From the President

A Week Seven Message from Chautauqua’s President


Welcome to Week Seven of CHQ Assembly. 


As I write this column on Wednesday, I’m reflecting on two cherished Chautauqua traditions that have occurred on the Virtual Porch in the last 24 hours. Old First Night, Chautauqua’s birthday, was a magical reminder of the foundings of this sacred place and all who have come before us to ensure its continued prosperity. Thank you to all who participated in the Tuesday evening ceremony and to all those who joined us online. It warmed my heart to see your greetings in the chat box. And just this afternoon, we celebrated the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle Class of 2020. Again, my thanks to all who thought out the details of this special ceremony. It was a large class of graduates — more than 80! — which tells me that many are using the quieter moments during this global pandemic to read. Talk about making lemonade out of lemons! 

This week we look at “The Science of Us,” a title that might seem a bit opaque until one dives into it. In the midst of robust debates about tribalism, isolation and bridging differences, this wide-ranging week explores how 21st-century science, and now COVID-19, are disrupting our social and historical understandings of how “us” happens and who “we” are — as communities, demographies, families, nations and a human race. In this week: 

  • We look at America’s long narrative of folklore and our “melting pot” narrative;  
  • we explore our obsession with — along with the limitations and repercussions of — genealogical/ancestry services; 
  • we ask about the emerging scientific understandings of heritage and ethnicity; and 
  • we explore how science is informing community development and our socioeconomic models going forward. 

In our companion Interfaith Lecture Series, we dive deeply into “The Spirituality of Us.” Just as we address concerns about tribalism, isolationism and seemingly incompatible cultural worldviews in our Chautauqua Lecture Series, we use this same frame to examine the spirit of the world’s traditions — East, West, Indigenous and Divined — and how those traditions continue to communicate essential wisdom and weave tapestries of spiritual truth that reveal the “Us” of the world’s varieties of peoples. Be with us this week as we uncover emanations of the wondrous and mysterious wholeness that we in the U.S. are meant to be. 

I offer special thanks to our friends at Allegheny Health Network for serving as our Week Seven “Program Sponsor” underwriting this week’s programming. I encourage you to join their physicians at 3:30 p.m. EDT Wednesday, Aug. 12, on the CHQ Assembly Virtual Porch for a conversation on personal genomics, social determinants and the use of big data on communities moderated by Karen Surkala, president of Allegheny Health Network Westfield Hospital. 

I’m thrilled that some of Chautauqua’s new and old friends will be with us this week to help unpack this scientific journey, including our chaplains-in-residence, the Revs. Casey and Robert Baggott; as well as my friend and Chautauqua favorite Barbara Brown Taylor. 

And to come full circle, while we celebrated the CLSC Class of 2020 in Week Six, we continue our celebration of the literary arts this week with the awarding of the 2020 Chautauqua Prize. Petina Gappah’s Out of Darkness, Shining Light takes us on an adventure through 19th-century Africa with a captivating story of those who carried explorer and missionary David Livingstone across the continent for him to be laid to rest back in England. Petina is a master storyteller, and we’re so proud to lift up her work. 

There are so many things to be excited about in this week. While we have moved our 2020 Assembly online, that’s one fact that hasn’t changed.

A Week Six Message from Chautauqua’s President


Welcome to Week Six of CHQ Assembly! Before we look at this vital week, thank you to all who made our Week Five celebration of the centennial of women’s suffrage such a rich and rewarding one. While there is so much more work to do in the realm of gender equality and access to voting, I’m deeply proud of this Chautauqua week and grateful to those luminaries who helped us unpack it. 

As more and more of our news turns to the upcoming presidential election, one topic that is sure to be debated is the role of education in our nation. That’s where we take our journey in Week Six, as we explore the theme of “Rebuilding Public Education.” In this week we take a comprehensive view of the cradle-to-college pipeline and look beyond COVID-19, and the 2020 election, to ask how we build more integrated and equitable public schools and best prepare our children for careers and as citizens in a rapidly changing world. We look at the following important questions: 

  • With a growing shortage of credentialed teachers, how do we recruit and keep the next generation of educators? 
  • How do we navigate what has become one of the most contentious debates in education today and evaluate the impact of charter schools and vouchers in American communities? 
  • What does the college admissions cheating scandal tell us about how parents, students and society-at-large view the purpose of secondary education? 

