IDEA Listening Session Focuses on Youth Perspective

Institution President Michael E. Hill, board of trustees Chair James A. Pardo Jr. and strategic planning working group Chair Laura Currie, lead the first Strategic Plan Information Session of the season Thursday, June 27, 2019, in Hall of Christ. VISHAKHA GUPTA/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

At the fifth IDEA — inclusion, diversity, equity and accessibility — Listening Session, Chautauqua Institution administrators heard from a new perspective: young people.

The session, held last Tuesday afternoon in the Hall of Christ, was attended by a vocal group of students from Arizona State University’s Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics, who were in the first 48 hours of their week-long Chautauqua experience.

Several of the students alluded to discrimination or lack of inclusivity, specifically in Chautauqua’s programming. They pointed to the lack of religious diversity and underrepresentation of non-Christian faiths, as well as a lack of diversity among Institution employees and intergenerational dialogue.

Additionally, Chautauquans suggested mentorship programs, scholarships for college students or young families, better remote working conditions for young professionals and adding better signage on the grounds.

IDEA is one of the 150 Forward strategic plan’s four cross-cutting imperatives — themes that underscore the plan’s vision and four key objectives: optimizing the summer season, broadening Chautauqua’s convening authority outside the season, improving the health of Chautauqua Lake and growing and diversifying revenue.

“We say we curate the great conversations of the day,” President Michael E. Hill said at last week’s Strategic Plan Information Session. “I say, if we’re being truly honest with one another, we’re having a wonderful conversation for a homogenous group of people. … We are not fully doing our mission.”

At the weekly strategic plan session, held Thursday in the Hall of Christ, Hill, along with Board of Trustees Chair Jim Pardo and Strategic Planning Working Group Chair Laura Currie, honed in on the Institution’s financial sustainability.

Chautauqua, unlike most business models, has one, nine-week business quarter per year, Hill said; in those nine weeks, the Institution earns nearly all of its yearly revenue. Based on current financial ebb and flow, even maxing out ticket sales isn’t enough to make up for the natural rise of expenses surpassing the Institution’s revenue.

In part, to counterbalance this eclipse, the administration is considering strategic partnerships — another of the plan’s four cross-cutting imperatives — with corporations or organizations during and outside the summer season.

“You’re used to a business plan that has stated goals, has measurable metrics, has timelines for execution, assigns responsibilities and runs fairly short; three to five years,” Pardo said. “That is not what this strategic plan looks like and … that’s not what strategic plan looks like in the modern world.”

The next IDEA Listening Session will be 3:30 p.m. Tuesday in the Hall of Christ; the Strategic Plan Information Session will be at 3:30 p.m. Thursday in the Hall of Christ. Chautauquans can voice concerns, leave comments or ask questions about the strategic plan through the online forum at

Week Six Letter From the President

Michael Hill
President Michael Hill

Welcome to the sixth week of our 146th Assembly. Writing these greetings to you each week gets harder and harder. Half the time I want to celebrate what we’ve just experienced in the prior week, and yet there is so much more ahead to celebrate. So please indulge me as I do a little of both.

Starting Thursday night, we launched our first-ever three-day Opera Festival. I am often in awe of Chautauqua Opera Company General and Artistic Director Steven Osgood, and this weekend is just one more example. To pull off three operas back-to-back, in facilities that have other uses and using crew and staff that have other duties, is simply remarkable. To do so with such grace and talent is sublime. It has been an honor to welcome the many who have traveled to Chautauqua just for this. I’m so proud of Chautauqua Opera Company and Steve. Bravo!

One of my favorite events all season is when 5-year-olds from our Children’s School march to the President’s Cottage to present me with their ideas of what might make a better Chautauqua. It’s a tradition we started when I first arrived, and there simply is no better way to feel good about the world than to visit with these little ones. Here are some highlights from this year’s list of ideas:

A few things (they) love about Chautauqua are:

-Sunny days and shining water

-Riding our bikes


-And, of course, … Children’s School!

Here are some ideas for potential improvements:


-A house that looks like a donut and sells donuts

-Give more hugs to everyone

-A spaceship to travel around Chautauqua in

-Plant more trees so we have more oxygen

It has been a little hot this summer, so here are a few specific lake suggestions:

-Find diamonds in the water and turn them into fish

-Submarine in the lake

-Roller coaster in the lake

-A giant, pizza-eating shark that lives in the lake

This is just a sampling. I’m keeping the rest for our top-secret research and development files, but I thank this wonderful group of young people for their love of Chautauqua.

Now on to this week, where we explore “What’s Funny?” with the National Comedy Center. We’re excited to partner with our neighbors and friends at the National Comedy Center for the second time — this week, they celebrate the one-year anniversary of the opening of their incredible facility and experience in Jamestown. We hope you’ve come to learn and laugh with us, as we embark upon a week exploring how comedy changes us and, in turn, society. Comedy can do more than hold up a mirror to our world; it can, in fact, change it. We’ll look at the potential of comedy — particularly political comedy — to change minds and influence decision-making. Among the topics to explore are: What does your sense of humor reveal about you? How can we be challenged by things we don’t find funny? We’ll look at the challenging intersection of free speech, political correctness and humor, and what we can learn from that uncomfortable space.

In our companion Interfaith Lecture Series, we ask “What’s So Funny About Religion?” Even religion can have its less serious side, and during this week we will look for a lighter, smiling way to lift one’s heart and mind in the human enterprise that tends to take life and its meaning and purpose very seriously. Building upon our 2018 week on “The Spirituality of Play,” we will use words to play and to discover that seeing the humorous side of religion is a delightful way of joyfully leading the human to the divine. Be prepared to smile.

I have to say, I’m so excited to personally share the stage this week with actor, producer and director Frank Oz, who, one fan has posited, might be responsible for generating more joy than anyone on Earth. His film and TV credits are many, legendary and continuing — I first fell in love with his work on the Muppets. What a dream for a kid and a kid at heart.

His artistry has had a lasting impact on millions, including me — what a profound legacy.

For those who have been with us the whole season, Week Six is the perfect moment to “lighten up” and laugh in our shared journey. For those just joining us, we’re excited that you’re bringing your own sense of humor to our shared community. For those who can just pop in and out, we know you’ll laugh extra hard to make up for it.

I’m so grateful to have this community to share the laughter. As Milton Berle famously said, “Laughter is an instant vacation!” … or Week Six at Chautauqua!

-Michael E. Hill

Chautauqua Rails to Trails Organization to Host Wine Walk Fundraiser

Chautauqua Rails to Trails path Tuesday July 23, 2019. SARAH YENESEL/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Hidden behind Boxcar Barney’s ice cream shop in Mayville, beyond the edge of the gravel driveway and over an old, uneven railroad bridge, a walking and biking trail stretches into the trees.

