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From the President

Final 2021 Letter from the President

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COLUMN BY MICHAEL E. HILL

President Michael E. Hill is joined on the front steps of the President’s Cottage by 5s from Children’s School’s Blue and Yellow Rooms.

Each week I have the privilege of writing a letter to the Chautauqua community exploring what we’ve just experienced and what’s to come as we progress through our Summer Assembly. As we close out each summer together, I have two opportunities to reflect with one: the closing Three Taps of the Gavel address and one last column. I’ll save most of my thoughts for Three Taps (no, not the eatery and gathering space you’ve come to enjoy — the speech)!  

Today, I want to share with you far wiser words than those I might pen. Each summer of my presidency, I have invited young people from Children’s School to the President’s Cottage to share their thoughts on the future of Chautauqua. I have one of their letters framed in my Washington, D.C. office — it takes up a seven-foot-tall pillar. These youngest Chautauquans annually deliver to me what I call the “Children’s 95 Theses.” In their words I see the hopes and dreams of not only today’s Chautauqua, but the Chautauqua of tomorrow.   

For my closing column to you, I share their words, which contain the passion, joy and longing for all we’ve experienced and all we hope to experience. I thank them for their annual reminder of the best in human values. I thank them for grounding me in my promise to be a servant leader for this sacred place. I see in their eyes all the reasons to push forward — even through a global pandemic — to make sure Chautauqua endures. 

Thank you for a great summer. I hope to see you in the Amp for Three Taps (or online if you cannot be with us). To quote these little ones: “We love Chautauqua! And don’t worry, we’re coming back next year … YOU BET!” 


Dear President Hill, 

Thank you for taking the time to meet with your 2021 Children’s School Advisory Board, made up of the 5-year-olds of the Blue and Yellow Rooms. We understand that you’ve had a lot going on in the past couple years and that life during a pandemic is still a bit crazy. With all that in mind, we thought we would carry on the tradition of offering a few revitalizing recommendations, as well as reminders of why this place is so special. We love Chautauqua and are so proud that we can help you make it even more wonderful! 

A few things we love about Chautauqua are …  

  • Being here with our families (especially the ones we haven’t seen!) 
  • The Bell Tower and bats
  • Riding the bus
  • Beaches and boats
  • Riding our bike
  • Playgrounds
  • Reuniting with old friends and making new ones
  • And of course … Children’s School!

Here are some ideas for potential improvements: 

  • More dirt so we can plant more flowers
  • Build a giant playground with a petting zoo
  • Add more trees so people can breathe better
  • Another bookstore with toys, too
  • Boating lessons for kids
  • More children’s books at the library
  • Fewer cars (so we can bike and play safely)
  • Throw Chautauqua an even BIGGER birthday party
  • Even more trees so we can have more books!
  • (Maybe we should make a tree zoo?)
  • More BATS and BUTTERFLIES and BEES!

We understand that these may be a bit beyond what you can do, but just in case, we’d like: 

  • To make all the bad people nice
  • Help the homeless
  • Donate toys to kids in the hospital
  • No more pandemics, please
  • Children’s School all year long!

It’s been a long year, and some of us didn’t have the chance to be here last year. While this made us sad, we are so grateful to be here with family and friends, all safe and happy. Let us know if there is anything we can do to help make your job a little easier. Thank you and your staff for all your hard work that allowed us to be here again.

We love Chautauqua! And don’t worry, we’re coming back next year … YOU BET!

Week Nine Letter from the President

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COLUMN BY MICHAEL E. HILL

Resilience.

If there was ever a word to describe the fact that we are at Week Nine of our Summer Assembly, “resilience” may be the perfect choice. For all we have been through over the past year and a half to get to this place, where we can conclude an entirely in-person season, it seems more than appropriate that we conclude our Summer Assembly exploring this one word that says so much more about you, me and our global society.

This week we look at some compelling questions: What drives people to keep going when forces outside their control work against them? And what does that tell us about our humanity and hope for the future? We close our 2021 season looking at the resilience that emerged during a tumultuous 2020. From a global pandemic to the quest for racial equality, we reflect on a revealing, historic period by lifting up the stories and the lessons of those who refused to give up, give in or go away.

Our guides this week could not be more perfect. Lynsey Addario is a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer who covers conflict zones across the Middle East, South Asia, and Africa. In 2000, she traveled to Afghanistan to document life under the Taliban. Given the past week’s events, I can only imagine what she might share with us. Francoise Adan is the Chief Whole Health and Wellbeing Officer for University Hospitals and the director for the UH Connor Integrative Health Network. She will explore a model of resilience she formalized for health care and how we might think about resilience in the midst of a global pandemic. Keisha N. Blain is an award-winning historian of the 20th century with specializations in African-American history, the modern African Diaspora, and women’s and gender studies. She will bring all of this to a riveting discussion of resistance and resilience in the face of racism. And we end the week with Evan Osnos, a National Book Award-winning author and staff writer for The New Yorker, who will take all we’ve been through to discuss the resilience of American Democracy and where we go from here.

