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Columbia students cut loose with their creativity at annual Manifest

Yasmine Mifdal (from left), Chinaa Orr and Elana Schmidt are part of the team putting on Manifest on Friday at Columbia College Chicago.

Yasmine Mifdal (from left), Chinaa Orr and Elana Schmidt are part of the team putting on Manifest on Friday at Columbia College Chicago. | Laura Mitchell photo.

Want to discover the next Lena Waithe or Aidy Bryant? Head to Manifest, the annual all-day, student-run arts festival that celebrates the creative work of Columbia College’s current crop of graduates. (Waithe and Bryant picked up their diplomas in 2006 and 2009, respectively.)

Check out photo exhibits, dance performances, readings, short films, fashion shows, hands-on games and more from noon to 9 p.m. Friday, centered along Wabash Avenue between 9th and 11th streets.

In a first for Manifest, now in its 18th year, the headlining live music act is a woman. London-born R&B singer Ella Mai, whose song “Boo’d Up” is climbing the charts, will take the stage at 6 p.m.

“Why haven’t we had a female headliner? I swear, I made it my goal,” said Elana Schmidt, president of Columbia’s Student Programming Board. “When I saw [Mai] live, I pictured Manifest and thought, ‘I want this.’ ”

The rest of the board agreed. Mai is not only a great artist, Schmidt said, but the kind of up-and-comer that Manifest likes to introduce to a broader audience.

Ella Mai


Perhaps more important than Mai’s presence in front of the mike will be Yasmine Mifdal’s position behind the mainstage sound board.

Unlike most in the technical arts, who grow accustomed to laboring anonymously behind the scenes, Mifdal tends to attract attention. That’s because as a woman, Mifdal, who’s about to graduate from Columbia’s audio program, is a rarity in her chosen field.

“There’s few and far between in live engineering,” Mifdal said of female role models. “It’s been a boys club, it’s who you know. People assume it’s not a woman’s job.”

Mifdal has been breaking down those barriers and busting preconceived notions ever since nabbing her first sound engineering gig as a sophomore.

“It hasn’t been smooth sailing. I get a lot of people come up and say, ‘Do you know what you’re doing? Do you know what all these buttons are for?’

“I’ve been trying to change the mindset. [Women] can do as much as anybody. We’re all capable. If you work hard, you’ll get what you want,” said Mifdal. “I make sure I know my stuff. I’m really into just doing good work.”

Colorful characters come out for Manifest 2017.

Colorful characters come out for Manifest 2017. | PHILIP DEMBINSKI/COLUMBIA COLLEGE CHICAGO

Turning negative energy into a positive happens to be the rallying cry of Manifest’s 2018 theme song, “Royalty,” written by Chinaa Orr (she performs as just Chinaa), another pending graduate.

“The lyrics are very dear to my heart, like I’m talking to a younger me,” said Orr, who will debut the song at Manifest at 1 p.m. (with Mifdal at the sound controls), and release it to download platforms May 18.

“It’s really saying … don’t be moved by opinions on social media. It’s really easy to be down on yourself. All of that stuff will turn into a crown,” Orr said. “You’re going to learn from all of this.”

Come June, Mifdal will take her knowledge on the road, literally. She’ll be heading on tour with NASCAR, running audio.

“It’s the coolest thing ever,” she said. “I’m a really big mix of scared and excited. If I mess up, a million people will know. If nobody notices the sound, you did a good job.”

Manifest is free and open to the public. For the complete schedule, visit www.colum.edu/manifest.