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New look, new location for HubWeek as festival opens next week

A rendering of the event, which runs next Tuesday through Thursday.HubWeek/CBT/CBT

HubWeek, Boston’s fall festival of ideas and culture, will launch next week with a dramatically changed look and feel, as the gathering moves to the Seaport District with a tighter schedule that organizers say will focus on experiences and collaborations that could only happen here.

Now in its fifth year, HubWeek is shortening its main event from seven to three days as it begins to spread its programming throughout the year. The goal, organizers say, is to create a continuous conversation that develops ideas that burst forth at its many panels and other events.

“HubWeek was an idea based on the passion we had for the Boston innovation ecosystem and the incredible stories at the intersection of art, science, and technology that had yet to be told,” said Linda Henry, cofounder of the festival and the Globe’s managing director. “We’ve brought together over 100,000 people from 45 states and 57 countries since our first year. It’s humbling to think about what we’ve built, as partners committed to the same goal.”

HubWeek was founded by the Globe, Harvard University, Massachusetts General Hospital, and MIT. The fall festival, which since 2017 had been held at City Hall Plaza, runs from Tuesday through Thursday at the intersection of Seaport Boulevard and Fan Pier Boulevard.


Organizers expect about 8,000 people to attend. Some events are free, while tickets to the paid sessions range from $10 to $250. The programming will take place in a variety of temporary structures, including tents and shipping containers, as well as in surrounding buildings, including District Hall.

The speakers at HubWeek include conservationist and former Patagonia CEO Kristine Tompkins; author and Harvard professor Michael Pollan; and Bozoma Saint John, a former Uber executive who is now chief marketing officer at the entertainment company Endeavor. A full schedule is available online at


“This year our theme is The Pursuit. It’s born from our desire to tell stories of pioneers who are forging their own path regardless of boundaries or challenges in front of them,” Henry said. “It’s an eclectic group of people talking about everything from conservation to space travel to transgender health.”

The festival turns as much on the attendees as it does on the special guests, according to Brendan Ryan, executive director of HubWeek.

The most satisfying aspect of the program, he said, is giving people a way into conversations they might not have otherwise joined.

“You walk around Boston, and you think, ‘Am I supposed to go in that building? Am I smart enough or cool enough to go in there?’ ” he said. “When people walk in [to HubWeek], you can just see the inhibitions or the defenses melt away. It’s really fun.”

Among the events Ryan is most looking forward to are a pair of pitch competitions, one in which teams compete on ways to use technology to hack public policy, and another in which participants will show how music might affect health outcomes.

Those events, he said, are examples of ways in which HubWeek is spreading its energy beyond the festival. Those teams have been working together for a while under the auspices of HubWeek, he said, and that work will show in the quality of their presentations.

“There is definitely power in convening and having the signature moment, but if you want to have lasting impact, it’s got to be an all-the-time thing,” Ryan said. “It can’t just be one blip on the screen.”


HubWeek has also sprinkled throughout the year many of its “open door” events, which brought visitors to explore academic, artistic, and scientific sites around the region. Highlights of some of those sessions will be featured next week.

Ryan said there has been a significant increase in paid attendance. About 2,000 people are expected to buy tickets to events this year, double the number from last year. He attributes that to more focused programming.

But Ryan emphasized that there will still be plenty of time for social interaction between participants, which has been key to an event that describes itself as striving “to engage and inspire curious minds.”

People who have been part of previous HubWeek festivals say they have indeed taken away lessons that have reverberated beyond festival-sponsored events.

Noah Wilson-Rich, founder of Best Bees Co., a Boston-based beekeeping service, said the HubWeek festivals have proved a great testing ground for new ideas for his company. One year, for instance, he tried helping restaurants make their own honey — in a partnership with Cambridge’s Evoo restaurant — and found it a popular idea that he has since expanded.

“When you meet someone to your left and right, and you understand, ‘Whoa, this person has a totally different perspective on things than I do,’ by sharing those we can come up with solutions to tackle these grand challenges,” he said. “For example, saving the bees.”


Elisa H. Hamilton, a Boston multimedia artist whose work was on display at HubWeek in 2017 and who also participated in events last year, recalled meeting Alice Sheppard, a dancer and choreographer who uses a wheelchair.

Sheppard’s ideas about how to thoughtfully design access ramps have had a lasting effect on Hamilton. She said she is building some of those principles into a new project in Cambridge: a city-sponsored jukebox that will play audio stories connected to the community.

Hamilton said she’s thinking about how the installation will look from the angle of people who have physical limitations.

“How do we make sure that everybody can enjoy the jukebox regardless of their physical abilities?” she said.

Andy Rosen can be reached at