Sometimes our morning lecture theme is so appropriate, it only makes sense to carry it forward into our companion Interfaith Lecture Series, which also explores the topic of resilience this week, and the questions remain the same. In these set of conversations, we add a faith dimension through the words and stories of Rabbi Hazzan Jeffrey Meyers, who has served as the Rabbi and Cantor for the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, the site of one of the worst attacks on a Jewish place of worship in the United States. Irish-born international bestseller Colum McCann who uses modern-day narratives to explore the resilience from the grief of tremendous loss, and we conclude with a Chautauqua — and personal! — favorite, Diana Butler Bass. Dr. Bass is an award-winning author, popular speaker and preacher, and one of America’s most trusted commentators on religion and contemporary spirituality. I know her words of wisdom will be a fitting and moving coda to this group’s reflections.

And while we are in this deep and appropriate discussion about resilience, we know one of the tools is to have fun and to experience joy! We will get that this week with a dream lineup of four great big-name concerts: The Roots + Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue on Saturday, Old Crow Medicine Show on Thursday, Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit on Friday, and Smokey Robinson next Saturday, Aug. 28. I’m truly excited to see Jason Isbell, as my brother-in-law Paul has been promoting him at family dinners for a while. This week we also continue to build the impressive roster of guest dance companies that Chautauqua engages, as Parsons Dance visits the Amphitheater stage Monday evening. Our own Chautauqua Theater Company closes Thurgood with two performances this weekend. And as we progress through the week we mark the closing of the amazing exhibitions at our two world-class Chautauqua Visual Arts galleries — be sure to walk through the Fowler-Kellogg and Strohl art centers before they close toward the end of the week (you can find individual exhibition closing dates in this week’s yellow program listing insert).

Finally, I hope you will enjoy the bounty of our home Chautauqua County region as presented in our Culinary Week celebration at Miller Park, near Miller Bell Tower. We’re honored to provide a space for two local festivals — Jamestown’s Scandinavian Festival and St. James Italian Festival — to fundraise and showcase their wonderful food and culture, not to mention fund-raise, after two years of cancelations. Plus, we’ll have many of the beloved food, drink and craft vendors you may have come to know in previous years’ festivals on Bestor Plaza. (And if you need to work off any of those fantastic food offerings, don’t forget about the myriad ways you can experience Chautauqua’s recreation pillar!)

While I know it took great resilience to get to this place in our Chautauqua journey, being back together amidst the backdrop of a continuing pandemic, I also know that it’s been a joy for our team to be with you again. I’ll have one last chance to reflect in my last column of the season, this one bringing the words from our youngest Chautauquans. Watching them makes being resilient worth it all!

Have a great Week Nine, friends!

Week Eight Letter from the President

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COLUMN BY MICHAEL E. HILL

As we enter Week Eight of our season, I am struck by the complexity of the issues we’ve covered during this Chautauqua Summer Assembly. China, “Bridging our Divides,” empathy and our just-concluded look at “The State of the Economy.” All of these — and the many others — have an ingredient in common: our human ability to be curious and to learn. But have we ever considered what’s behind it all? This week we take a stab at that as we explore “The Human Brain: Our Greatest Mystery.” 

Neurophysiologist and Nobel Laureate David Hubel once asked, “Can the brain understand the brain? Can it understand the mind? Is it a giant computer … or something more?” In this week, we explore the folds and recesses of this distinctly human mystery, bringing together neuroscientists and psychologists to chart a path through the enigma of our consciousness, through the impacts of trauma and stress on our health, through the gray matter and the white matter, neurons and synapses, the wiring that embodies our cognition, that sparks our selves. 

I’m grateful for our guides who will help us unpack this very “heady” week. Angus Fletcher is one of the foremost scholars on the neuroscience of storytelling and starts our week in a very Chautauqua way, by blending two disciplines: science and literature. Longtime Chautauqua program contributor Norman Ornstein, an emeritus scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, will lead a conversation with former director of the National Institute of Mental Health Thomas Insel and judge Steven Leifman that looks at the brain and mental health as the start of a series of conversations we will continue beyond the Summer Assembly on CHQ Assembly. We then move to neuroscientist Bianca Jones Marlin, whose research investigates the relationship between the innate and the learned, and we close out the week with neuro-ethicist Nita Farahany, who explores the ethical dimensions of what we know and where it goes. While the Chautauqua Lecture Series tackles this cerebral puzzle, we look to perhaps a deeper frame in our companion Interfaith Lecture Series, which examines “The Human Soul: Our Ineffable Mystery.” Most people sense and recognize another dimension beyond the physical plane of our existence and call the personal inner reality that this dimension connotes the human “soul,” known also as the “spirit” or “life force.” Recognition of this inner reality is the basis of most religions, but remains difficult to define or explain. In this week we will hear various interpretations of this ineffable human experience. I think this blending of head and heart provides a powerful frame as we enter the latter part of our Chautauqua season. 

There’s so much more happening on the grounds. This week we welcome back the incomparable Capathia Jenkins with the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra under the baton of our Principal Pops Conductor Stuart Chafetz as well as Black Violin, the Grammy-nominated duo that blends classical and hip-hop music to overcome stereotypes of what it means to be a classical musician, while proving there are no limits to what we can achieve. We also get to celebrate the continued work of our student artists with the second School of Dance Student Gala. The first one brought rave reviews of these talents, and I know you’ll enjoy this one just as much. 

