World’s Fair 2018 asks Chicagoans to create a new vision for a utopian city

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Artists/activists Sasha Tycko and Plus Sign have teamed up to create a slate of programs for World’s Fair 2018. | TTATU

One hundred twenty-five years after the World’s Columbian Exposition, Chicagoans are still surrounded by reminders of the famed 1893 fair, whether commuting on the section of the CTA Green Line built to transport visitors to Jackson Park or making use of inventions introduced at the expo, including the zipper and dishwashers.

World’s Fair 2018, organized by a pair of artist-activists, asks Chicagoans to envision what the next 125 years could look like from a more utopian perspective.

Writer and musician Sasha Tycko has teamed with rapper and Young Chicago Authors alum Plus Sign (also “+”) to create a slate of programs that opened Friday evening with a Dream Parade that snaked from the Experimental Station, 6100 S. Blackstone Ave., through Jackson Park (swinging by 1893 World’s Fair sites) before winding down with a bonfire at Promontory Point, where participants were invited to share their dreams of the future.

Tycko, who lives in Hyde Park and edits the zine The Sick Muse, said she was struck by how in 1893 — a time full of uncertainty and upheaval similar to today — civic leaders came together to find an identity for the Chicago, one that continues to define the city.

“They created an image of the future we’re still living in. But that image was invented largely by wealthy white landowners,” she said, and skewed heavily toward commercial enterprises and gadgets.

“We’re inviting people now to look at how we could create an image of the future that is more liberatory, how we can treat each other better,” said Tycko.

The schedule of events for World’s Fair 2018 runs through June 30 and includes activities that range from a community potluck and hands-on seed bomb demonstration to a workshop that explores de-escalation techniques as an alternative to calling the police during mental health crises. The vast majority are free of charge. (Visit for the complete schedule; events are still being added.)

World’s Fair 2018 is the third in a series of “Perform/Transform” festivals organized by Tycko and Plus Sign, and is the duo’s most ambitious effort to date. They started in 2017 with the concept of a “festival to save the world,” and put out a call to fellow artists and activists to program pop-up events across the city that would be “super positive” and unite people, according to Plus Sign.

With World’s Fair 2018, they’ve moved away from the purely rhetorical and aspirational — “What can you do to save the world?” — to a hybrid that encourages both imagination and action, said Plus Sign.

For example, as part of World’s Fair 2018, six cultural and community workers will present their manifestos for Chicago — a set of wish lists. That event, on June 27, will also feature a pop-up library of information and resources from activist and service organizations, providing concrete ways to turn those wishes into reality.

Asked about his own vision for Chicago’s future, Plus Sign said, “Just a place where people can eat, get health care, learn and have access to things they want.”

For Tycko, a utopian Chicago would be “one where people have both the belief in themselves and the tools to build the lives and communities they want to live in.”

Patti Wetli is a local freelance writer.

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