A ‘Welcome Home’ Message From Chautauqua’s President

Welcome home to Chautauqua! It’s a true joy to welcome you to the 146th Assembly on these sacred grounds.

The staff and I have been eagerly awaiting your arrival. We have so much to share: a new strategic plan, major improvements to the pedestrian walk leading to the Amphitheater, the 90th anniversary of the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra and the Chautauqua Opera Company, and so, so much more. We’re bursting at the seams to share our enthusiasm for all the incredible work that’s happening here in support of our mission.

And that mission begins in earnest with our Week One theme of “Moments That Changed the World.” As we kick off our summer together, we’ve asked five observers of history to each choose little-known moments when the ground shifted beneath humanity’s feet, and examine how those moments impacted the world of today. History often offers surprises, revealing how and why certain stories are obscured, erased or lesser-known — we’ll probe the ways in which those surprises can be instructive and look at how our newfound knowledge of these moments can be useful in our time.

You’ll notice if you attend our Amphitheater lecture series that we’ve added some special touches to bring the conversation closer to you and to audiences watching and listening far beyond our gates. A few set pieces will provide a backdrop for our amazing speakers, and new, matching podiums both for our speaker and the moderator will allow us to get to your questions more quickly. We also are piloting a live captioning system for those who need to see our speakers’ words to better access them. None of that would have been possible without the generosity of Chautauquans Ted and Betsy Merchant. If you see them on the grounds this week, please join us in saying thank you.

In our companion Interfaith Lecture Series, we explore “Religious Moments That Changed the World.” Religion is a human construct that has been evolving since humans began pondering the meaning of life and its purpose, asking questions of origin and destiny, with varying responses creating differing trajectories. In this week, we’ll present historians of the world’s religions who will shine a light on “moments” in various traditions that have impacted both the world and the evolution of religion.

Each week that I share reflections with you, I struggle to pare down all that excites me about our programming. With the understanding that all of it is going to be excellent, I do want to pull out three items to which I hope you’ll pay special attention:

  • For the first time in Chautauqua’s history, our chaplain-in-residence this week will be a rabbi. We are proud of our significant Jewish presence on the grounds and the role that this community plays in animating our interfaith efforts (for traditionalists, please know that the service is still a Christian service). Rabbi Sharon Brous is one of the most sought-after religious scholars of her time. Her TED Talk “It’s Time to Reclaim Religion” has received more than 1.3 million views. A Chautauqua favorite, Rabbi David Saperstein, told me at a recent conference that Rabbi Brous consistently knocks him off the list of Most Influential Rabbis in America. We’re excited to have her.
  • The Amp presentation by our week’s Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle author, Dan Egan, is not to be missed. Dan’s book, The Death and Life of the Great Lakes, is so pertinent to us as we make major investments in the health of our own lake. The parallels, while not exact, are worth exploring.
  • Lastly, I’m delighted to welcome conservative television, radio and print political commentator Hugh Hewitt to the Amphitheater on Thursday. I’ve made a commitment to bringing increased diversity of thought to our platforms — while there’s still work to be done, I’m excited to hear what Hugh has to say about the moment, or moments, he has picked that changed the world.

Finally, besides the season-opening festivities, we have even further reason to celebrate, as we’ve learned in recent days of two major honors with Chautauqua connections. First, it was announced this week that Noah Haidle’s play Birthday Candles, workshopped here in 2017 before its world premiere at Detroit Public Theatre, will be produced on Broadway by the Roundabout Theater Company this upcoming season, with Debra Messing of “Will and Grace” fame signed on to play the lead. Second, our Week Nine 2019 CLSC author, Joy Harjo (Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings), was selected as the 23rd U.S. poet laureate, with her term beginning this fall. She will be the first Native American poet to serve in the position.

Truly, we who gather here are blessed to so often be in the presence of such incredible art and artists.

Chautauqua is a rich tapestry, composed of so many threads that make up our interwoven lives. I’m excited to weave a new assembly with you this year.

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Michael E. Hill

The author Michael E. Hill