We offer a special welcome to the Sphinx Artists on Thursday, a quintet from the nation’s most dynamic professional chamber orchestra composed of top Black and Latinx classical soloists.  This presentation is a manifestation of a wonderful partnership with the Sphinx organization that has come to life both here on the grounds and on CHQ Assembly over the past few years. Chautauqua Theater Company’s Thurgood at the Pavilion, Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle and African American Heritage House lecture presentations on CHQ Assembly, and a Friday night with The Wood Brothers make Week Eight a wonderfully diverse and week of experiences that will, no doubt, get the synapses firing! 

As we journey through this week and look toward Week Nine, I want to thank all of you for your care and patience as we continue to navigate the impacts of COVID-19 on staffing levels and on new protocols. I am so grateful we’ve been able to convene in person this year together. Let’s continue to be kind and patient with one another, recognizing that Chautauqua only works when we all work together as a community. In the spirit of this week, thanks for bringing your head and soul to that endeavor. Have a great week!

Week Seven Letter from the President

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COLUMN BY MICHAEL E. HILL

How in the world did we get to the last third of our Summer Assembly?! It boggles the mind, but here we are in Week Seven, and what a week we have in store for you as we explore “The State of the Economy: Where Do We Go From Here?” To say that the last 12 to 18 months have been a rollercoaster would be an understatement, in all its dimensions, but on what ride did that rollercoaster take our economy? In this week, we’ll look at what’s driving the rebuilding of the economy in the wake of, and while still contending with, COVID-19. In the summer of 2021 — a year and a half after the pandemic plunged the U.S. into recession — we examine the state of “recovery” from Main Street to Wall Street; what has been lost and what has thrived; and what the crisis has laid bare in terms of necessary investments and structural reforms. How do we make our economy more resilient? 

During this week we consider what building a new economy can and should look like, beyond high employment and growing businesses. Do we want an economy that looks like the one we had on Jan. 1, 2020, or one that is more just in the distribution of wealth? What have we learned in the months following “reopening,” and what are we learning from the approaches of other nations? What — and who — have we deemed essential in this new and evolving economy? 

To help us unpack these complex questions, we’re joined by a “who’s who” of guides: American Public Media’s Nancy Marshall-Genzer; the new president of the American Enterprise Institute, Robert Doar; Raphael Bostic, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta; and Rebecca Henderson, one of 25 University Professors at Harvard, whose recent book may capture it best: Reimagining Capitalism in a World on Fire. 

In our companion Interfaith Lecture Series, we ask an economic question about justice as we look at “Creating an Economy that Works for All.” A society failing to uphold justice for all is not a just society. A just society supports health care, work opportunity and wage justice, and bridges the divides that create life-diminishing inequalities in education and access to essential services. It bridges wealth gaps and promotes the opportunity to thrive for all. In this week, we’ll ask: How do religion and ethical humanism make demands upon economic policy, and what difference does this make? I’m so excited that my friend and Chautauqua favorite Sr. Joan Chittister will lead us off in this exploration. I’ve come to realize that there simply is not a thing Joan cannot dissect with great moral clarity and vision. 

Naturally, I’m ecstatic to welcome Harry Connick Jr. to our Amphitheater stage this week. I feel as if his music has been the soundtrack to my life. What a treat to share with you someone who made being a crooner popular again — he has more No. 1 albums than almost any jazz artist living today. What a joy to have him cap off our Week Seven. But don’t look past our arts offerings earlier in the week: the final performance of our 2021 Chautauqua Opera Company Young Artists during Saturday’s Opera & Pops concert with the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra; the first gala performance of our amazing School of Dance students on Monday; the premiere of Chautauqua Theater Company’s Thurgood, starring Brian Marable, on Friday; and the incredible exhibitions at our world-class Chautauqua Visual Arts Galleries, including the work of the 2021 School of Art cohort. This week on the economy is truly rich and full of artistry as well. 

One final note as we start this week: I was so grateful to be with so many of you this past week as we celebrated Old First Night. Chautauqua turned 147 this year, and I think we’ve aged quite well. Thanks for being a part of this very special year and this very important week. 

Week Six Letter from the President

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COLUMN BY MICHAEL E. HILL

As I flipped through the latest issue of Time, I came across a timely article about a 2020 study by the Society for Human Resource Management titled the “State of Workplace Empathy.” The article was titled “The Empathy Trap,” which should signal that Week Six at Chautauqua is anything but a “group hug,” feel-good week. In the workplace, the 2020 study noted that people are tired from working all the time — further exacerbated by the no-boundaries, at-home office during COVID — trying to sort out caregiving responsibilities from the young to those needing elder care and dealing with the ever-changing threat levels of COVID-19. All of that makes sense, but here’s the kicker as it relates to our week: most of those interviewed for the study also found that Americans, in general, have an “empathy deficit.” 