The dirt is a luscious brown color from Monday’s rain, and the grass that runs alongside the path and the trees that form living walls on either side are bright green. The whole scene is sun-dappled.

This little natural alley is part of the Chautauqua Rails to Trails system, which was transformed from abandoned railroad beds into multi-use trails by the Chautauqua Rails to Trails organization. The path continues south to Sherman and north to Brocton, comprising 30 miles total.

Chautauqua Rails to Trails will host its second annual Wine Walk fundraiser from 4 to 7 p.m. Friday, July 26 at the trailhead near Boxcar Barney’s. Waves of walkers will depart every 30 minutes.

Bree Agett, event organizer and vice president of the organization, said she overheard some people at last year’s event saying that they did not know about the trail, despite the fact that they lived in the Mayville area.

“Beyond fundraising, (we’re trying to build) awareness of the trails,” she said. “Hearing that people had never been on the trail before, that this was their first time, was really rewarding. It makes me feel like all of the work we do as a board matters.”

The walk will begin and end at the Nadine and Paul Webb Trail trailhead. Participants will walk down the trail to where it intersects with Morris Road and back.

Some tickets will be available at the door in the 4 p.m. to 5 p.m., and 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. time slots. Tickets are $30 at the door and $15 for designated drivers. Updates on ticket availability can be found on the group’s Facebook page.

The 2-mile walk features six wine stops. At each, there will be a sweet option, a dry option and a snack — including granola truffles from Jamestown-based Reach Organics and mini cupcakes from Westfield-based Cakes by Brandy.

Each stop along the route will feature selections from a different winery. Five of the wineries are local: Johnson Estate Winery, Woodbury Winery & Vineyards, Merritt Estate Winery, Five & 20 Spirits & Brewing and Liberty Vineyards & Winery. The sixth stop will have Barefoot champagne purchased from JB Liquor Shoppe in Jamestown.

All vendors either donated the wine or provided the event organizers with a discount.

“We’re very fortunate that they’ve supported us in this,” Agett said. “It’s going to really help us take the event further and make it fun and affordable for people, while helping us to maintain the trail.”

Agett said the proceeds from the fundraiser will be used for trail maintenance. The biggest enemies of the trail, she said, are beavers, whose dams can cause the trail to flood, and ATVs, which tear up the trail, and water, which can erode the trail or make it muddy.

“Our biggest cost is keeping water off of the trail,” she said.

Some culverts — big pipes that channel water under the trails to prevent it from running over them — need to be replaced, a project that will be extremely costly.

“We have bigger dreams as well that we’re not quite to the point of realizing,” Agett said. “We’d really like to try out a new surface on one of the sections of the trail, like a crushed limestone surface, that would decrease maintenance needs.”

The effort to create a Rails to Trails system in Chautauqua County began in 1991, as a movement started to sweep the country — turning abandoned railroads into productive public spaces.

As automobile and air travel became more common, and train travel fell to the wayside, an estimated 38,000 miles of rail lines were abandoned, according to the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy website. By 1990, 103,000 miles were abandoned.

“It was a national movement, so we jumped on it because of all of the abandoned railroad tracks in our county,” said Wendy Lewellen, secretary of Chautauqua Rails to Trails. “We had a lot of them due to the discovery of oil in Titusville, Pennsylvania.”

Lewellen said a number of local influential people —  including John Goodell and Robert Berke, a local doctor who later became president of the group — came together to create the trail system.

The founders of the organization had to embark on a complicated process of acquiring the railroad property where they could, and securing easements wherever the trail went through private property.

“It’s a hodgepodge,” Lewellen said. “Some places we own, some places we just have a gentlemen’s agreement, and everything in between.”

Once the logistics were set, the crew had to clean up the abandoned railroad sites, which in some parts had become a dumping ground for old refrigerators and other trash.

“It had become a no-man’s land,” Lewellen said.

In 1996, the first trail in the system opened: the Ralph C. Sheldon Jr. Trail, which runs about 7 miles from Titus Road in Sherman, to Summerdale Road in the Town of Chautauqua.

Six other sections were opened sporadically from 1998 to 2002, Lewellen said. In 2006, the Portage Trail, which extends about 3.5 miles from Route 430 along the old Jamestown, Westfield and Northwest railroad tracks.

Now, the trail system extends about 30 miles from Sherman to Brocton.

Hikers, runners, cyclists, horseback riders, snowshoers, cross country skiers and snowmobilers enjoy the trails year-round.

Lewellen said Chautauqua Rails to Trails collaborates with the Chautauqua Lake Snowmobile Club to help maintain the trail, which is a popular destination for snowmobilers in the winter.

Chautauqua Rails to Trails’ president, Jim Fincher, was originally hired as a trail manager in 2000.

“Ever since then, he has been the definition of Chautauqua Rails to Trails,” Lewellen said. “They’re synonymous.”

Now, the group is working on a new trail which will connect downtown Frewsburg at Main Street, to Riverside Road near the Audubon Community Nature Center in Jamestown.

Lewellen said the trails are a great place for anyone looking to get some exercise or enjoy nature.

“It improves the quality of life for visitors and people who live here because they can access nature; and it’s a place to get your exercise,” she said. “Most of our country is not great about having sidewalks and bike paths.”

Rita Argen Auerbach, Pat Finson and Cadre of Artists Support the Chautauqua Fund Through Sales

From left, Pat Finson and Rita Argen Auerbach stand at the front counter of Pat’s at Chautauqua in front of the art being sold in the fundraiser by Auerbach’s students, which will go to the students as well as a percentage that will go to the Chautauqua Fund on July 17, 2019. ALEXANDER WADLEY/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Longtime Chautauquans Rita Argen Auerbach and Pat Finson have teamed up for a third time to raise money benefitting the Chautauqua Fund.

Auerbach, an award-winning artist, paints Chautauqua-themed artwork that is sold at Pat’s at Chautauqua, a boutique located in the St. Elmo.

“A couple of years ago we said, ‘We both want to give back to Chautauqua that has been so generous in their support for people and in what we do,’ ” Auerbach said. “So we decided that we would together give 100% of the proceeds from sales of my prints to the Chautauqua Fund.”

Auerbach’s paintings have been sold in Finson’s shop for about 20 years. They had an exclusive arrangement that allows Auerbach’s paintings to be the only art showcased or sold in the boutique.

“I approached Rita because I noticed that she had artwork at various places on the grounds and I said, ‘Let’s try an experiment. You only show your artwork in my store, and I won’t show any other artists,’ ” Finson said. “And we’ve been together ever since.”

Recently, the pair decided to switch things up. By introducing new artists to the store, they could not only garner more support for their Chautauqua Fund donations, but also attract more customers.

