Photo courtesy © Institut Français

The January 2020 Night of Ideas hosted in the San Francisco Public Library drew such a large crowd that Michael Lambert, City Librarian at the San Francisco Public Library, declared it was “so wonderful to see this building packed” (5,200 attendees) and that the library had “not had this many people in here since we first opened the doors 23 years ago.”

A year later, the Institut Français international version of Night of Ideas will host a completely virtual audience with more than 200 Night of Ideas programmes around the world. The international theme this year is proche or close.

San Francisco’s version of the theme is “closing the distance” and it will be a free two-hour virtual showcase of some of the Bay Area’s leading thinkers and performers on January 28 from 7–9 pm. The leading thinker to start off the event will be San Francisco Mayor London N. Breed who will be interviewed by KQED local public television journalist Mina Kim. The discussion will focus on how Breed plans to lead San Francisco through the pandemic recovery, from economics to ensuring there are enough vaccines for everyone.

Originally, the conversation was to be between Breed and Paris’ mayor Anne Hidalgo. Both mayors are dealing with vaccine shortages and issues in distribution, so Hidalgo had to forgo her participation. Hopefully, both mayors will quickly be successful in meeting this important goal.

Photo courtesy © Institut Français

“I’m excited that we’re able to carry on this annual tradition of bringing together local thinkers and artists to share with us their visions for a brighter and more inclusive future,” said Mayor Breed. “This Night of Ideas will remind us of everything that we love about our city and hopefully provide some fun and joy during an otherwise challenging time.”

The programme will present perspectives on how the Bay Area should be closing the distance by reimagining civic spaces to be more inclusive and advanced in racial equality– to inspire how we can collectively move closer to each other and to a better future. On a more personal level, it is designed to showcase individuals and places that make the Bay Area special in the hope of bringing people closer together. This includes iconic scenery and tributes to artists, essential workers and food providers who have kept spirits high, which can bring people closer together in esprit des corps if not physical distance. (Remember in this time of pandemic to stay six feet apart.)

“Nothing could stop us from coming together online with our faithful partners for another very promising Night of Ideas!” said Frédéric Jung, Consul General of France in San Francisco. “For this global event, we are proud to gather the best of the amazing San Francisco Bay Area communities in order to offer a two-hour online live broadcast which will put San Francisco once again on the map of the worldwide Night of Ideas events.”

The programme includes discussions on returning indigenous stewardship to ancestral Lisjan Ohlone Bay Area lands, and showing connections to indigenous Hawaiian lands and the hula community in San Francisco. There will be a hula performance.

Place and space will be discussed: what it means for young people to claim space, the importance of place on family farms, and preserving art space. Part of the closing the distance will focus on closing the disability distance for full accessibility for all, including infrastructure, accommodations and civic participation. That also includes intergenerational connections along with queer performance space, racial equality and any financial barriers to opportunity.

Photo courtesy © Institut Français

Movement becomes a visual distance closer which will include jazz performances plus the Lycée Français de San Francisco students will perform a ballade along mural-infused Clarion Alley in the Mission District. This student-directed piece (grades 6th to 11th) explores a variety of different messages and how they approach closing the distance. A ballet dancer en pointe leads the journey and provides the visual connection between each student’s message illustrating that our differences can be gracefully inspiring and accepted, bringing us closer together.

The Night of Ideas is co-produced by the Cultural Services of the French Embassy and the Instutit Français. Local San Francisco event partners include Villa San Francisco, KQED, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), San Francisco Public Library and California Humanities.

“We are delighted to be reunited with our partners to present the third annual Night of Ideas,” said Lambert. “Pop some popcorn, pour your favourite beverage and prepare to discover something new about the beautiful Bay Area we call home.”

Enjoy the San Francisco Night of Ideas here. Not in San Francisco? Find a local Night of Ideas celebration or virtually participate in the Institut Français event here.

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Martha Sessums is the France Today Ambassador for San Francisco. Intrigued by France since her first stroll along the Seine, Martha and her husband often travel to Paris to explore the city and beyond. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, delighting in its strong Francophone and French culture community. She was a high-tech public relations executive and currently runs a non-profit continuing education organization.

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