This week at Chautauqua, we explore “Building a Culture of Empathy.” Creating understanding and compassion, empathy is critical in navigating our world and building community. Empathy might have a reputation associated with emotionality or sentimentality, but science indicates that it’s wired into our very being, with practical applications in lives. What does empathy look like in action, from healing systemic divides and leading through times of crisis? Instilling and normalizing empathy has the potential to help us connect across our most polarizing differences and survive our most tragic times, so how can we work together to build a lasting culture of empathy? 

And here’s some additional food for thought from recent studies on empathy: most Americans want to be the recipient of it, but aren’t keen to provide it if it pushes their own understanding of the world. As the Time article noted about one employee’s views, “it has to be OK if I mess up sometimes” but that same employee wasn’t open to giving their employer the same grace. This sounds a lot like the divides we were exploring in previous weeks, right? So what do we do about it? 

In our companion Interfaith Lecture Series, we look at a week with the same title. In recent years, a trait frequently cited as essential to the flourishing of humankind is empathy, an impulse manifested in all the world’s religions. Connected with compassion and altruism, it arises out of a willingness to care, to endeavor to understand, and to place oneself within the human experiences of others. In this week, we seek interfaith voices who are living this capacity, and inspiring and motivating it in others. Perhaps there are some answers to our earlier questions from the likes of Brian McLaren or Edgar Rodriguez or Jose Arellano or Steve Avalos? 

Continuing our dialogues on the climate, Chautauqua’s Climate Change Initiative this week partners with Chautauqua Cinema to present the film “The Magnitude of All Things” and the short, “What About Our Future?” in collaboration with Toronto’s Planet in Focus Environmental Film Festival. Show time is 10 a.m. Friday, Aug. 6, and it’s included with Traditional and Grounds Access Passes, though space in the cinema is limited. Reservations can be made at chautauquacinema.com

While we spend our week on empathy, I want to thank Chautauquans — staff and non-staff participants — for the empathy exhibited as we had to implement our COVID protocols in our Youth and Family Programs this past week. We navigate more than themes in community; we also embrace moments of challenge and moments of celebration. I hope we’ll be back to full youth programming soon, and I’m looking forward to Old First Night and the Old First Night Run/Walk, reminders of the rich legacy, heritage and fortitude that has served Chautauqua for almost 150 years. As we enter Week Six, let’s bring that fortitude and faith, empathy and example, to all we do. Have a great week, Chautauqua! 

Week Five Letter from the President

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COLUMN BY MICHAEL E. HILL

Knock, knock. Who’s there? You are! OK, so clearly I’m not the one to author or deliver jokes, but I don’t have to do that heavy lifting as we enter Week Five at Chautauqua — a week in partnership with our friends at the National Comedy Center. 

Traversing some of our themes at Chautauqua can occasionally feel heavy: trust, democracy, empathy, resilience, divides — and while they are incredibly important topics to explore during our Summer Assembly, sometimes we just need to laugh. We promise you laughter and more this week as we explore “The Authentic Comedic Voice: A Week in Partnership with the National Comedy Center.” The art of comedy is deeply personal, requiring artists and creators to tap into their own experience to hone a unique, resonant and authentic voice. In this week, we examine how comedians working in an array of genres, media and styles have found their voices, developed their voices and mobilized their voices to communicate with audiences in impactful — and entertaining — ways. 

From comedians to comedy commentators, we bring out some great voices to help us this week. I’m thrilled to welcome back to Chautauqua our dear friend Lewis Black, not only for a special performance and a staged reading of one of his plays, but also for a Friday master class. This king of comedy has seen and done it all, and over these past years of partnership with our friends at the nearby National Comedy Center has himself become a friend to Chautauqua. We’re thrilled to have him and them here. 

In our companion Interfaith Lecture Series, we look at “The Authentic Comedic Voice: Truth Born of Struggle.” What we expect from the art of comedy is something silly, foolish, witty, or an unexpected twist or deviation from expected reality. It has been posited, however, that authentic comedic articulation, while producing laughter and hilarity, frequently arises out of struggle, out of pathos and the need to speak truth. “We laugh because it’s funny; we laugh — or cry — because it’s true.” In this week, we invite the voices of the healers who make us laugh. 

Speaking of “funny men,” we resurrect the great comedic master Charlie Chaplin this week as our very own organist, Jared Jacobsen Chair and director of sacred music, Joshua Stafford, presents the second Massey Memorial Organ movie with Chaplin’s “The Gold Rush.” Even if you’re not a fan of Chaplin, you cannot help but be a fan of the master of Massey. Josh is in his first year as our permanent organist, and having taken in the first Massey Organ movie, I can attest to the great treat it is to relive the era of silent movies with accompaniment.  

If part of the goal of comedy week is to hold up the value of joy, then you’ll understand the reasons we invited Straight No Chaser back to the Amphitheater on Friday. Some know that I spent more than a decade singing in an a cappella group, Potomac Fever, with the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington. I had the pure joy of singing many of Straight No Chaser’s arrangements during those years, so I hope you’ll indulge me if I show up in full “fanboy” mode that night. I hope you’ll join me — even if you don’t geek out as much as I will.  