“Last year we said ‘Let’s come up with something else,’ and Pat and I agreed that I would give up some of my art space behind the counter,” Auerbach said.

Other Chautauqua artists were invited by Auerbach to showcase and sell their artwork in the boutique. Some of the artists have worked and traveled with her in workshops or have taken Auerbach’s art classes.

“These artists do not have another venue on the grounds to show their work,” Auerbach said. “This is why I have particularly selected them. The space to show artwork for individuals here is very limited.”

All of the artists who have featured art in Pat’s at Chautauqua have agreed to donate between 50% and 100% of their proceeds to the Chautauqua Fund. The new featured artists include: Bob Jeffrey — who is selling his original watercolors of Chautauqua settings; Melanie Voboril — who creates mixed media, 3D naturescapes; Jerry Chesley — who is displaying watercolor prints of Chautauqua; Sandra Reiss — whose original watercolors feature dogs seen at Chautauqua; Robin Robbins — whose whimsical, original watercolors show life in Chautauqua; and Shar Trenkamp — whose original oil paintings are elegant, small-format landscapes.

The addition of new artists will expand Auerbach and Finson’s donation efforts. Tina Downey, director of the Chautauqua Fund, said she values their desire to give back and likes the idea of introducing new artists. 

“I value the partnership created among Pat and Rita over these past 20 years, and am particularly enamored that their desire to give back to Chautauqua has parlayed this summer into a collection of artists who are similarly donating a portion or all of their art sales for the benefit of the Chautauqua Fund,” Downey said. “I deeply appreciate their nurturing this effort among the artist community and for the generous support this will ensure for Chautauqua’s many programs.”

Auerbach and Finson appreciate the reinvigorated effort and publicity offered by the inclusion of additional artists. The two depend on the Institution’s outlets  to share “this opportunity for people to acquire wonderful art and knowing that because of the sales and purchases, that it’s helping Chautauqua in return,” Auerbach said.

Finson credits her store’s overall success to the Chautauqua community. Raising money for the Chautauqua Fund through her shop is something that she enjoys and plans to continue.

“I appreciate the fact that I would not have had as wonderful of a run here if I weren’t in Chautauqua,” Finson said.

Jim Pardo Reflects on 15-Year Tenure on Board and Hopes for the Future

Jim Pardo

After a decade-and-a-half of service to the Chautauqua community, Chair Jim Pardo is stepping down from the board of trustees

Pardo, a lawyer by trade, first served on the board as a two-year-termed community member of the Asset Policy Committee, then as a trustee for seven years and finally as chair of the board for six.

During his tenure, he oversaw the appointment of the 18th president of Chautauqua Institution; the renewal of the Amphitheater; the pending absorption of the Chautauqua Foundation back into the Institution; and the approval of the 150 Forward strategic plan, for which he served on the working group committee.

Currently, Pardo — along with Institution President Michael E. Hill and Strategic Planning Working Group Chair Laura Currie — is leading a series of Strategic Plan Information Sessions for Chautauquans to engage with 150 Forward.

Pardo will officially vacate his seat in the fall, succeeded by incoming Chair Candy Maxwell on Oct. 1.

How did you discover Chautauqua?

My wife is from Buffalo; we visited her parents when our children were very young and it was a very hot week. … The house wasn’t air conditioned, and as a result, no one in the three generations had a good week.

And I went back to Atlanta, where I was practicing, and one of my partners, who’s a lifetime Chautauquan, asked me how the week went and I told him very candidly that it did not go well. And he said “next year come to Chautauqua.” And so we did; we came over for a day and we were intrigued by it.

We rented a house for the next summer for two weeks — or three weeks, Mary and I don’t remember. … It worked out very well, so we did it the next year, the next year, the next year, the next year. So we went for two to three, three to five, five to six (weeks), like everyone else.

We were introduced to (the Institution) like so many other people — by someone who had found it before — and we found it to our liking, and we started with a small stay and continued to a larger stay and have been here forever.

How has your last season as chair been so far?

Most of the things we were looking to wrap up before the transition to incoming Chair Candy Maxwell have been wrapped up. So, the joke is my duck is lame, and that’s probably a good thing.

But for the rain, this year has been a really remarkable season from a programming standpoint and from a census standpoint.

We had a board meeting last weekend and that went well. We have one more left in my tenure and then we will pass it to Candy and the new leadership.

How have you been preparing for the transition?

The transition is nearly complete. … The selection of Candy was effective in early February. … That allowed Candy and me a couple extra months to just talk on the phone or email back and forth; it allowed President Michael E. Hill to start bringing Candy into some conversations.

The board in its May meeting made it official by electing her Chair Elect, so the formal transition started then.

When you look back on your tenure on the board, what jumps out to you?

The easy and obvious answer you would give to that question in a public setting is the timely completion of the Amphitheater on budget and the return of the community around that without the discord that preceded it — that’s the easy answer. 

We chose a new president; we went from Tom Becker, who was an Institution legend, to Michael, who is rapidly becoming an Institution visionary.

I think that the joint decision by Chautauqua Foundation and the Institution to return the development function and development personnel from the Foundation back to the Institution where it sat up until 1991, and allowing increased investments into development efforts without putting a strain on endowment or endowment income, could easily wind up being the most important thing the board did during the tenure that I was on it. That could be a real game-changer up here. 

Small things: Easing the alcohol policy to allow the serving of spirits seems to have been received well on the grounds. As we said on the board, we weren’t actually sure what the community reaction would be, but it seems to have been well received.

What I appreciated most — and I say this with all seriousness — there are between 65 and 70 individuals who have been on the board during the 15 years I’ve also been on the board. … When you include spouses and partners and significant others, then suddenly you’re closing in on 150, and if you take the people who were on (auxiliary boards) suddenly you’re in the 200s.

That’s the great benefit that I take away from being on the board — and there are wonderful things that have happened inside the Institution — but from a purely personal standpoint, that’s 200 to 250 new friends that are dear to me.

Is there anything you would redo if you could?

My temperament and demeanor are not always suitable for public consumption. I have a very short fuse when it comes to some issues.

I wish I could take all of those responses back and stuff them back down my mouth and chew on them for awhile and let something more civil come out. You don’t always have that luxury.

But honestly, I think the community has grown with me as I have grown with the community. … I think we have all learned our respective strengths and weaknesses.

Do you have any advice for your successors?

I don’t have any advice for Candy. … She doesn’t need advice from me; she’s going to be a tremendous chair.

What’s your hope for the Institution in the future?

We have such a luxury right now in that we’re not worried about being here tomorrow or next year or five years from now; we have a stable economic base, which allows us to have a more visionary approach to strategic planning.

