From Mayfest to Manifest


What started as a showcase for graduating student art has become the pride of the Columbia and Chicago art community. In the past couple years, Manifest has attracted over 30,000 attendees with hundreds of astounding events. Mayfest began as a month long celebration in 2002 with events around campus displaying senior student work, but in 2004, it became an all-day urban arts festival, complete with a human chess game, giant puppets, and performance art. Now called Manifest, the festival continues to grow each year as a withstanding Columbia tradition.


manifest publicity 04

In 2005, the Columbia puppetry club took it upon themselves to create 15-foot dragons and paper lanterns to march across campus, inviting staff, students, alumni and the community to participate among the floats and artwork. Mark Kelly, the vice president of Student Affairs told the Columbia Chronicle that the “Spectacle Fortuna [was] designed as the one Manifest event [that brought] everyone together. It [was] a parade of creativity.”


In 2006, Columbia spent $150,000 on the festival. Money raised for the event was primarily collected through fundraisers, alumni donations, and local businesses. The city waived fees for police presence at the parade which also cut costs.

The following year, Columbia bought an island in Second Life and created a student float competition with a $5,000 cash prize. The school raised nearly $100,000 dollars from sponsors alone in 2007 and Looptopia began directly after Manifest.

By 2008, the festival had 50 showcases, 14 galleries and 4 stages- one of the stages occupied by well-known indie band OK Go.

ok go robots 2008

In 2010, live photos could be submitted to the Manifest website via text message or email. Each picture would be put on a Google Map. Also added to the Manifest festivities was Industry Night, which assisted students in gaining exposure in their field of interest by meeting thousands of professionals and potential employers. The Columbia Chronicle created a special edition paper dedicated to Manifest to highlight events and students. People dressed in trench coats calling themselves “The Emissaries” asked students on the streets silly questions and handed out pie. By Manifest, there were 45 of them, leading people to the Great Convergence, or the raising of the Manifest star. This was a new event in 2010, featuring theatrical performances, music and visual art displays alongside the Redmoon percussion team.

2010 publicity poster

In 2011, the Manifest street team dressed up as birdwatchers, each with a desk of grass and a typewriter. They asked people to type up the greatest idea they could ever imagine on the typewriter then follow them to a labyrinth. At the end of the maze was a fire pit where their idea was burned.

2011 convergence

Each year, Manifest grows, and new outrageous activities are added to the event calendar. A 200 foot zip line was a main attraction in 2013, complete with BMX bikes and a carousel. To add to the end of the year excitement, Chance the Rapper, Electric Guest and Now, Now were headlining acts.

2013 convergence

This year, food carts will swarm campus and a graduate student showcase will premier the day before Manifest. This is one Columbia tradition that you do not want to miss out on. Click here for the full schedule. The History of Manifest will be on display on the third floor of the library through the end of the semester.


About Calley Nelson

Calley Nelson is a freelancer based in Chicago who enjoys collecting records, going to rock shows, and writing fiction. She is currently Director of Communications at Lpdeezign and the editor of I AM FEMINISM MAGAZINE. Follow her @calleynlsn
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