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Beer, politics, and a whole lot of tech talk at HUBweek

HUBweek attendees participate in last year’s “Faneuil Forum.”Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe/Aram Boghosian

There will be a party in the South End with music, art installations, and an unusual tasting competition featuring six beers brewed with water from the Charles River that’s been purified (they promise) by a local company.

There will be intimate seven-person lunches in Kendall Square where anyone can ask a Broad Institute geneticist why science hasn’t cured cancer or delve into the dangers of artificial intelligence with a director of the Harvard Innovation Lab.

And just before the first presidential debate, a prominent philosopher will lead an even more high-minded debate at Faneuil Hall, asking: Is it fair to tax the rich to help the poor? And should rich countries have the right to restrict immigration?


Such are the events — both playful and provocative — that organizers are planning for the slightly revamped second year of HUBweek, a festival devoted to the arts, science, and technology that is aiming to become Boston’s answer to South by Southwest in Austin, Texas. It will run from Sept. 25 to Oct. 1 at a variety of venues throughout the region.

Pursuing the goal of elevating the city’s reputation as a center of education, health care, and innovation on the national and international stage, organizers are still planning plenty of events focused on techy subjects like blockchain, startup growth, and the Internet of Things.

But organizers are also grappling with how to ensure that the annual festival — which is sponsored by The Boston Globe, Harvard University, Massachusetts General Hospital, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology — does not cater solely to the business and academic elite in downtown Boston, the Seaport, and Cambridge, where most of the events are held.


“Can it attract people like notable festivals like South by Southwest, and can it become more populist?” said James Rooney, chief executive of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, a HUBweek sponsor. “It needs to increasingly climb that ladder, I think.”

He said making the festival more accessible is a challenge because Harvard and MIT can feel like foreign places to many in the city.

Julian Agyeman, a professor of urban and environmental policy and planning at Tufts University, said the range of events at HUBweek is “entirely appropriate for the city we are.” But he said the festival could do still more to connect innovative neighborhood and community groups to high-flying medical and business executives.

“Can we bridge that gap between Kendall Square and Roxbury?” said Agyeman, who is not involved in HUBweek.

This year, organizers say, there will be three events in Dorchester and two in Roxbury, including one designed to showcase the burgeoning innovation scene in Dudley Square.

“I definitely think HUBweek, this year in particular, is making an attempt to be a truly citywide event that’s not seemingly for certain neighborhoods and not others,” said Malia Lazu, executive director of Epicenter Community, a nonprofit that promotes diversity in Boston’s tech and creative circles.

“Is it perfect or is it what we want to see? No,” said Lazu, who is taking part in the Dudley Square event. “But a lot of these efforts have to start somewhere.”


Organizer say that attendees need not be budding venture capitalists or doctoral candidates in bioengineering to enjoy HUBweek. They point out that most of the 120 events will be free and those that require special admission will cost about $35 on average.

Linda Pizzuti Henry, chairwoman of HUBweek and managing director of the Globe, said in a statement that organizers have been thrilled with the level of excitement from Boston’s business, community, and creative leaders.

“These new events and partners are taking a deep dive into the ways in which we are shaping the future together here in Boston, bringing the public into the fold and strengthening our city’s vision for the future,” she said.

In addition, not all of the events are focused on business and technology.

One, for example, will explore the legacy of Marian Anderson, whose 1939 concert at the Lincoln Memorial broke racial barriers. Another will discuss the November ballot question that would expand charter schools.

And families can attend a “Google Geek Street” fair at the Boston Children’s Museum with virtual games, robotics, and electronic tinkering or a hackathon at the Museum of Science, where children can use the wildly popular game Minecraft to design the hospital of the future.

“If you’re intrigued by anything you see at HUBweek, and you’re not sure if HUBweek is for you, the answer is ‘yes,’ ” said Brendan Ryan, HUBweek’s executive director. As for inclusivity, he said, “we started with that as a principle and we’re committed to it.”


Last year, HUBweek drew 46,000 visitors — a figure based on the 21,000 tickets collected at events and the 25,000 people who attended Illuminus, an arts festival on Lansdowne Street.

This year, organizers hope to hand out 27,000 tickets, but say overall attendance may be lower because they are planning a smaller closing party in the South End instead of Illuminus, which they plan to bring back in 2017.

Organizers point to signs that the festival is growing, however. More than 130 organizations have signed up to participate, up from 70 in 2015. And $1.35 million in cash, investments, and benefits will be awarded to entrepreneurs, 10 times the amount handed out last year.

Michael Levenson can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @mlevenson.