If we do the things well that we’ve outlined for ourselves in the strategic plan over the next five years and over the next 10 years, then we have the capacity to set the foundation for this place to be here another 150 years. … We’re changing the focus; we’re changing the economic model.

How have you seen Chautauquans engage with the strategic plan?

I think the reaction has been good. … (The Strategic Plan Information Sessions) have been well-attended; the questions have been very good, comments have been very good.

(Data collection for the plan) was so extensive that the executive summary that we received was over 100 pages long. … Once we had the input, everything fell into place. I’d like to tell you it was an onerous process — it was a time consuming job, but it wasn’t an onerous job; it was a lot of fun.

The work product was well received by the board at every instance, and I think, as a result, the final product is being well-received by the community.

What’s next for you personally?

My tennis hopefully will not get any worse. … (We’re) getting a dog.

We will come up here every summer, we’ll enjoy being here with our friends, and we look forward to seeing what Candy and her successors over the years, and Michael and his successors over the years, wind up doing. I think it’s an opportunity for great strides and a lot of good work.

Free Shuttle Offers Front-Door Service to National Comedy Center


For those seeking a day of levity, an afternoon escape or simply looking to laugh, the National Comedy Center is now providing an additional option to the lecture platforms, arts and entertainment offered at Chautauqua Institution. On July 8, the Comedy Center launched a free shuttle service to and from the Institution.

The shuttle runs every day starting at 9:30 a.m. and will pick up guests at the Athenaeum Hotel, as well as the Main Gate Welcome Center, before heading to the museum. It will continue to pick up guests from the Institution until 1:40 p.m., and will continue to make rounds to drop visitors off from the Comedy Center until 6:10 p.m.

In total, the shuttle will make three trips to the Institution to pick up guests and four return trips from the museum to drop people off. For more information or to reserve a seat on any shuttle, guests can visit

Gary Hahn, director of marketing and communications for the Comedy Center, said he knows the difficulties of driving on and off the grounds, and that he hopes the shuttle helps take some of the burden off guests.

We know a lot of guests at Chautauqua park for the week, and don’t necessarily want to go back into their cars during what might be their vacation week,” Hahn said. “We just want to make it really easy and convenient for anyone who wants to visit us to make the trip.”

Hahn said the National Comedy Center provides an entertaining and engaging experience for visitors of all ages. Because the center is something that everyone can enjoy, Hahn said it’s a perfect destination for Chautauquans of all ages. 

“The National Comedy Center is fantastic for the entire family,” Hahn said. “It’s a highly engaging, state-of-the-art space with some immersive, interactive exhibits and something that everyone can enjoy.”

According to Hahn, when visitors arrive at the museum, their experience is tailored to their individual sense of humor. Through kiosks at the entrance, visitors create a humor profile that then shapes their experience throughout the rest of the museum.

For those looking to make a trip to the Comedy Center, the shuttle will continue to run throughout the entire season.

The service is a continuation of the partnership between the Institution and the National Comedy Center, program partners for the upcoming Week Six theme, “What’s Funny?”

We value our partnership with the Institution greatly,” Hahn said. “We’re looking forward to comedy week and we know that Chautauquans love to laugh. So for anyone looking for one off-campus experience before, during or after comedy week, we wanted to make that option as accessible as possible.

Week 5 Letter From the President


Welcome to the fifth week of our 146th Assembly. It’s hard to believe we’re already at the midpoint of our annual convening. I’m grateful for the first four weeks of inquiry but even more delighted that we have five left, to crack open thought-provoking topics, to celebrate our shared humanity and to relish in the power of gathering together as we pursue this shared mission. If this is your first week joining us, we welcome you. If you’ve been on the journey with us before this week, know how grateful we are to you for spending extra time with us.

This week we celebrate “The Life of the Spoken Word,” which seems particularly appropriate at a place like Chautauqua, where we lift up great oratory and preaching, and celebrate artists who use the spoken word to share their stories. As consumers, creators and critics, we are experiencing a renaissance of the spoken word. This week, we join the history and modernity of compelling oratory to explore broader themes of social and intergenerational connectedness and the ways that our speech, our stories, bring us together.

Our journey begins with “This American Life” host and storyteller extraordinaire Ira Glass in a Saturday evening Amphitheater special, setting the stage for a rich week to follow. From political rhetoric and civil discourse, to the arts of theater and poetry, to podcasts and stories told around the campfire, we’ll ask “what is the power of the spoken word?” And we’ll explore how this modern age has changed its delivery. Throughout the week, as we look to the future of the spoken word, we’ll present ways to use technology to preserve our past, our history, our stories.

There are so many exciting programs to illuminate this week, but I’d draw your attention to Larry Arnn’s lecture on Tuesday. Dr. Arnn is the 12th president of Hillsdale College, where he also serves as a professor of politics and history, teaching courses on Aristotle, Winston Churchill and the American Constitution. There is a vibrant debate going on right now about the role that our colleges and universities can or should play in shaping our discourse. I have enjoyed receiving the college’s monthly publication Imprimis, which tackles so many of today’s hot-button issues. I know Dr. Arnn will provide even greater context.

Our companion Interfaith Lecture Series this week looks to a time before the founding of Chautauqua, when a very particular expression of the spoken word took root and may have led eventually to our founding, as we examine “Chautauqua: Rising from the Ashes of the Burned-Over District.” We refer often to Chautauqua’s beginnings in 1874, and its history going forward, but little-known is the history that preceded Chautauqua’s founding. The Chautauqua Assembly reflected many movements that had their genesis in what was called the “Burned-over District” resulting from the “on fire” religious environment and culture of the early 19th century in Western New York. The Assembly synthesized the religious passion of the age with its own unique contributions to American culture, as did other religious and civic expressions of the region arising out of that epoch. In this week, we will revisit that incendiary era, and then meet some other religious and civic entities that have also stood the test of time.

A couple of other quick notes about our week. As some of you know, Chautauqua Theater Company received the great news this year that a play it had workshopped in 2017 is now headed to Broadway. I say that because at 2:15 p.m. Saturday in Bratton Theater, CTC will be workshopping How the Light Gets In. I believe we haven’t seen the last of work that started its life at Chautauqua heading to The Great White Way. Don’t miss your chance to be a part of this growing legacy.

Two very special friends return to Chautauqua this week. I cannot wait to welcome back the Rev. Otis Moss III as our chaplain of the week. Otis is a Chautauqua favorite, and I know his words will inspire, challenge and uplift us this week. Welcome back!  And one of my very favorite artists and people, Rhiannon Giddens, joins us for a very special concert on Thursday. Back at Chautauqua by popular demand, Rhiannon is the co-founder of the Grammy Award-winning string band Carolina Chocolate Drops, was awarded a 2017 MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship and won the 2016 Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Bluegrass and Banjo. I had the unbelievable privilege of spending some quality time with her during our last visit and count her as a kindred spirit. She’s not to be missed.

