Week Eight Letter From the President

Dear Fellow Chautauquans,

Welcome to the eighth week of our 146th Assembly. We’ve just come off a week centering on the notion of grace in our world. I’m grateful to Krista Tippett and her “On Being” team for their week of outstanding work. As stark as our pivot may seem, I think moving from grace to this week’s theme of “Shifting Global Power” is more natural than may appear at first blush, as our shifting global power is perhaps in need of grace. I also don’t think we can fully understand the frame we’d like to see in our global systems without exploring notions of grace, justice, peace and civility … and so we dive into this week as we continue our season’s journey.

Power is shifting on the international stage. It always has been. During this week, we will focus on the geopolitical hot-spots of the moment, examining the new holders, and even the new definitions, of global power. Each day, we will explore one topic or definition of power, and identify the major players in that arena. And we will ask, how is power even defined, beyond money and military might? Is it natural resources, technology, education, diplomacy and aid, culture? As power shifts, so, too, do identities and values. Are there ways power ought to shift?

In our companion Interfaith Lecture Series, we focus on power through the idea of “soft power.” Power is often conflated with might, but increasingly faith traditions are promoting new paradigms for conflict transformation, understanding and collaboration through shared visions and ideals, restorative practices, relationship-building and rituals — all the components of soft power. This week, we will learn from those who are utilizing soft power for global peacemaking, reconciliation and quality of life. 

I have been fascinated by the notion of soft power since my days serving as president and CEO of Youth For Understanding. The entire notion of student exchange is that citizens can deeply influence the course of nations when they understand other cultures and systems, and use that knowledge to sway their respective societies. That’s one of the reasons that I love the topic this week, as our citizen group here at Chautauqua assembles to wrestle with this. 

Outside of a fascinating and important topic, we have some outstanding guides to help us this week. Chautauqua favorite Bill Moyers returns for a 2 p.m. lecture on Monday. We regret that he cannot join us for the entire week, as originally planned (doctor’s orders), but are still incredibly grateful that he will set the stage for these important conversations. Bill has been recognized as one of the unique voices of our time. His career in broadcast journalism has spanned five decades and earned him more than 36 Emmy Awards, nine Peabody Awards, six Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Awards, the National Humanities Medal from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the PEN USA Courageous Advocacy Award, the Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, and the Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts from the American Film Institute. He’s also just a lovely person and friend to us; I’m excited to have him back. 

This week, we award The Chautauqua Prize, honoring 2019 winner All the Names They Used for God: Stories and celebrating its author, Anjali Sachdeva. I have followed this book since it showed up on the Prize shortlist. If you haven’t read it yet, grab a copy at our bookstore. Anjali is going to be a significant voice in the literary arts in the coming years, and I’m elated to elevate this brilliant piece of literature.

And while all of our speakers are insightful, I’m so fascinated by Tarana J. Burke, the founder of the MeToo Movement. For more than 25 years, Tarana has worked at the intersection of racial justice, arts and culture and sexual violence. The MeToo Movement sparked a major sea of change in the equality movement, and her journey and story allows us to take a very different spin on shifting global power.

As I look at the list of this week’s arts offerings, I’m reminded that many of our programs in our Schools of Performing and Visual Arts have, or are about to, come to a close. Our students bring such incredible energy to our campus. I’m always sad to see them go, as it starts to signal a winding down of our season. I want to publicly thank them, and the faculty and staff of these programs, for an incredible year.

While for some this week marks the second-to-last week of our summer assembly, I know that for many it is the first week of your Chautauqua experience. We welcome those just joining us as we take our community conversation to the global stage. May it fill us with the knowledge to be better global citizens because of it.

-Michael E. Hill

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Michael E. Hill

The author Michael E. Hill