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HubWeek showcase comes to life in the Seaport

Artist Mithsuca Berry painted shipping containers that surround the site for HubWeek, which opens today. The three-day showcase of culture and innovation is expected to draw up to 8,000 visitors to its new site in the Seaport.Suzanne Kreiter/Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff/file

The situation is dire: A top-secret underwater research facility in Monterey Bay has been compromised by seismic activity, forcing an evacuation. Inside the submerged lab are organisms, isolated by scientists, that can cure 80 percent of cancer cases. So an elite team of rescuers must don scuba gear, access the lab through an airlock, and bring the specimens back before the facility’s oxygen runs out.

A premise for a Hollywood blockbuster? A new live-action video game? No, it’s an immersive escape room, set up inside a shipping container in the Seaport District — one of many experiential opportunities planned for this year's HubWeek, Boston’s festival of ideas. The temporary village of tents and shipping containers comes to life in the Seaport on Tuesday, as the three-day showcase of culture and innovation takes hold in a new neighborhood.

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The festival is expected to draw up to 8,000 visitors with a mix of paid and free events, based near the intersection of Seaport Boulevard and Fan Pier Boulevard. Attendees will be able to experience the refugee crisis through an art installation, test drive Toyota’s hydrogen fuel cell cars in Seaport traffic, and take part a “transformative workout of the body and mind” with The Class, a much-hyped fitness experience that’s premiering for the first time in the city.

HubWeek will also feature musical performances, digital art experiences, and dozens of speakers. Events will take place in the tents and plaza on the main festival grounds, situated on an old parking lot in the Seaport, and in nearby venues in District Hall and the The Grand nightclub.

Now in its fifth year, HubWeek was founded by The Boston Globe, Harvard University, Massachusetts General Hospital, and MIT. Bringing the event to the Seaport after spending the last two years on City Hall Plaza made sense, said HubWeek executive director Brendan Ryan, as both the neighborhood and the event series center around innovation. And he said he hopes the festival’s goals of inclusivity will draw guests into the Seaport — which can often feel intimidating and difficult to access — and make it feel like their own.

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“We want people to use HubWeek as an opportunity and an excuse to be welcome here, and claim their space here,” he said. “You have to be purposeful to be welcoming, and that’s part of our HubWeek mission.”

Yanni Tsipis, a senior vice president of WS Development, which provided the space where HubWeek’s events will take place this week, said the company was delighted to play host.

“We see HubWeek as a powerful microcosm of the thought leadership, innovation, and entrepreneurial spirit that is so pervasive here in the Seaport,” he said. “Just as the Seaport has grown to become a national hub of talent in the tech and life sciences sectors, HubWeek has quickly emerged as a new nexus of the innovation ecosystem nationally.” 

Ryan said the event series has also increasingly become a place where new Bostonians come to establish a toehold in the city.

“It’s people who are new to Boston, but haven’t been able to connect to the innovation scene,” he said. And for many of the participants on stage, it’s become a way to leave their “inner sanctum” and invite others to engage with their work.

With that in mind, there will be fewer monitors and high-production elements this year in an effort to create more intimate conversations, Ryan said. “It’s the opportunity to ask questions. You go because you can’t do that on your computer.”

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Karyn Riegel, the identity manager for Leaps by Bayer, the pharmaceuticals giant’s venture arm, said the company was eager to partner with HubWeek for the first time this year and sponsor the escape room. The goal was to bring the excitement of discovery inside the company’s Joyn Bio laboratory in the Seaport into the public realm.

“Boston is the hub of the world for biotech,” she said. “HubWeek captures that spirit and brings people together.”

On Monday afternoon, graffiti artists sprayed their shipping container canvases and workers scrambled to transform the parking lot into the festival grounds. In an apt metaphor for the emerging neighborhood, the shipping container that houses the escape room sat just feet from the parking lot’s old rusting ticket vestibule. “We’re going to wrap it in fabric and see if we can make it look cool,” Ryan said.

The full schedule is online at hubweek.org, but here are a few highlights from the HubWeek program for Tuesday (tickets for paid events cost between $10 and $250):

■   Open it up: To get a feel for the defining principles of the wide-ranging festival, check out HubWeek’s opening session from 12:30 to 2 p.m. Gerald Chertavian, founder of the nonprofit Year Up, US Representative Katherine Clark, entrepreneur Nathalie Molina Niño, and Boston Globe managing director Linda Henry will discuss the meaning of HubWeek’s 2019 theme: “The Pursuit.”

■   Future thinking: “The Future is Being Built on The Blockchain by CRISPR-Edited Robots” — a tongue-in-cheek exploration of the hopes and fears around three trendy technologies, will take place at 2:45 p.m.

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■   Mind-bending: Author Michael Pollan will be onstage from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. discussing mental health and his recent book looking at the scientific potential for psychedelics. He’ll be joined by fellow author and Globe editorial page editor Bina Venkataraman.

■   Dance (but quietly): A HubWeek mainstay, the “silent disco” is back for another go-round at the opening party from 7 to 9 p.m. A deejay will be spinning tunes, but participants can only hear them through special headphones, creating a strange spectacle for anyone not listening.  


Janelle Nanos can be reached at janelle.nanos@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @janellenanos.