I’m extremely honored and excited to have the chance to interview former Florida governor and former presidential candidate Jeb Bush as part of this week. He is among many thought leaders who will help us explore this important topic. 

In our Interfaith Lecture Series, we explore the deep tensions that come from “Lessons in the School House.” More than 55 years after the Supreme Court issued its landmark ruling striking down school-sponsored prayer, some Americans continue to resist representations of religion in public schools, while others point to that separation as evidence of a decaying moral society. The future of a thriving nation, however, resides in the integrity of its people and, therefore, in the content of what its children are taught. Public schools are crucial not only for fostering careers and livelihoods, and for learning unto itself, but also for shaping the most “good-of-the-whole” consciousness in our citizens. In this week, we will look at the importance of teaching both religious cultural literacy (as opposed to religion) as well as ethical literacy in our public schools for the purpose of creating an ethically and culturally informed citizenry. 

We also welcome the Rev. Leslie D. Callahan as our chaplain of the week. Dr. Callahan is the first female pastor to serve at the historic St. Paul’s Baptist Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and I know her words will be uplifting and challenging in this important week. 

As longtime Chautauquans know, this week is one in which we celebrate tradition — this year with a number of CHQ Assembly activities planned to re-create our annual Old First Night (and its companion OFN Run/Walk), Recognition Day and Library Day celebrations. These milestones of a Chautauqua season deeply connect us to our history and heritage, and to past generations of our community — we knew how incredibly important it was to continue them inside this unusual season. Our staff has worked tirelessly to bring these beloved customs to life for you in a meaningful way via our online platforms, so that we can gather in spirit, even if not together in person. I’m grateful to the Edward L. Anderson, Jr. Foundation for helping us celebrate Chautauqua’s birthday week by offering — for a limited time only — a 100% match on all new gifts and pledges to the 2020 Chautauqua Fund from Aug. 1 to 10 (up to $500 per donor until funds are exhausted). You’re encouraged to participate by visiting 

One final thing to pay special attention to that may miss your glance this week. We welcome back the Rev. Robert M. Franklin, former director of our Department of Religion, who will help lead a special discussion on The Mirror Project: A Conversation about Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accessibility at Chautauqua Institution. Dr. Franklin is president emeritus of Morehouse College in Atlanta, having served from 2007 to 2012. He is currently a senior adviser to the president of Emory University, where he is also the James T. and Berta R. Laney Professor in Moral Leadership, and I count him as a dear friend. I hope you’ll take part in this conversation at 3:30 p.m. EDT Monday, Aug. 3, on the CHQ Assembly Virtual Porch. 

These thought-provoking conversations about the great issues are day are the hallmark of Chautauqua. Thank you for being the key actors in this important story.

A Week Five Message from Chautauqua’s President


Welcome to Week Five of CHQ Assembly! This week we reach the midpoint in our 147th Assembly. It’s remarkable to think how much ground we have already covered, and I’m excited about all we have left to discover. 


This week we mark an important milestone in our nation’s journey to become a “more perfect union,” as we discuss “The Women’s Vote Centennial and Beyond.” We have been planning this week for a long time, and I’m particularly grateful for the wise counsel and leadership of the distinguished former U.S. senator from Maryland, Barbara Mikulski, with whom I have had the privilege of meeting and discussing this week multiple times over the last couple years. From a fated meeting on the Athenaeum Hotel porch when the senator was last at Chautauqua, she has been an invaluable partner to us in this work. She also closes the Chautauqua Lecture Series on Friday.  

As we join the nation in celebrating the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, we also consider those who were left out of the mainstream suffrage movement, examine the slow progress toward gender equality in the United States, and seek lessons from the fight for women’s suffrage that might apply to ongoing battles for equality.

