Week Seven Column from the President

Welcome to Week Seven of our 145th Assembly, and what an incredible week it’s going to be. If you are joining us for the first time, you are among a record-setting crowd that will be with us as we explore “The Arts and Global Understanding: A Week Featuring the Silkroad Ensemble, Culminating with the Silkroad Ensemble with Yo-Yo Ma.”

Art can create a culture; it can cross borders; it can sing of possibility. In this week of performances, lectures and workshops led and influenced by the work of the Silkroad Ensemble with Yo-Yo Ma, we focus on the role of art — particularly music — in a culture, with an eye toward cross-cultural collaboration and global understanding. We explore and celebrate cultures different than our own; we examine critically the path of good intentions leading from cultural tourism to cultural appropriation; and we look for ways that earnest understanding and a shared loved of our art and each other can perhaps change the world. I cannot think of better guides than the Silkroad Ensemble for this journey, and what a thrill to end our week with the legendary Yo-Yo Ma.

This week, in so many ways, is a deep celebration of the arts. It is the last week of our School of Music for the summer. Our lives are so deeply enriched by the students who come to study here, and I always dread the close of their seasons. I hope that Chautauquans will join, in particular, for the Music School Festival Orchestra’s closing concert on Monday, Aug. 13 as a way to say thank you.

This week also is an important one for the Chautauqua Opera Company, as it debuts As One, one of the most performed new operas in the country. Its exciting arrival at Chautauqua Opera reunites the original cast and ensemble of the 2014 premiere. Accompanied by the Fry Street Quartet, mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke and baritone Kelly Markgraf again share the part of the transgender protagonist Hannah in the opera’s 16 vignettes that chronicle her journey toward self-acceptance with empathy and humor. To help Chautauquans better access the opera’s subject, we are hosting “As One Community Day” on Sunday, elevating the story and experience behind the acclaimed chamber opera. Participants will have the opportunity to meet Kimberly Reed, a celebrated documentary filmmaker and the co-librettist of As One as well as co-librettist Mark Campbell. Kimberly’s latest film, “Dark Money,” will also be screened at the Chautauqua Cinema Monday in advance of its PBS airing in September. We are grateful to WNED for co-hosting this event.

Our interfaith platform seeks a different kind of understanding, and this is one of the weeks where that afternoon series of lectures follows a completely different path. The week’s central question this week is about the boundaries of religious freedom through the lens of “Let Them Eat Cake? Defining the Future of Religious Freedom in the U.S.”

The Supreme Court’s decision on the Masterpiece Cakeshop case, in which a Colorado baker refused to bake a cake for a gay wedding, claiming it violated his right to practice his religion, was decided just this past June in favor of the baker. However, that case was decided in such a narrow way as to (virtually) only apply to that specific case, and not to the question of religious freedom in general. A future court, as early as next year, and possibly with a new judge replacing Justice Kennedy’s vacated seat, will decide the broader issue of the limits of the practice of religion in America. That decision may set the trajectory of the American religious sphere for years to come, defining the constitutional understanding of First Amendment protections for religious liberty, and determining its limits as balanced against other rights. The lineup of speakers spans the complexity of the case, and it’s a series that I believe speaks to the best of the work we attempt to do, exploring all sides of the debate in robust detail.

These past two weeks also mark special birthdays.I was honored to share some reflections on the 10th anniversary of the Everett Jewish Life Center this past week. What a remarkable addition to our community it has become over this past decade. And this coming Tuesday, Aug. 7, we celebrate Old First Night, a cherished tradition marking Chautauqua’s birthday and the generations of Chautauquans who have nurtured this sacred place since its founding. I’m looking forward to my second OFN Run this weekend. Speaking of traditions, I’m also very proud that I will be a part of the 2018 graduating class of the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle, and I’m touched and honored that the class has elected to incorporate my inaugural call that we turn our “gates into gateways” as part of our class’ motto.

This has been a season spent talking about the future of Chautauqua. We’ve been in conversations with hundreds of Chautauquans about their hopes and dreams for this special place. And while all of those discussions have been important, this past week I got to again meet with a group of 5-year-olds from our Children’s School. We started this tradition in my first year during “Kid’s Government Week,” and this year my little friends came to the President’s Cottage to share their thoughts in writing under the theme of “What I want to be when I grow up.” Sitting on the front steps of the cottage with me, they shared the following ideas for our future: No more seaweed; More kids’ nights at the Amphitheater; Everything should be free; More sunsets every day; No more cars … There are just too many for us to play; Paint the Chautauqua Belle purple; Underground tunnels; A new Children’s School playground.

I’m so grateful to these littlest Chautauquans for sharing their hearts in such a special way. I cannot wait to see what next year’s group says, and lord knows, the thoughts and reflections of the first two years give us much from which to stay busy.

As these 5-year-old Chautauquans so beautifully demonstrated, Chautauqua is a work in progress. It always has been. I hope that they — and you — will keep talking to us as we endeavor to ever perfect this imperfect experiment in creating a more civil society. Thanks for all you do to animate this laboratory on the shores of the lake.

Tags : From the Presidentpresident columnPresident Michael E. Hill
Michael E. Hill

The author Michael E. Hill