This past week saw a transition in our student life, as our incredible School of Music cohort departed, while the schools of Dance and Visual Arts came to life for their 2021 sessions. While it’s unusual to not have all the students here together, living in community with each other and all of us, I’m grateful to them for their dedication and commitment, and to our faculty and staff team who poured all of themselves into ensuring a safe and satisfying experience. To see the effect that Chautauqua can have on the next generation of artists, I hope you’ll attend Sunday evening’s special Alumni All-Star Ballet Gala. These remarkable dancers, all of whom spent part of their formative years here, now represent top-tier national companies such as New York City Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet and Joffrey Ballet. It’s a performance not to be missed. 

Finally, I hope you’ll notice how our performing and literary arts programs have picked up on our comedy theme, with Chautauqua Theater Company’s performances of Commedia, Chautauqua Opera Company’s Scalia/Ginsburg on Friday and the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle’s Week Five selection of Anxious People by Fredrik Backman. Nowhere but Chautauqua can a theme be so deeply and naturally threaded through the overall experience. 

In a recent planning meeting for the future of Chautauqua, someone reminded me that while we often explore the great issues of the day in depth, one of our strongest assets is that we want that exploration to bring joy. People are more inclined to do good in the world when they feel joyful and hopeful. I hope this week delivers both to you as we enter the midpoint of our season. I hope to experience it alongside you in community. Have a great week, Chautauqua! 

Week Four Letter from the President

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COLUMN BY MICHAEL E. HILL

Welcome to Week Four at Chautauqua. As I write this message to you, we are completing the first third of our Summer Assembly — a most remarkable one that is flying by! 

It seems like the perfect transition to complete a week on “Trust, Society and Democracy” and move to a week in which we acknowledge that we have work to do to create the America we want to see now and for the future. In this week, we explore “Many Americas: Navigating Our Divides.” We are many geographies, many economies, many cultures, many beliefs. We are a nation of differences and divides, and in a summer following a presidential election and a devastating pandemic that has thrown those divides into stark relief, we look to better understand those many Americas, the barriers — real or perceived — that keep us apart, and together consider how we navigate our differences in charting a future for our nation. 

Our guides this week couldn’t be more perfect. On a personal note, I’m elated to welcome my friend and colleague Amanda Ripley to frame our week. Amanda and I worked together when I served as president and CEO of Youth For Understanding. Her ground-breaking book, The Smartest Kids in the World and How They Got That Way, chronicled the journey of several exchange students as a way to shine a light on the world’s education disparities. Her new book, High Conflict: Why We Got Trapped and How We Get Out, starts our week on “divides” from a frame of how to unify. She will be joined by editor and author David French on Tuesday, scholar and author Katherine Cramer on Wednesday, and one of our nation’s preeminent public intellectuals, Eddie S. Glaude Jr., on Thursday to close the week. 

In our companion Interfaith Lecture Series, we explore “The Evolving Religious Narrative of America.” In this week we explore the evolving American religious narrative and identity, and to continue the theme of “Michael’s favorite thinkers,” we start the week with my very dear friend Eboo Patel, founder and president of Interfaith Youth Core. Eboo is a Chautauqua favorite, having been here many times, challenging our assumptions and showing us an enlightened path toward a “more perfect union.” He is joined on the platform by Michael Martin, executive director of the Native American Community Services in Erie and Niagara counties, exploring the ways in which the American quest impacts native peoples, on Tuesday; and Gary Phillip Zola, bringing us a perspective from the Jewish tradition in this important evolving narrative of religion in America, on Wednesday. 

Friday morning brings a special Meet the Filmmaker opportunity to Chautauqua Cinema: “A Reckoning in Boston” will be presented at 10 a.m. with the filmmaker James Rutenbeck and producer and film subject Kafi Dixon engaging with the audience following the film. We give thanks to Cinema operator Billy Schmidt for his collaboration on this and several other events this summer.

While there are countless things to be excited about in a Chautauqua week, I’m delighted that our Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra will bring us a relatively new tradition as they provide the exquisite soundtrack to Tim Burton’s “The Nightmare Before Christmas” on Saturday night in the Amphitheater. With all of the serious exploration we do around our themes, it’s great to be reminded to have some fun, all while celebrating the incredible artistry of our very own CSO. 

Week Three, from my perspective, was a great example of the balance we always strive for in our lecture platforms, sharing perspectives from left, right and center on an important topic of trust and democracy. I look forward to all we’ll learn together in Week Four, and may we use the wisdom of our speakers, preachers, teachers and artists — and one another — to close the gap on our divides. 

Have a great week, Chautauqua! I know I will, because you’re here. 

Week Three Letter from the President

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COLUMN BY MICHAEL E. HILL

Welcome to Week Three at Chautauqua. I cannot believe we will close out the first third of our Assembly at the conclusion of this week. It proves the old adage: “Time flies when you’re having fun!” For those who have been with us the entire season, thanks for being a part of the fun. For those just coming to Chautauqua this week, thanks for joining us. 