Each week that I sit down to write these words to you, I’m reminded of the vast treasures that exist at Chautauqua. Picking one or two things to highlight in a given week is always tough because each activity we present is worthy of a shout out. As I write this column Thursday, I am excited that the Music School Festival Orchestra and the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra will again combine forces in the Amphitheater. Their joint performance last year was one of the most stunning artistic experiences of my life.

As you head into this week, what things are you most looking forward to? What are those anticipated moments? I’d love to hear your thoughts as a way to share together. For those on social media, drop me a line on Twitter at
@MichaelHillCHQ or on my Facebook page at While time and schedules don’t allow me to personally visit with everyone on the grounds, I hope we can celebrate your favorite moments this week.

Have a wonderful week, friends!

Upcoming Assessment to Likely Raise Property Values


The Chautauqua Property Owners Association discussed the upcoming tax assessment —  joined by Town of Chautauqua Supervisor Don Emhardt — and addressed grounds safety concerns at its general meeting at last Saturday in the Hall of Philosophy.

The Town of Chautauqua will be conducting a tax assessment of private properties on Chautauqua Institution’s grounds after the 2019 summer season. The last assessment took place in 2015.

Emhardt said the assessed value of properties on the grounds are likely to rise; developed properties’ values will rise 7% to 9%, while vacant land will rise 25% to 30%. Assessments are based on square footage and market values of comparable properties.

“This is all state motivated,” Embardt said. “It’s all driven by what we’re paying for properties and the state tracks this.”

However, this is not an indicator of an increase in property taxes.

According to Chautauqua’s Chief Assessor Kevin Okerlund, the town budget is not expected to rise significantly for 2019-20 and a tax increase should not be required; rather, there is a possibility that the rise in assessed values will result in a tax-rate reduction.

In New York state, Okerlund added, roughly one-third of property owners see an increase in property tax rates, one-third remain the same and the final third see a decline in tax rates during a typical property revaluation. Additionally, New York state law caps any yearly town tax increase at 2%.

The revaluations will take place September through December; assessors will only assess the square footage of houses, not physical appearances or conditions, and they will not enter homes. Assessments will be mailed in March 2020, and disputes can be filed between March and May of the same year. Formal hearings on appeals will be held on May 26, 2020, according to Embardt.

During the second half of the meeting, attendees voiced concerns about lack of appropriate road signage at unsafe intersections; bikers riding without lights at night; Institution vehicles going too fast after 8:15 p.m. Amphitheater performances; and areas with insufficient lighting.

The next CPOA meeting will be held at 9 a.m. Aug. 10, in the Hall of Philosophy, for the organization’s annual business meeting, preceding the Chautauqua Institution Board of Trustees Open Forum.

Board of Trustees Open Forum Focuses on Strategic Plan and Community Concerns


At the season’s first Chautauqua Institution Board of Trustees Open Forum, President Michael E. Hill and Board Chair Jim Pardo discussed the strategic plan and addressed questions and concerns from attendees.

Hill and Pardo — who also lead the Strategic Plan Information Sessions with Strategic Planning Working Group Chair Laura Currie — opened last Saturday morning in the Hall of Philosophy with an in-depth look at 150 Forward, a series of key objectives aimed at launching the Institution into its sesquicentennial in 2024. 

“The vision was really about setting the stage so that Chautauqua could create an informed, engaged and renewed public that fosters, and actively contributes to, a more civil society nationally and within our various communities represented by our individual constituents and partners,” Hill said.

The first objective essentially seeks to improve the in-season Chautauqua experience; the second objective is to broaden and expand programming to outside the grounds and during the off-season.

“If we do this second objective right and we’re building brand for Chautauqua, and we’re helping more people understand what happens here, it should help us with that first goal of bringing more people here,” Hill said.

The final objectives are: to improve the health of Chautauqua Lake with science-based methodology and to grow revenue. Underscoring these objectives are four cross-cutting imperatives: strategic partnerships, mobilization of technology, labor and talent solutions, and IDEA — inclusion, diversity, equity and accessibility.

“When we talk about diversity, we’re not just talking about bringing more African Americans to the grounds,” Hill said in response to an audience question about diversity. “There’s nothing more insulting than saying, ‘We want diversity, so we need to bring down gate passes and provide subsidized housing,’ as if white people only have resources.”

These objectives were identified by the 13-member Strategic Planning Working Group, chaired by Currie, after more than 18 months of community querying and data mining. A trustee committee is implementing the plan, led by incoming board chair Candy Maxwell and Chief of Staff and Vice President of Strategic Initiatives Shannon Rozner.

During the second half of the morning’s proceedings, Pardo opened the floor for Chautauquans to ask questions or comment. Concerns were raised about sustainability, including eliminating single-use plastics and regulations for solar panels on private homes.

Hill said administrators are working with a group of young Chautauquans on an “environmental audit” to identify areas of improvement. John Shedd, vice president of campus planning and operations, said the Institution is revisiting its policy on solar panels, which currently prohibits private homes from installing solar panels if visible from roads or sidewalks.

New Trustee Richard Osborne Talks New Appointment and Hopes for Strategic Plan

Chautauqua Institution trustee Richard Osborne is shown July 14, 2019 on the porch of his home on Center. DAVE MUNCH/PHOTO EDITOR

Richard Osborne wanted to buy a house in the mountains of North Carolina. Instead, he found himself six states north, mountain-less, surrounded by a lake, an Amphitheater and rows of 19th-century houses.

Osborne — a newly appointed member of Chautauqua Institution Board of Trustees — was enamored with the arts and intellectual stimulation he found on the grounds, and has returned every season since.

After three decades, Osborne retired from North Carolina-based Duke Energy Corporation, where he served as chief financial officer and chief risk officer. Aside from Chautauqua’s board of trustees, Osborne serves on Charlotte Ballet’s board of trustees and is president of the Chautauqua Dance Circle.

How did you discover Chautauqua?

I was invited to Chautauqua by friends of mine who had been coming for many years. At that point, I came for four weeks a season and stayed at the same house. I actually knew a number of people who came to Chautauqua, but that was the first time I could come myself — that was in 2011.

I loved it as soon as I got here. … It’s just a different kind of summer, and it has all the kinds of activities I like: intellectually challenging activities and entertaining and artistic kinds of activities. It was clearly something I was going to pursue.

What’s your Chautauqua elevator pitch?

I think the shorthand description I’ve heard — and I won’t take credit for this — is that it’s summer camp for geeks. I think that’s a good description; it is summer camp and there are activities and there is relaxation and there is an opportunity to do as much as you want.

