Richard J. Franke

National Humanities Medal


Richard J. Franke has been the driving force behind the Chicago Humanities Festival, a city-wide event he first proposed in 1989 and has led ever since with unbridled enthusiasm. Under his guidance the festival has grown from a collaboration of five organizations--the Art Institute of Chicago, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Lyric Opera of Chicago, the University of Chicago, and the Mayor's Office of Special Events--to a four-day event involving twenty-six institutions and attracting twenty-five thousand people to its ninety-one programs.

Franke spent his business career as an investment banker with the John Nuveen Company; he retired in 1996 as chairman and chief executive officer. At the same time he demonstrated his interest in promoting the humanities and education. As chair of the Illinois Humanities Council from 1988 to 1990, Franke looked for ways to share his own love for the humanities with the diverse population of metropolitan Chicago. He envisioned a festival of ideas where scholars, performing artists, poets, and novelists would come together with people from all walks of life to understand how the humanities enrich our lives. He combined his vision with the practical, heading an annual fundraising drive that has made the festival possible for the past seven years.

In 1990 Franke was appointed to the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities. This year he was named chairman of the National Trust for the Humanities. He is also a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

About the National Humanities Medal

The National Humanities Medal, inaugurated in 1997, honors individuals or groups whose work has deepened the nation's understanding of the humanities and broadened our citizens' engagement with history, literature, languages, philosophy, and other humanities subjects. Up to 12 medals can be awarded each year.