choosing. People wandered the halls of the museum, glancing at artifacts as they walked by. Throughout the entire night, the museum and all of its exhibits stayed open, so attendees could experience them for free. Each of the presentations was fast-paced and packed with information. Most only lasted twenty minutes, although some stretched three hours. This created a bit of a hectic atmosphere, as people rushed from one thing to the next. However, the museum provided quite a bit of flexibility, as people were allowed to pick and choose what presentations to attend. If someone wanted a break, they could simply do so for as long as they wanted and return to the lineup with no questions asked.
The presentations themselves were diverse and dealt with a stunning array of topics, although the themes tended to focus on science, philosophy, and social justice. Each of the speakers was highly educated and enthusiastic about their topic, which kept the audience interested. With the sheer volume and variety of topics, even the most seasoned intellectual could learn a great deal.
All told, the Field Museum’s Night of Ideas was a major success by every metric. It brought together all walks of life for an exchange of ideas that was truly inspiring. Not only were the presentations informative and educational, but they were also deeply meaningful and stayed with you long after the night ended. The audience’s enthusiasm for learning and improving our city was palpable during every presentation. Attendees were engaged and energetic, even as the clock struck midnight.
All photos by Tova Love Kaplan unless otherwise noted.