I think that’s part of the chemistry, or the magic of Chautauqua; it does permit you to create the program that you want and personalize it in a very real and significant way.

What does being a trustee mean to you? How do you perceive your role on the board?

I was very honored; I was very flattered when they approached me about being on the board, and I’ve served on other boards and I still serve on other boards, so I’m generally familiar with the responsibilities and the aspects that are enjoyable and challenging, and the aspects that are not so enjoyable.

This is a different kind of board because Chautauqua is so different; this is, to some large part, like most nonprofit organizations are but it has a wholly-owned, for-profit entity — the hotel. It also has aspects that are really much more like a town, or a city, or a municipal operation than like a traditional nonprofit. So, it is very different in some respects than other boards I’ve worked.

I was surprised and flattered to be approached, and I have really found it very interesting. The board is engaged — in my mind — the way a board should be, looking at oversight and strategy and leaving the daily operations … to President Michael E. Hill and his team. I think that’s a healthy way for a board to operate.

I have been very pleased with the level of discussion and engagement by the other trustees and the really positive, constructive spirit with which people approach the challenges and the questions, because there are serious challenges facing the Institution.

Our challenge as Chautauquans and as the board is to guide the development of the Institution.

How do you think 150 Forward accomplishes or aids the board’s work?

I think the strategic plan is the most obvious and specific result of those considerations. That is the road map that the trustees have come up with after querying the community and Chautuaquans.

And that was a very thorough and arduous process that (Strategic Planning Working Group Chair) Laura Currie led and that is now being implemented. I think the strategic plan really is the road map forward.

It will change; there are some things in there that will probably prove to be impractical or wrong. That’s the way it is with any strategic plan — it’s a plan, but you go forward and you start to implement and you figure out what’s really right and what’s somewhat wrong or sometimes really significantly wrong.

We’ll do that, and I’m confident that we’ll make changes, and hopefully we’ll make them in a timely and appropriate way.

How much have you been involved with the strategic plan?

Well I wasn’t on the board for most of the development; I only came on the board in the final stages of the strategic plan, so most of it was pretty vague. Now, coming to Chautauqua I was aware that there was a strategic plan being developed, and I remember going to (meetings).

But when I came on the board it was mostly done; there was fine-tuning up until the very end, up until it was put-to-bed and printed. I really was impressed with the degree of ownership that the board had for it, the seriousness with which the trustees approached it, and of course bringing (Chief of Staff and Vice President of Strategic Initiatives) Shannon Rozner on, really specifically for the implementation, was I think a sign of how important Michael and his team view getting this right.

How do you think your professional experience is going to translate to your committee assignment? 

My professional experience is mostly in finance and accounting, and then to some extent in public policy and regulatory policy and lobbying. I think a lot of that is directly applicable here; Chautauqua is a public entity in so many respects and so etched in the political world, in New York, in Chautauqua County, in the lake.

The whole challenge with Chautauqua Lake is to some extent constrained and guided by the legal and regulatory world in which we live. … You’re dealing with what appears to be red tape, and it’s well-meaning red tape, but it’s red tape.

I worked for a very large utility for 33 years, so I know about red tape.

And then on the financial end, I do think Chautauqua has financial challenges. We’re fortunate in that there’s no burning platform right now and that … everything is going fine. … Yet if you look at the financial and demographic projections, if you just keep doing what we’re doing, you’ll go right off a cliff — well, you’ll just go down a slow grade.

So I think the challenge we have is to create a sense of urgency — not a sense of alarm. There’s no reason to be alarmed but there is a reason to address the situation with urgency and figure out how to preserve the best aspects of what we’re doing and enhance them in ways that are more relevant for the world we live in.

And I think that’s part of what the strategic plan is trying (to do), and it’s trying to do it in a thoughtful but urgent way, and I think that’s appropriate — that’s exactly what we should be doing.

What are your hopes for your first full season as a trustee?

I think we’re having a good launch of the strategic plan; I hope that continues to go well and unfolds in a way where Chautauquans recognize it as reflecting what they told the committee and the board of trustees, and that the trustees tried very hard to incorporate that in a cohesive plan.

The success of the plan will depend upon the community’s willingness to grab it and say, “this is our plan, and this is where we want to go.”

Filmmaker Christine Herbes-Sommers to Screen ‘Coming of Age in Aging America’

Christine Sommers

Christine Herbes-Sommers was mentoring and helping a fellow filmmaker as he was creating a documentary about his two grandmothers — one who was in vigorous health and the other who was declining. They worked together with a geriatrician who authored a book about the stages of end of life.   

“In making the film and talking to him, we started talking about how urgent the issue (of end of life) is,” Herbes-Sommers said. “In an aging population in general, it’s something that we don’t think about.”

She said people are living longer, but there’s an underlying notion that older generations are a burden to the rest of society.

From there, Herbes-Sommers created her own film that examines the challenges and opportunities of aging as people live longer in the modern world.

At 3:15 p.m. today, July 16, and Wednesday at the Chautauqua Cinema, Herbes-Sommers will screen her film, “Coming of Age in Aging America,” and hold a Q-and-A immediately following the film. 

In this film, distributed by American Public Television, Herbes-Sommer said the story emerged gradually after talking to experts and doing research.

“You start with an idea and then all of a sudden the idea gets really complicated,” Herbes-Sommers said.

Herbes-Sommers knew she would soon be in the age group the film highlights, which is part of the reason she made the film now.

“It’s not incidental, but I was 64 at the time,” Herbes-Sommers said. “I knew that most films take about five years to make and by the time I was done with this I would be 69, so I would be in that cohort and be living it.”

The documentary delves into the greater longevity people are experiencing and society’s view on longer lives. Experts in the film discuss the popular opinion that the world can’t afford the extra years.

After research, networking and fundraising, she brought the project to Norcross, Georgia, to the town coffee shop. There, Herbes-Sommers and her team interviewed people about aging and the film’s themes.

In Atlanta, Herbes-Sommers worked with the deputy mayor and explored the community in a similar way.

“I could say it was challenging, and it certainly was, mostly to get normal people to think about their lives,” Herbes-Sommers said.

She wants people in any stage of life to think about the current expectations and fears about aging.

“This is the main theme of the film: There’s a way to think about modern life with greater longevity as a cycle that can shift the norm that we currently impose on life,” Herbes-Sommers said.

Herbes-Sommers said this will be her last film as she begins exploring other ventures and attends art school. There wasn’t a pivotal moment in Herbes-Sommers’ life that led her to filmmaking, but as a political science major at Knox College, Illinois, she found herself entrenched in the political climate of the time. The “flavor of the day” movements and societal problems pushed her toward filmmaking.

