Chicago Dancing Festival founders receive Public Humanities Award

Every once in awhile, we are reminded that dance is about more than just dance.

Each year since 1984, the Illinois Humanities Council has awarded the Public Humanities Award to acknowledge outstanding individuals or organizations who don’t need reminders that the arts and humanities can create positive changes to society. In 2014, Jay Franke and David Herro are added to an impressive roster of individuals and organizations “who have helped transform lives and strengthen communities through the humanities.”

David Herro (left) and Jay Franke
David Herro (left) and Jay Franke

Franke and Herro are known best as co-founder (with Lar Lubovitch) and board member (respectively) of the wildly popular Chicago Dancing Festival, a multi-day, multi-venue free dance extravaganza featuring Chicago’s best and brightest dance stars alongside notable companies from around the country. Franke, a Juilliard grad with an impressive roster of companies on his resume, also serves on the Cultural Advisory Council for the City of Chicago, is on the Board of Directors for Chicago High School for the Arts (CHiArts), the Leadership Board for the Kovler Diabetes Center and the Board of Trustees for the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago (MCA). In addition, he was previously on the Board of the Joffrey Ballet. Herro’s track record in service to the humanities is equally impressive: in addition to seats on the board of the Chicago Dancing Festival, the Economic Club of Chicago, and the Field Museum, he is Director for the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago Foundation, a trustee of WTTW, and sits on the Advisory Board of After School Matters. It doesn’t even end there, but frankly I’m out of breath with these guys’ accomplishments.

The Illinois Humanities Council put on a lovely luncheon in the opulent ballroom at the Palmer House Hilton (prepared by chef Michael Kornick of mk The Restaurant) to celebrate Franke and Herro and formally add them as Public Humanities Award recipients. “We all felt that art belongs to the people,” said Franke after a heartfelt introduction from Mayor Emanuel. Franke and Herro split the acceptance speech as guests tried really hard to avoid spilling dessert (a really extravagant version of a drumstick from pastry chefs Christine Cikowski and Josh Kulp on our afternoon cocktail attire.

That ice cream cone is exactly the reason why I wear black to summer luncheons.

Anyway… sometimes it’s uncomfortable to be a lowly dance writer in a room full of wealthy philanthropists. The truth is, sometimes I have to hustle to get by in life, and dancers are always hustling. We sometimes feel angry and resentful at people who never have to grapple between buying groceries and paying rent, or people who haven’t had to choose between jobs of passion that don’t pay and jobs of necessity that do. But then I hunkered down with my fancy plate of delicious (really delicious) baby asparagus, started talking with a few of the people at my table, and I realized something: the struggling dancers, and the hustling dance writers, and the wealthy philanthropists… we all share the same goals. We want people to know about, take part in, and benefit from the arts. We want others to be rewarded by the arts as we have. We want to create platforms where the arts impact people, communities, and society as a whole. The Chicago Dancing Festival has certainly done that, by providing world-class dance performances produced in world-class venues for absolutely no cost to the patrons, exposing tens of thousands of Chicago-area residents to dance – many for the first time.


Speaking of the Chicago Dancing Festival, there is a fantastic line-up planned in 2014 and now condensed to three days only. Martha Graham Dance Company, a CDF commission of new work on Hubbard Street Dance Chicago by MacArthur “Genius” Kyle Abraham, and the return of  soloists Brooklyn Mack and Maki Onuki of the Washington Ballet, who last year delivered the most ridiculous pas de deux I’ve ever seen (in a good way) are a few of the highlights. The performances aren’t until August, but to get those free tickets, you’ll need to plan ahead.

So, mark your calendars:

  • Tickets for the August 20 program at the Harris Theater will be released July 8 at noon, available in person at the Harris Theater Box Office (205 E. Randolph Dr.) or by calling (312) 334-7777. There is a limit of two tickets per order; tickets ordered by phone will be held at Will-Call. This performance will also be simulcast to Pritzker Pavilion, so if you miss the deadline or just prefer to picnic while you watch free dance, no tickets are necessary to watch from the lawn.


  • Tickets for the August 22 programs at the Museum of Contemporary Art will be released July 9 at noon, available in person at the MCA Stage Box Office (220 E. Chicago Ave.) or by calling (312) 397-4010. There is a limit of two tickets per order; tickets ordered by phone will be held at Will-Call.


  • The Grand Finale performance on August 23 takes place at Pritzker Pavilion at Millenium Park, and no tickets are necessary for this performance, just some elbows to bust your way into a perfect picnic place.

By the way, in case attending the Public Humanities Award luncheon in person wasn’t in your cards, watch it unfold in real time below, or by searching #pha2014 on Twitter:

Author: Lauren Warnecke

Lauren Warnecke is a reporter for NPR affiliate station WGLT and freelance arts and culture critic, primarily reviewing dance for the Chicago Tribune. Lauren enjoys cooking, cycling and attempting to grow things in her backyard. She lives in central Illinois.

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