This week, we cover one of the most important themes of this Summer Assembly as we explore “Trust, Society and Democracy.” While recent work from the Pew Research Center had previously indicated our growing distrust in social institutions and of each other in making democratic decisions, the past year has brought this crisis of trust to a critical inflection point. In this week, we’ll ask some big questions: How can trust be restored, and how do we maintain a healthy level of skepticism that doesn’t devolve into something worse? The internet and social media have clearly accelerated and inflamed this troubling trend — what role can they play in reversing it? What do we do with institutions that society has declared broken, and what must institutions do to rebuild trust with those they serve? Perhaps most importantly, how can we work to regain trust with one another? This is a vintage Chautauqua set of questions that go to the heart of what we believe here: that we cannot fully discover the truths of life in isolation. This week we put our convening authority to the test, and I implore all who join in the conversation to enter into each lecture, encounter and artistic expression — and all the conversations that follow on Bestor Plaza, at the Athenaeum and on our porches — truly seeking to understand before being understood. Last week’s lecturer R. Alta Charo referred to Chautauqua as a “big tent community.” I couldn’t agree more, and that’s the reason that we will look at “The Ethical Foundations of a Fully Functioning Society” in our companion Interfaith Lecture Series. Socrates and his student Plato entered the discourse on ethics by way of a question that became central in Greek thought and is still relevant today: What is the relation between virtue, excellence of character, and personal and societal happiness? For the flourishing of a society, the Greek philosophers believed in reverence and justice, as well as the objectivity of goodness, as the links for knowing what is good and doing it. In this week we will discern the ethical foundations of a fully functioning society, and we will use Chautauqua as our lived experiment. I’m excited about the ways that these two sets of conversations intersect and push us to explore the best in human values. 

This is also a big week in the arts, as Saturday night our beloved Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra makes its return to the Amphitheater stage. I’m grateful for the flexibility and creativity demonstrated by Maestro Rossen Milanov and these musicians in preparing for an unusual but greatly meaningful season of music-making. The CSO will also combine with our incredible Music School Festival Orchestra on Thursday for a joint performance not to be missed. That same night in the Performance Pavilion on Pratt, the students of Marlena Malas’ Voice Program stage the opera Hansel & Gretel, and elsewhere in the week Chautauqua Theater Company and Chautauqua Opera Company continue runs of the thought-provoking productions Blood at the Root (Wednesday) and Scalia/Ginsburg (Friday). And don’t forget to find your way to our amazing Chautauqua Visual Arts galleries, or to watch our Piano Competition winners in Sunday’s recital. It’s a remarkably rich week of artistic offerings. 

Please allow me to close this week’s letter to Chautauquans with an emphasis on the first word of this week’s theme: trust. Each year I receive letters sent to my office and via email from Chautauquans who wish to express either delight or dismay about something happening on the grounds. I take each of these letters very seriously as a conduit into what you’re experiencing, and I endeavor to provide each one a response: sometimes from me and very often from a member of my team who is better suited to address a specific concern. I’m grateful to all who take the time to express an opinion. Each summer, however, I receive a very small batch of “anonymous” letters that are simply addressed to me with either no signature or a cryptic descriptor such as “a homeowner” appended. I received two such letters this week. I’d like to respectfully ask Chautauquans to lean into the word “trust” and to always sign your letters. Anonymous letters aren’t actionable, as they eliminate the ability to have a dialogue. Please trust that we value your opinions, but please also know that unactionable letters will unfortunately be that: unactionable. 

Lastly, I want to express my deep thanks for the trust that so many Chautauquans have placed in our team to manage our beloved Chautauqua through the pandemic and into this first season assembly in person again. I recently came across this sign in my social media feed: 

So many of you have stopped members of our team to share your gratitude for simply “showing up” this summer. We feel the same deep appreciation for you. As we enter Week Three, please know that I’m aware that lines are longer than we’d all like at the Brick Walk Cafe, that menus are more limited because of staffing shortages. At Chautauqua, we are down hundreds of seasonal employees compared to our usual summer. Thank you to all who have shown kindness to our front-line colleagues. Know that they are hustling as fast as humanly possible to make your Chautauqua experience a magical one. Know we are all grateful for your patience and understanding. 

Trust, Society and Democracy. I can think of no better place to practice each than at Chautauqua. Welcome to Week Three! 

Week Two Letter from the President

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COLUMN BY MICHAEL E. HILL

Welcome to Week Two of our 2021 Summer Assembly. It was so invigorating to be with many of you as we explored the role of China in the world. If you were with us last week, I hope you left with a greater understanding of the ways in which China in its many manifestations — politically, economically, culturally — is part of the very complex fabric of our world. From artistic expression to our various lecture platforms, Week One was an example of Chautauqua at its finest. It was made all better by having you here. 

For those joining us for Week Two, you come during the exploration of a fascinating topic, as we look at “New Frontiers: Exploring Today’s Unknowns.” If COVID taught us nothing else, it was that we can’t always see what’s around the corner. In this week, we acknowledge that there is so much left to explore and discover — and the more humans explore, the more we learn how much remains undiscovered. On the Chautauqua Lecture Series platform, we consider throughout the week these new frontiers in science, health, technology and the environment, and look to where new insights are being gained every day. I’m excited that we get a chance to welcome the new explorers, the next generation of innovators, to learn what work they’re doing on the cutting edge of these fields, exploring the extraordinary and making the unknown, known. 