“In fact, my first film had to do with the feminist movement — that was timely,” Herbes-Sommers said. “There was a gradual and strong increase of desire (to be a filmmaker).”

She began her career as an animator, and after graduate school she created Red Cloud Productions with a colleague. She was also on staff at WGBH, a public broadcasting station in Boston. But Herbes-Sommers said at her core, she is an independent producer and director. 

Many of her films are shown in college and high school classrooms, but “Coming of Age” brings a different perspective to audiences of all ages. Herbes-Sommers said she creates her films for the next audience — the “community level, social change audience.”

“In some ways, I hope that the Chautauqua audience comes away saying ‘people should know about this stuff and how can we adjust our community,’ ” Herbes-Sommers said.

Get Close & Personal with Butterflies at Monarchpalooza with Lori Stralow Harris

Lori Stralow Harris

Lori Stralow Harris, who raises butterflies and bees in Western Springs, Illinois, found herself in a bit of a pickle last fall.

She had been raising 200 monarch butterflies at her Salt Creek Butterfly Farm for a fundraiser at a nature conservancy, and was keeping them in a flight house at a nearby retirement community. Just four days before the fundraiser, the butterflies were gone — released by a resident who was concerned they were trapped.

Running out of time, Harris started to look high and low for the monarchs. She went to a nature preserve she knew had plants that would attract butterflies. She called all of her friends and colleagues who knew anything about the creatures.

“Long story short, I had to shift gears and quit thinking about it as a disaster and think, ‘what would a monarch do right now?’ ” Harris said.

She will tell the rest of the story at a Bird, Tree & Garden Club Brown Bag lecture at 12:15 p.m. today, July 16, in Smith Wilkes Hall. The talk is titled “The Monarch Bridge: A Story of Lasting Connections.”

Harris said she has been raising butterflies for nearly 10 years now. She first got interested in the trade when she volunteered at the Chicago Academy of Sciences. She became fascinated by the wide variety of butterflies that had come from all over the world.

She continues to be fascinated by monarch butterflies’ annual migration of thousands of miles to Mexico, where they spend the winters.

“I think they’re both really resilient and fragile at the same time,” Harris said. “They have to go through an awful lot to make that migration and still, they do it.”

The monarchs’ migration is getting more difficult because of human interference. Butterfly-friendly habitats are more sparse than they used to be, and butterflies are often an unfortunate casualty of bug spray.

“In addition to putting chemicals on the yard to get rid of the plants butterflies need, people spray Talstar that kills larvae of every kind,” Harris said. “We’re killing off bees and butterflies for our own convenience.”

To support butterfly populations, Harris said, people can use more natural mosquito repellent methods, such as planting rosemary, marigold and other plants that give off a fragrance mosquitoes do not like.

In addition to her talk today, Harris will help BTG facilitate its Monarchpalooza from noon to 3:30 p.m. Thursday at Lincoln Park. Chautauquans will be able to enter a tent and interact with 200 butterflies that Harris will bring.

Smith Memorial Library Smith Celebrates 88th Birthday with Library Day

Chautauqua Residents celebrated Smith Memorial Library’s 87th birthday with a Kazoo Chorale on Thursday, August 2, 2018 outside of Smith Memorial Library. HALDAN KIRSCH/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Stereotypically, libraries are quiet spaces. But when bibliophiles gather on the front steps of Smith Memorial Library to celebrate Chautauqua Institution’s annual Library Day this morning, the scene will be anything but silent.

“We’re not a quiet library,” said Smith Director Scott Ekstrom. “We’re available to people for study and research, but we’re also a community center, and we really emphasize the community aspect.”

This year’s festivities, running from 8:30 to 10:30 a.m. today, July 16, at the Smith, mark the library’s 88th year of operation.

The morning will include birthday cake, refreshments, and at 10 a.m. Ekstrom will lead more than 100 kazoo-armed Chautauquans (kazoos will be given out on a first-come, first-served basis) in the fifth annual “Kazoo Chorale.” Bestor Plaza will be serenaded with kazoo covers of popular television jingles and patriotic standards.

“It’s a lot of fun,” said Friends of the Library President Bijou Miller. “People enjoy it and get into it, and we attract a lot of attention that way.”

Friends of the Library has been sponsoring the event for more than a decade, though not without some changes along the way.

“Back in the day it was a more formal thing,” Ekstrom said. “We and the Friends of the Library have transitioned it to be a fun day.”

The event serves as a fundraiser for the Smith. Friends of the Library will accept cash or check donations of any amount, which in the past have gone toward upgrades like improved technology, new outdoor chairs and tables, furniture repair and expanding the library’s digital collection.

“(The Friends of the Library) have given us things that maybe don’t fit into our general operating budget, but would be good to have,” Ekstrom said.

The Institution has expanded the day’s scope to celebrate libraries and librarians of all kinds; local public and school librarians as well as library trustees are offered complimentary morning and afternoon gate passes for the day.

“Hopefully there will be a lot of librarians on the grounds,” Ekstrom said.

Miller sees Library Day as a celebration of the unique position the Smith holds within the Institution.

“We’re trying to promote well-deserved support of the library,” she said. “It’s a wonderful library; it’s the only one I know that’s open on the Fourth of July and on Sundays.”

Weekly 150 Forward Informational Sessions Continue



During Week Three’s strategic plan and related information sessions, community members engaged with top administrators on issues of diversity and accessibility at Chautauqua Institution.

At Monday’s IDEA — inclusion, diversity, equity and accessibility — Listening Session, hosted by Shannon Rozner, chief of staff and vice president of strategic initiatives, attendees narrowed focus on the Institution’s lack of digital accessibility.

Chautauqua raised specific concerns about mobilizing technology — one of four cross-cutting imperatives that underscore the whole of the strategic plan — and older Chautauquans’ difficulty using some digital programs or functions. One woman suggested hosting Twitter workshops, as questions for lecturers are accepted on the platform, as well as on paper.

Institution President Michael E. Hill stressed the importance of technology as a medium to boost Chautauqua’s brand awareness and ease of access — both challenges identified by the Strategic Planning Working Group.

“We haven’t kept up with technology, and we haven’t figured out the best way to integrate our technology,” he said at Thursday’s Strategic Plan Information Session. “There are so many ways we can make accessing the Chautauqua experience easier if we simply, smartly invest in strategic technology.”

At both the information and listening sessions, concerns about age diversity were pinpointed.

“I love it when Chautauquans say ‘We would love young people to come, but quiet hours are at 10 p.m.,’ ” Hill said.

Board of Trustees Chair Jim Pardo said the lack of millennial Chautauquans hints at a larger issue of the changing nature of work and family structures.

Hill said this is being addressed, particularly with the Dr. Robert R. Hesse Welcome and Business Center in partnership with NOW Generation, an organization for Chautauquans ages 21 to 40.

