Chicago Studies and various art and humanities departments have combined forces to put on the first-ever Winterfest, a series of creative challenges and events for all undergraduate students at UChicago during the winter and spring quarters. Winterfest offers activities for students with a wide range of interests and experience in the arts. It’s an effort to provide fun, stimulating, and collaborative opportunities for students looking to exercise their creativity or try something new.
Five arts events make up the original programming for Winterfest. A creative writing challenge called the Decameron Redux gives students the opportunity to respond, in any genre or medium, to weekly prompts inspired by Giovanni Boccaccio’s collection of Italian tales, The Decameron. Students can also submit design ideas for light sculptures to be installed on campus in the Light Fantastic, or design a full-face mask for the Spring Forward pageant and procession. Other challenges are the Puzzle Hunt, which will resemble Scav and focus on puzzle solving, and the Browserfest, a web browser design challenge.
With the pandemic putting an end to formerly ordinary social occurrences—like bumping into a friend in the hallway after class—students have been cut off from fun and social events. “Even when there are great things going on in the virtual space, people don’t know how to find them,” said Chris Skrable, Director of Chicago Studies and Experiential Learning in the College, who helped put Winterfest together. The Winterfest website gives students easy access to all arts and humanities events put on by the College during the winter and spring quarters.
According to Skrable, Winterfest is an attempt to connect students to their peers and to UChicago culture. “There is a spirit of intellectual whimsy that I think pervades a lot of the Winterfest events, that, at least for me, is very distinctly UChicago,” he said.
Chicago Studies is providing another piece of programming through Winterfest: the Chicago Futures Project. This challenge will take place over spring break in a hackathon style. In slightly more than 30 hours, students will create their vision for Chicago 30 years in the future and then work backwards to outline a path to achieve it. As a small-scale version and alternative to this project, Chicago Studies will also be offering a “Design Your Life” (DYL) workshop series over spring break, in which a DYL expert will lead students in planning their own futures.
To supplement these larger projects, Chicago Studies is hosting a series of virtual conversations with people from different business sectors in Chicago, including people from the Chicago theater, nightlife, small business, and music scenes.
One of the goals of Winterfest and the Chicago Futures Project is to “give students the opportunity to interact with either friends that they already know…or embark on projects with students that are not in their hall or house,” said Chris Wild, a Germanic studies professor and Master of the Humanities Collegiate Division.
As a collection of primarily arts events and challenges, Winterfest is a testament to the position of the arts at UChicago and to the power of thinking creatively. “One of the wonderful things about art is that it allows us to assume agency and, in some sense, like the Chicago Futures design challenge, imagine otherwise,” Wild said. “We take the materials of the real world and reshape them. That’s what art does.”