Sen. Mikulski has shared over and over again: the 19th Amendment didn’t give all women the right to vote when it was passed, and there is still so much work to do if every voice is to be appropriately counted in our electoral life. As the senator would say, I hope this is a week to “remember, reflect and recommit,” and that our programming and conversations can play a role in all of us getting to work.

In our companion Interfaith Lecture Series, we celebrate “The Feminine Spirit.” In the Taoist image of Yin/Yang, the feminine charisms are juxtaposed with the masculine charisms (neither are strictly gender-specific), and in this emerging era it has been observed that the feminine is finally rising, ultimately to restore balance and to revitalize the world. In this week, we ask how seemingly opposite forces are interconnected and interdependent in the natural world and how they give rise to each other as they interrelate. And we shine a light on the feminine charisms and spirit and some leading women who embody this spirit. 

We also welcome this week the words and reflections of the Rev. Janet Broderick, rector of All Saints’ Episcopal Church in Beverly Hills, who formerly served at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Morristown, New Jersey, the year-round home of our interim organist Joshua Stafford. And don’t miss this week’s Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle book discussion about Susan Straight’s memoir In the Country of Women

It’s an exciting week to celebrate all that women have contributed to our nation and world, and to remind ourselves that many are still marching on the road toward equality.

A Week Four Message from Chautauqua’s President


Welcome to Week Four of CHQ Assembly! I so thoroughly enjoyed our Week Three conversations about “Art and Democracy,” and my only consolation that they have concluded is the exciting lineup we have in store for you as we probe “The Ethics of Tech: Scientific, Corporate and Personal Responsibility,” a topic all the more relevant for the Chautauqua Lecture Series as our world has shifted ever more so online.  

Big Tech companies have begun to acknowledge their tremendous and sometimes harmful impact on society — particularly with regard to marginalized communities and civil liberties, and usually only following public calls for ethics reform and oversight. This week we explore: 

  • Is it enough for these giants to self-police, or is an industry-wide code of ethics or government regulation necessary to protect a future dominated by artificial intelligence, datafication and facial recognition? 
  • Does such oversight stifle innovation? How is the rest of the world responding? 
  • And, while it’s easy to see ourselves as victims, how do we take personal responsibility as consumers and users?  

In our companion Interfaith Lecture Series, we double down on our exploration of the ethical dimension, asking how ethical considerations translate in a technologically transforming world. Technology seems to be overtaking the world, from our obsession with electronic devices to the emerging artificial intelligence that helps us do everything from keep grocery lists to make war between nations. Outside of the practical applications, however, is there a question of right or wrong? What happens when technological capacity reaches a level that calls into question our very role as human beings in a society? In this week, we explore the ethical, spiritual and religious dimensions of “new tech.” Is it a step away from our own spiritual growth or can it be harnessed to create greater understanding? 

I’m deeply grateful to our friends David and Joan Lincoln, who championed the exploration of ethics as part of a Chautauqua program, and to their daughter, Katie, for carrying that torch today. We were saddened to lose Joan four years ago, and then David two years later, but honored that this week’s exploration carries on their legacy and, in particular, David’s deep commitment to the exploration of ethics in our world. 

Rabbi David Wolpe joins us this week, continuing our new practice of making sure we have at least one Jewish leader as a chaplain-in-residence each season. I know you’ll want to take in his prayerful reflections as part of our worship services each morning.

Lastly, our students started studying with us online this past week. What you cannot see is the hundreds of young people who continue to use Chautauqua as their summer home for education in the performing and visual arts. I’m so deeply grateful to our artistic directors and school leads for making sure the arc of this Chautauqua tradition continues. 

I hope you enjoy this week on “The Ethics of Tech,” and that the new CHQ Assembly remains a perfect platform to explore this vital topic as we head toward the midpoint of our season.

A Week Three Message from Chautauqua’s President

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Welcome to Week Three of CHQ Assembly. Our first two weeks have certainly been an adventure for us all, and we’re deeply grateful that you’ve decided to be a part of our “beta test” this summer. Last week we looked at “Forces Unseen,” and we move from there to a topic that’s very visible, and very much in sync with our multidisciplinary approach at Chautauqua: “Art and Democracy.” 