To elevate this seemingly systematic issue, Chautauquans suggested creating more young-adult centric spaces — as part of the Campus Master Plan — income-qualified gate passes and offering more academic classes for late-high school or college-aged students.

Additionally, concerns were raised about the lack of diversity of political ideologies among community members. Suggestions were made to add Spanish or French to signs and closed captioning; indicate whether events are wheelchair accessible; and offer more scholarships and income-qualified gate passes.

The next IDEA Listening Session will be Tuesday; the next Strategic Plan Information Session will be Wednesday; and the next Master Plan Information Session will be Friday. All listening and information sessions start at 3:30 p.m. in the Hall of Christ.

Chautauquans can voice additional concerns or make comments at

CHQ Olympics Brings Out the Best in Everyone (Photo Gallery)


Week Three saw the CHQ Olympics — a series of fun, silly competitions much less serious than those in ancient Greece.

Throughout the week, Chautauquans of all ages were invited to participate or compete in over 25 different events all over Institution grounds. Everyone — from those at Children’s School and Boys’ and Girls’ Club, to their parents and grandparents — were able to get involved.

Starting the Olympics on Sunday, Chautauquans were welcomed by a kick-off carnival, complete with a bounce house, a tie-dye station and carnival games right on Bestor Plaza for everyone who passed by to enjoy.

However, this was just the tip of the iceberg. As the week continued, events ranged from poetry and healthy living competitions to Chautauqua-wide scavenger hunts, and from kayaking down at Sports Club to putt-putt competitions at the Chautauqua Golf Club.

Aquatics had a large influence on some of the Olympic programming this year. Sports Club Director Deb Lyons said her staff was happy with event turnout and was pleased with the weather cooperating — to an extent — throughout the week.

Despite possible thunderstorms looming on the horizon, the weather held, and water events like kayaking, paddle boarding and the giant inflatable swan race went on.

Even Thursday, when the morning gave way to on-and-off rain, it wasn’t enough to stop Chautauquans from coming out for the new annual tradition of the Beach-to-Beach Color Sprint.

Up until the race’s start, people signed up for one of the most memorable events of the season. One young Chautauquan even arrived minutes before the start of the race, asking his mother if the colors would ruin the cast on his arm. His mother said the cast would be OK, so he entered the run and ended up winning it all — cast covered in bright neon paints.

The Chautauqua Boys’ and Girls’ Club held its annual Water Olympics competition Friday at Club’s waterfront. After being postponed due to possible thunderstorms, children came out with twice as much energy, ready to compete and win for the Red or Blue teams, especially after last summer’s Red victory in a tiebreaker cheer-off competition. Whoops and cheers could be heard along the waterfront from counselors and children as young as first grade, rallying to stay ahead to take home the title of Water Olympics champions.

As the teams worked through games like free throw shooting, kayak races and Tug-a-Melon, other groups were playing Inner Tube Pull and beach volleyball. While scores fluctuated throughout the day, the Red team eventually pulled ahead to take the win once more, edging out the Blue team 225-184. As the competition ended, friends shared ice pops between teams and laughed about the day.

The CHQ Olympics has come to a close, and the week is rolling into the next. While inflatable swans and obstacle courses have been deflated and paint-stained shirts will go into the laundry, they’ll be ready for a spirited return next summer.

Week Four Letter From the President


Welcome to the fourth week of our 146th Assembly.

From last week’s exhilarating experiences in partnership with National Geographic Society, we now turn to a different kind of exploration, namely what our world and society might look like if the average human life span continues to increase. Week Four brings us into an exciting conversation with a first-time programmatic partner, the Stanford Center on Longevity, as we explore “The New Map of Life: How Longer Lives are Changing the World.” In this week, we look at some very heady questions: Do we really want to live forever? While being “forever young” may still be the stuff of dreams, longer lifespans are a reality of modern life. Living to 110 years old — at least — means new challenges for both individuals and society; how we meet those challenges will have lasting ramifications. What issues do longer lifespans present? We examine the political, the financial, the biological, the emotional. Where the scientific meets the ethical, we ask: We can live longer, but should we? Will longer lives exacerbate existing inequities? This isn’t a question for future generations — this is a question for us, right now. How are you going to adapt in this changing reality?

In our companion Interfaith Lecture Series, we welcome someone dear to my own heart, Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM. As many of you know — because I plug my alma mater every chance I get — I attended a Franciscan university, St. Bonaventure University, and Fr. Richard is a celebrated Franciscan throughout the world. During a week focused on the increasing lifespan of human beings, Fr. Richard will be our guide to what he calls the “further journey,” a voyage into the mystery and beauty of healthy spiritual maturity. Revisiting thoughts from his book, Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life, Fr. Richard helps us to understand the tasks of the two halves of life and teaches us what looks like “falling down” can largely be experienced as “falling upward.” 

There are so many other programs to be excited about this week. Chautauqua Theater Company travels outside our gates to share a new production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream with our regional neighbors at Jamestown’s Riverwalk on Saturday, and at Southern Tier Brewing Company on Wednesday. On Sunday, the Chautauqua School of Dance will present a gala afternoon of performances, and the ever-brilliant Steven Osgood, general and artistic director of the Chautauqua Opera Company, brings us ¡Figaro! (90210), Vid Guerrerio’s contemporary multicultural adaptation of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro. While there are so many other arts offerings, one of my favorites every year is our annual major inter-arts collaboration, this year also centered on A Midsummer Night’s Dream, on Tuesday evening in the Amphitheater. If you’ve never seen our resident companies and schools join forces, there is simply nothing like it, and it’s not to be missed.

There are two last highlights to share (among so many wonderful offerings). Aja Gabel’s book The Ensemble is the first Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle selection I read this year. Her characters are complex, thoughtful, funny and soulful, and she masterfully brings you inside the delicate, delightful and intimate relationship that forms among people who make music together. Her talk about the book is this week, and while I’ll be presenting an update on our strategic plan at the same time, I’ll understand completely if you go see her speak about this wonderful piece.

I wanted to be an astronaut when I was a kid — you can see how well that plan went — and I was obsessed with “Star Wars.” If you notice a guy who looks like Chautauqua’s president in the Amphitheater geeking out this week, it’s because the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra will provide the wonderful score while we all get to watch “Star Wars: A New Hope” in concert on Friday evening. I can’t wait. Oh, and we just happen to have a real astronaut on our lecture platform this week: Scott Kelly, also on Friday. 

Whether this is your first week at Chautauqua or the continuation of a journey with us this summer, may you find your own ways to explore our galaxy. It’s full of incredible treasures for you to behold, and I’m grateful I get to go on the journey with you.

Happy Week Four!

Michael E. Hill

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