A Week Three Message from Chautauqua’s President


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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