COLUMN BY MICHAEL E. HILL
I am truly flabbergasted that we have completed one-third of the 2022 Chautauqua Summer Assembly. What a blessing these past three weeks have been! For those who have been with us for part or all of the season so far, you have my heartfelt thanks for your positive contributions to our collective time together. If you’re just arriving, buckle in! You’re about to experience Chautauqua in full bloom for the first time in three years — and maybe more for you. I’m excited to see how you interact with the bounty before you, and so grateful for your presence with us this week and always.
Our Chautauqua Lecture Series theme this week is “The Future of History.” Since we rolled out the 2022 themes about a year ago, I’ve enjoyed watching folks turn that phrase over in their heads. It’s a fascinating thing to ponder: What will historians 50, 100, even 1,000 years from now think and know of us and our era? And what resources will they choose to consult? When data is stored in the cloud rather than compiled in physical files, when we send emails and tweets rather than letters, how do the records of today become primary sources tomorrow? How can those records live in a useful way for the historians of the future — or, will a need to study history as a formal vocation even exist? Beyond the logistics, broader philosophical issues are at play: Who are the gatekeepers of our stories, and who do we trust to be stewards of our lives and memories?
Lots of questions frame our work this week. Fortunately, we have the world’s best experts helping us tackle them: the former dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, Eliot A. Cohen; two historians who are also Pulitzer Prize-winning authors, in Annette Gordon Reed and Jon Meacham; the Smithsonian’s Wikimedian at large, Andrew Lih; and author and curator Alexandra Zapruder, whose recent project “Dispatches from Quarantine” provided a platform for young people to document their real-time experiences of life during the COVID-19 pandemic.
While the Amphitheater lectures wrestle with history, our companion Interfaith Lecture Series will chart “The Future of Being.” As the universe and all creation continue to evolve into a changing and unknown future, we will ponder how our understanding of “being” — both human and divine — might also evolve to reveal more consciously a new experience of what we now simply call “life”? Together we will ask how this evolution might change the way that we will think about everything, and then how we will be, and then what we will do.
I’m elated to welcome back the amazing Marilynne Robinson, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Gilead to begin our inquiry, followed by our friend Sr. Ilia Delio, author of The Unbearable Wholeness of Being; Rabbi Shaul Magid, author of many books, including From Metaphysics to Midrash; Diane Schenandoah, who as of April has the distinction of being the Syracuse University community’s first Honwadiyenawa’sek (“One who helps them”); and Amy Edelstein, founder and executive director of the youth-development nonprofit Inner Strength Education.
This week marks the return of Fr. Gregory Boyle to serve as chaplain. Fr. Greg is a tremendous friend to Chautauqua, and we have been thrilled to partner with him and his colleagues at Homeboy Industries on a number of programs and initiatives over the years. His homilies will make us weep and laugh, often within the same parable — please make time to see this master storyteller and servant leader at work.
We’re also pleased on Thursday to embrace our neighbors and home county through the first annual Chautauqua County Day. What a great opportunity to celebrate our surrounding community and all that it provides us. This day and a special program on Thursday afternoon have been the result of close collaboration with the Coalition of Chautauqua County Women & Girls and a variety of local foundations and media partners. I can’t state enough how grateful we are to our local and county partners, and how proud we are as an organization — not to mention most of our year-round staff — to call Chautauqua County home.
Our artistic offerings are headlined this week by mainstage performances by the internationally acclaimed Latinx queer pop artist Gina Chavez and former “Tonight Show” host Jay Leno. You also have the unique opportunity to see our resident Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra four times, including Saturday evening for a special “concert theater” performance of Bill Barclay’s “The Chevalier” and Thursday in a massive combined performance with our Music School Festival Orchestra of Mahler’s First Symphony — two full orchestras onstage at once! And our School of Dance will provide Sunday’s entertainment with the first Student Gala of 2022.
If it’s been some time since you’ve been to Norton Hall or Bratton Theater, be sure to grab tickets to Chautauqua Opera’s rendition of Tosca on Monday or to Chautauqua Theater Company’s second New Play Workshop of 2022, Through the Eyes of Holly Germaine. Additionally, the artistry of the Ulysses Quartet fills Elizabeth S. Lenna Hall on Monday as part of our Chautauqua Chamber Music Guest Artist Series and we have a WonderSpark puppetry act on deck for Tuesday in Smith Wilkes Hall to continue the Family Entertainment Series.
And of course you’ll want to visit the Fowler-Kellogg and Strohl Art Centers at your leisure to see the dazzling visual arts exhibitions, some of which are in their final full week this week.
This week is also the third week of our Sunday Community Activity Fair on Bestor Plaza. I encourage you to take a quick tour of the truly stunning number of community-led organizations who help to serve and deliver on Chautauqua Institution’s mission — and join, if you’re so moved! While you’re on the plaza, be sure to stop by the Hultquist Center to get a glimpse at this week’s class offerings, too.
Truly, this is a bountiful week here at Chautauqua.
I want to close with some words about how as an institution and community, we are always trying to educate ourselves how best to engage with each other. While this place and these grounds in many ways offer a reprieve from everyday life, a chance to escape and be rejuvenated, it is and has always been the case that what afflicts the world finds its way here, too. I’d encourage you to read Amit Taneja’s latest column “From the IDEA Office” on Page A6 of this edition, which is an invitation to join us in making Chautauqua a place of belonging to all who seek to be enriched by it. I also want to express profound thanks to all of you who approach our staff with an extra note of grace, kindness and flexibility — this summer has demanded an extra level of hustle from many of our staff members, and I assure you everyone is doing their best within various constraints to deliver a world-class experience. Your kind words and simple gestures conveying understanding, encouragement and praise mean more than you know.
Time for me to step aside and let you continue flipping through the pages of another robust issue of The Chautauquan Daily, filled with the stories of another vibrant weekend at Chautauqua. This week, what shape will your Chautauqua story take? Welcome to Week Four.