In our companion Interfaith Lecture Series, we explore “New Frontiers: Exploring the Future of Religion in America.” Long regarded as one of the most religious countries in the world, America is showing signs of losing that distinction, as successive generations begin to claim more spirituality and less religiosity, and with greater frequency self-identifying as neither, indeed as “none of the above.” In this week we look toward what a changing religious landscape in America would look and act like. 

This is also a week of traditions here at Chautauqua, as we celebrate the Fourth of July — this year with the Music School Festival Orchestra and the Chautauqua Community Band. From parades and picnics, we celebrate the founding of our nation, with all its imperfections and accomplishments. One of the reasons I love Chautauqua is that we know that loving something doesn’t mean that we don’t challenge it, and I’m excited that our speakers, preachers and artists will continue in this week to ask questions about the American ideal as we celebrate the very founding of the nation. 

Speaking of using the arts to look more deeply at our society, if you haven’t seen Chautauqua Theater Company’s production of Blood at the Root, please be sure to take in a performance of it at our new Performance Pavilion on Pratt. Stori Ayers, CTC’s associate artistic director, is one of my favorite storytellers, and you won’t want to miss her direction that asks whether justice is really blind. 

We welcome a great preacher to unpack our week, as well, with the Rev. Zina Jacque, the lead pastor at Community Church of Barrington in Illinois. She has served on the staffs of multicultural, urban and suburban churches, and has done extensive work in the areas of education, counseling and support programs. Rev. Jacque was the founder and first executive director of the Pastoral Counseling Center of Trinity Church (Episcopal) in Boston. In this role she implemented training on mental health issues for local pastors and led the center in the delivery of direct service hours to economically disenfranchised people across greater Boston. Now in its 18th year, it remains a unique center serving the greater Boston area. She is a prophetic voice for our time and a great guide for the week. 

Elsewhere in the week, we celebrate the beginning of the Chautauqua Opera Company’s mainstage season with the premiere of Scalia/Ginsburg on Friday at the Pavilion. I commend General and Artistic Director Steven Osgood and his entire team for pulling together a creative season that will surprise and delight. This opening operatic comedy lifts up an unlikely friendship that proves that our disagreements, however deep, don’t have to define how we relate to each other. It’s a message that many of us, and many of our leaders, would do well to hear and heed.  

Finally, if you’re just arriving on the grounds, I hope you’ll take time to check out our newest food and drink venue, 3 Taps and The A Truck, lakeside at the Pier Building and Miller Bell Tower. It has already proved to be a popular space for friends and family to reunite, reacquaint and reminisce. Perhaps you’ll find it to be a similarly accommodating space for you and yours this celebratory holiday week. Please also remember to tune into CHQ Assembly at 10:20 a.m. weekdays just prior to the morning lecture as host Amy Oshier previews the day’s events live on CHQ for U. If you miss the live presentation, it’s also available each day on demand through the end of the week.  On Friday mornings, we present an extended version of the show, looking ahead to the week to come.

As I mentioned in my opening Three Taps address, this summer is still one of experimentation for us as we emerge from COVID-19. I want to thank all of you for your understanding as we operate Chautauqua in new and sometimes augmented ways. As we go through this second week of our season, I ask all to remember the tremendous joy of gathering in community again. When we get it right, let’s celebrate with one another. When we miss the mark, I’d ask your understanding and forgiveness, allowing frustration to be tempered by the joy of gathering in the first place. That is the best of Chautauqua shining through, and your return is the greatest sign of joy we all feel. Welcome to Week Two!

Let us take a more joyous strain: the 2021 season opens

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  • Chautauqua Institution President Michael E. Hill delivers his Three Taps of the Gavel Addess to open the 2021 Season Sunday, June 27, 2021 in the Amp. DAVE MUNCH/PHOTO EDITOR
  • Chautauqua Institution President Michael E. Hill taps the gavel at the conclusion of his Three Taps of the Gavel Addess, opening the 2021 Season Sunday, June 27, 2021 in the Amp. DAVE MUNCH/PHOTO EDITOR
  • Chautauqua Institution President Michael E. Hill delivers his Three Taps of the Gavel Addess to open the 2021 Season Sunday, June 27, 2021 in the Amp. DAVE MUNCH/PHOTO EDITOR
  • Chautauqua Institution President Michael E. Hill delivers his Three Taps of the Gavel Addess to open the 2021 Season Sunday, June 27, 2021 in the Amp. DAVE MUNCH/PHOTO EDITOR

Editor’s Note: These are the prepared remarks for Chautauqua Institution’s President Michael E. Hill’s annual Three Taps of the Gavel address, delivered at Sunday’s morning worship service in the Amphitheater.

The long winter of our discontent may not be quite over in the world, but it sure is looking a lot like summer at Chautauqua.

I have spent the last several days getting to welcome many of you back to the grounds. We’ve been through so much, individually and collectively, since we were last together. It has been wonderful to share your stories and to share some of my own, including the news that since our last in-person Assembly, Peter and I were married, and we joined the mighty ranks of Chautauquans with a dog — a puppy that, like so many, enjoyed the 17-year arrival of cicadas. I know Wilbur, our 6-month-old golden retriever, looks forward to saying hello this summer. 