Artist, advocate, activist, citizen. What is the role of art — and the artist — in an active democracy? This week, we will hear from artists raising the social consciousness, challenging the status quo and engaging communities large and small toward meaningful action. We consider how art and artmaking serve as catalysts for dissent and change and have the unique ability to bring community together to heal following trauma. And we ask: How are the arts uniquely positioned to move the conversation forward, when other attempts at dialogue fail? 

In many ways, this is a specialty for Chautauqua. We have been graced by our own professional artistic companies and ensembles for most of our history. Whether that be the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra, Chautauqua Theater Company, Chautauqua Opera Company, Chautauqua Visual Arts, or any of the countless numbers of artistic luminaries who have studied in our Schools of Performing and Visual Arts, we have long been an organization and community in which the arts flourish. This year, however, through the medium of CHQ Assembly, we take what we have known from our own artists and those from across the globe to probe further what the arts can teach us during times when we may not be able to grasp or hear important messages without them. 

Throughout our experience of the COVID-19 pandemic, artists have been giving voice to our frustrations and our hopes, and I know this week will do the same. I’m so excited to welcome Anna Deavere Smith, Ford Foundation President Darren Walker and my dear friend Paula Kerger, president and CEO of PBS, among many others, to help us unpack this week. 

In our companion Interfaith Lecture Series, we look at the ways that art might provide a “Glimpse into the Divine.” Art inspires, art teaches, art speaks, art energizes, art soothes, art heals, art empowers. Art underlies and underlines the commonalities of human existence. In this week we look into the spiritual power of art to glimpse the divine, in all its forms, and change the world. In addition to an amazing lineup of interfaith speakers, we’re so excited to have Fr. Greg Boyle back with us as our chaplain of the week. 

I want to close this column by thanking all of you who are participating in this summer of beta testing for our new suite of CHQ Assembly online platforms. Most days it’s been a splendid adventure, but I know that there have also been days when our Week Two theme of “Forces Unseen” seemed to be taking over, as technology and other issues prevented us from staging certain programs as scheduled. I thought it might be useful to share some behind-the-scenes “numbers” with you as a sign of our gratitude for sticking with us when those moments occur. 

We launched the 2020 Summer Assembly Season just 11 days ago (at this writing), with five entirely new digital platforms, three new on-grounds television studios with multiple camera systems, and an entirely new crew that has never worked together or on a project of this particular nature, while also coordinating with more than a dozen remote studios and videographers around the country. We’ve learned a lot about how to tackle issues with our own equipment and processes, and we’ve also encountered some problems that are simply outside our control, like when the Google Cloud hosting platform experienced an East Coast crash, or when our video streaming platform has nationwide technical issues, or when our ISP has a massive service interruption. These “forces unseen” truly have made for an interesting summer so far! But because you’ve stuck with us, we also have some incredibly hopeful numbers to share. 

In just our first two weeks, we have produced: 

  •   33 lecture, worship, and performing arts programs that aired and are available on-demand at
  •   51 programs on the Virtual Porch, at;
  •   three 3D virtual gallery tours on the Chautauqua Visual Arts platform, at; and  
  •   multiple master and enrichment classes on the Online Classroom platform, at

And to characterize the audience for our offerings so far: 

  •   nearly 6,000 people have subscribed to our Video Platform,
  •   CHQ Assembly programs have been accessed 73,000 times, with some 40,000 of those viewing programs through to completion; and 
  •   participants in the CHQ Assembly represent 50 countries(!) in addition to the U.S. 

Comparatively, some of our larger festival partners who have four to five times the size of our budgets have shrunk weeks of programming into five hours of offerings. I mean that not as a dig on anyone else, but rather as an acknowledgment of and testimony to the resiliency of the Chautauqua spirit. Each day we learn more, and we continue to learn from you. Thank you for accepting our offer to beta test this season. It will make CHQ Assembly a powerhouse of convening for years to come.

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