fb-pixel Skip to main content

Poets and bioengineers. Prosecutors and choreographers. An array of luminaries in their fields will descend on City Hall Plaza next week to discuss how to build a brighter and more inclusive future — in Boston, and the world beyond.

HUBweek, the ideas festival designed to showcase Boston’s stature as a center for innovation, kicks off on Monday with a call to big thinkers to consider how technology and social change are reshaping work, life, and art — and what role they will play in those shifts.

Organizers are expecting some 50,000 people for the fourth annual gathering, which runs from Oct. 8 to Oct. 14.


“At its core, the HUBweek 2018 theme — We the Future — is participatory. It is intended to be a call to action and an invitation to come together to create our shared futures,” said Linda Henry, cofounder of the festival and the Globe’s managing director.

“During HUBweek, this will unfold through collaborative art experiences and hands-on tech demonstrations, through larger-scale social gatherings and new intimate convenings,” Henry said. “We set out with intention this year to really open up the space and design moments for attendees to co-create, connect, and share their visions for the future.”

Many of the events at the festival are free, but participants can purchase passes for special programs and networking events for between $150 and $600 in advance of the festival. A full schedule is at hubweek.org.

At the start of this year’s festival, HUBweek has added what it calls a Change Maker Conference, where experts from across a swath of disciplines will focus on a series of intensive conversations around diversity and inclusivity.

Among the questions they’ll take on: How can technologists and artists help the general public understand the experience of people with disabilities? Why is it so hard for immigrant women to raise money to start their businesses? And why aren’t there more people of color working in careers centered on innovation?


About 200 early HUBweek arrivals, a combination of VIP guests and attendees, will gather at the Change Maker Conference on City Hall Plaza among the dome-shaped tents, repurposed shipping containers, and a transparent glass structure known as the Hall of the Future to begin an exchange of ideas that organizers hope will continue throughout the week.

The big goal of the Change Maker event is to encourage conversations across disciplines in hopes of engendering fresh ideas and unexpected insights.

“We looked to bring really interesting and diverse people together,” said Sandra Richter, a Cambridge entrepreneur who is a cohost of the Change Maker Conference. “These are two really extreme days of working with each other, and building community, which is not something that has happened before.”

Events throughout HUBweek will take on a huge field of inquiry, with topics that range from the intersection of music and well-being to how activism among business executives is changing democracy.

This year’s participants can attend a block party with robots designed by Boston’s tech startups. They’ll get a chance to explore how Harvard is using virtual reality to help students learning foreign languages. And they’ll hear from speakers including Parkland, Fla., shooting survivor David Hogg, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, and MIT design professor Neri Oxman.

More important than anything else at HUBweek, organizers say, is what the people who come to the festival can learn from one another.


“It started as this idea four years ago that there should be a collaborative, civic festival where we bring together people who are working on the cutting edge of our science and technology,” said Brendan Ryan, executive director of the event. “It’s been a four-year process of turning that into a cohesive experience.”

Founded by the The Boston Globe, Harvard, MIT, and Massachusetts General Hospital, HUBweek began in 2015 as a constellation of events, presentations, and demonstrations held in various locations around the city.

Last year, organizers decided the festival needed a physical site to anchor it, so the event took over the expansive City Hall Plaza — a temporary outdoor gallery of art installations, presentations, and gatherings.

This year, organizers hope the festival will be a catalyst for conversations that can transform the city — and, perhaps, help shape the future in a broader way.

David Sun Kong, another cohost of the opening conference and director of the Community Biotechnology Initiative at the MIT Media Lab, said HUBweek is helping Boston build on the community of “people who have ambitions to change the world.”

While the Change Maker Conference meets at City Hall Plaza, other events will crop up around the region on Monday and Tuesday with a series of off-site “Open Doors” events.

A Swiss group will show off a fleet of unusual aerial drones in the Seaport District. Ministry of Supply will let visitors to the clothing company’s Newbury Street store try on its space-age heated jacket. A talk at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard will explore the risks and the promise of CRISPR, a cutting-edge biotechnology advance that allows scientists to modify the genetic information of living organisms.


From Wednesday on, events will focus more broadly on the area around City Hall. The plaza will remain lit up at night from Wednesday to Saturday, hosting musical and dance performances, as well as visual displays, including a virtual reality-enabled live-drawing performance. And from Thursday to Saturday, HUBweek will host a nightly “silent disco,” where people will dance to music played by DJs, but audible only through headphones, providing an otherworldly display for anyone watching from the outside.

The festival pitches its broad range of topics and activities as a strength, playfully asking in its marketing materials, “Who has time to attend nine different industry conferences when you can attend one?”

Ryan, the executive director, said the region needs that diversity of ideas and participants if it is going to grapple with all that is possible here.

“Boston isn’t slow to change. Boston can be slow to recognize when and how we’ve changed. And we have changed tremendously in the past 10 to 12 years,” he said. “It’s much more diverse. It’s much more representative. It’s much more connected to the broader world than the stereotype of old Boston.”

Andy Rosen can be reached at andrew.rosen@globe.com.