For immediate release May 3, 2016

The Phi Beta Kappa Society Names Chicago Its First Arts & Sciences City of Distinction

Educational and Cultural Institutions Deemed ‘Critically Necessary’

WASHINGTON, DC – The Phi Beta Kappa Society—which typically recognizes outstanding college students at graduation—will honor an entire city for the first time in its 240-year history.

The Society is naming Chicago as its first Arts & Sciences City of Distinction. The award is designed to showcase metropolitan areas with exceptional artistic vitality, cultural vibrancy and scientific engagement.

To celebrate Chicago’s arts and sciences community, the Society and the Phi Beta Kappa Association of the Chicago Area will co-host a reception at the Chicago History Museum on May 10, from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m., followed by a round of public lightning talks.

“Given the significant challenges facing public higher education today, it is important to draw attention to the role that the arts and sciences play in making cities like Chicago such great places to live, work, and play,” says Phi Beta Kappa Secretary John Churchill. “There is a strong synergy between Chicago’s educational and cultural institutions, and its creative economy,” adds Churchill. “We hope that more policymakers will recognize that these are not add-ons, but are critically necessary civic spaces and programs where people can connect and create.”

At the award reception, Michelle T. Boone, Commissioner of the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, will accept the Phi Beta Kappa Arts & Sciences Cities of Distinction Award on behalf of the city.

“I’m very happy to receive this honor on behalf of Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the people of Chicago,” says Commissioner Boone. “The City of Chicago presents hundreds of free cultural programs and supports hundreds of artists and arts organizations annually—all in an effort to enrich Chicago’s artistic vitality and cultural vibrancy. Chicago’s arts sector contributes $2.2 billion annually to our local economy, provides 60,000 jobs and $1.3 billion in household income every year. For all of these reasons and more, we’re thrilled to be recognized as a City of Distinction.”

Phi Beta Kappa also will give prizes to four exemplary organizations that build creative exchanges with new and diverse audiences in the arts, humanities, social sciences, natural sciences or mathematics. They are:

The University of Chicago’s Arts + Public Life engages artists, South Side community organizations, youth, adults, and University of Chicago students, faculty and staff in conversation and exchange around the arts.

The Odyssey Project at Illinois Humanities is a free, 32-week college-credit granting humanities program for income-eligible Chicagoans with limited access to higher education, offered in conjunction with the Bard College Clemente Course in the Humanities.

Math Circles of Chicago provides free, after school and weekend enrichment programs for students in grades 5-12 in all Chicago communities, offering opportunities to do math in novel ways and develop a lifelong love of mathematics.

Northwestern University’s Science in Society shares scientific discoveries and engages the public with science in wide-ranging, community-centered ways, including a Science Club mentoring program for middle schoolers, Helix Magazine of scientific research, and Science Explorers tutoring program at Mather High School.

Following the award reception, the evening continues with a series of electrifying public talks, “(En)Lightning Talks Chicago,” from 7:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. The event features five experts in the arts and sciences who get just five minutes each to spark audience interest on hot topics from black holes to modern art to Southside Chicago food culture.

WBEZ’s “Nerdette” Podcast hosts Tricia Bobeda and Greta Johnsen will serve as emcees for “(En)Lightning Talks Chicago.” Presenters include: paleontologist Paul Sereno; writer Audrey Petty; astrophysicist Vicky Kalogera; mathematician Eugenia Cheng; and art historian Miguel de Baca. Seating is limited and reservations are required.


About The Phi Beta Kappa Association of the Chicago Area

Phi Beta Kappa Association of the Chicago Area advocates intellectual pursuits and the benefits of a liberal education. Through diverse activities drawing upon the resources of metropolitan Chicago, their goal is to inspire enthusiasm for pursuits of the mind, a sense of discovery, and independent judgement.

About the City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events

The Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE) is dedicated to enriching Chicago’s artistic vitality and cultural vibrancy. This includes fostering the development of Chicago’s non-profit arts sector, independent working artists and for-profit arts businesses; providing a framework to guide the City’s future cultural and economic growth, via the 2012 Chicago Cultural Plan; marketing the City’s cultural assets to a worldwide audience; and presenting high-quality, free and affordable cultural programs for residents and visitors. For more information, visit

About The Phi Beta Kappa Society

Founded on Dec. 5, 1776, The Phi Beta Kappa Society is the nation's most prestigious academic honor society. It has chapters at 286 colleges and universities in the United States, almost 50 alumni associations, and more than half a million members worldwide. Noteworthy members include 17 U.S. Presidents, 39 U.S. Supreme Court Justices and more than 130 Nobel Laureates. The mission of The Phi Beta Kappa Society is to champion education in the liberal arts and sciences, foster freedom of thought, and recognize academic excellence. For more information, visit