It is sometimes hard to even remember all we have seen and experienced through this surreal time in human history, among the most challenging that Chautauqua and Chautauquans have ever known, and, if I’m being honest, I can hardly believe you’re here. What a difference a year makes.

Last year I delivered the opening Three Taps of the Gavel address ushering in our 147th Summer Assembly in quite a different fashion. Looking out through a teleprompter, some 4,500 empty seats were my audience. I remember trying to envision you, wondering whether you were safely in your homes, praying that we had not lost any of you to a virus that was still deeply mysterious. I remember thinking about the launch of CHQ Assembly as a lifeboat to stay connected, and I hoped that I would never again open a Summer Assembly to an empty Amphitheater.

So here we are, you and I, reclaiming our beloved Chautauqua grounds, and today I cannot help but think about all of those who planned and sacrificed, sweated and worried, created safety plans and kept our society moving, all so we could get to this day. It is only fitting that we hold up these heroes as we start our Summer Assembly together, because it took far more than a village to bring us back. Please allow me a moment to share some of the heroics we have witnessed since our last gathering:

Chautauqua County’s Commissioner of Social Services and Public Health Director Christine Schuyler was swept to center stage when the world shut down last March. Day after day she hosted news conference after news conference, representing a calm and knowledgeable presence amid significant uncertainty. She repeatedly credited her staff for their heroics, and she sometimes represented her own humanity through tears that showed all of us that the days were long and impossible.

As the pandemic lingered, Christine kept her focus on serving the people of Chautauqua County, where she continues to lead the effort to enhance vaccine rates and reduce ambiguity.

Christine, thank you for your leadership and extraordinary commitment always — but especially over the past 15 months. We are and will remain grateful to you for getting us to where we are today. I am so hopeful a vacation is in the works. Please stand so we can publicly say “thank you” for all you’ve done.

Another in our community who faced this pandemic like a Marvel superhero is Chautauqua Lake Central School District, under the first-year leadership of Superintendent Josh Liddell. From the start of the 2020-2021 school year, Chautauqua Lake Schools represented creativity and resilience — offering multiple pathways to the classroom experience. The district just completed a remarkable 186-day school year in which it provided in-person instruction every school day for 95% or more of the district’s population. Dr. Liddell, congratulations, and thank you for the inclusive and careful way you and your staff navigated this sometimes frightening and always uncertain pandemic experience. We are fortunate to have you in our community serving as a model of caring for the youngest ones among us while demonstrating that lifelong learning especially matters at the earliest ages. Please stand for our thanks.

While I could go on for hours to recognize the many people in public office, private companies, hospitals, emergency services, police and volunteer organizations who deserve so much of the credit for our ability to be together now and through the next 65 days and beyond, I wish to also recognize the staff of Chautauqua Institution. 

Starting with our Building and Grounds and Chautauqua Police teams who continued to report to work every day while most of their colleagues were required to stay home — these individuals literally and figuratively powered this place for months. And they did so with an uncommon sense of pride and deep, deep commitment. I celebrate you and the entire Chautauqua staff for navigating these difficult days as a team — with good humor, sheer courage and a special pixie dust that looks a lot like love. Every Chautauquan, here and not here, thanks you for your care and your embodiment of Chautauqua’s mission. We gratefully salute you.

I am privileged to share leadership of Chautauqua with a very special group of people. Behind me are members of our board of trustees and members of the executive management team of Chautauqua. I so often wish that all at Chautauqua could witness first-hand the selfless servant leadership of this group of people. They have worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic to preserve our most sacred traditions, to expand Chautauqua’s reach and to make it possible to safely return for a new season at Chautauqua. They have my unending gratitude, my deepest respect and my abiding love for their service.

And as part of all of that, I particularly want to take a moment to recognize the many colleagues across the Institution who responded to ever-changing rules and regulations over the course of the pandemic. Many members of our audience today might have had to make similar decisions for the companies and organizations that you lead, to continue to serve your core mission by pivoting, changing or re-evaluating your plans. This work may have left many exhausted from time to time. Some of you still might be exhausted. 

I want to specifically thank our program and safety teams for the work they did to make sure that we continued to serve our mission while maintaining safety as a top priority. I also want to thank our loyal Chautauquans who were willing to roll with the changes, and most importantly those who took the time to say to our staff, “Thanks for all that you are doing.” Your deep commitment to Chautauqua, and your continued kindness and understanding is deeply valued and appreciated.

And, finally, I want to thank each of you who call yourselves Chautauquans. From donated gate passes and financial donations to words of encouragement and notes of wisdom, you reminded us of the importance of Chautauqua’s permanence in a world that felt anything but permanent. For never losing your faith in the Chautauqua ideal, for joining us in its digital expression, for seeking refuge in this place if you could, and for always, always reminding us that Chautauqua must come out the other side, your love of Chautauqua fueled all of us trying to seek a way back. Thank you.

While we take this moment to give thanks for all that has been done, we are also gearing up for our sesquicentennial in 2024. I am excited about our developing plans; but only at Chautauqua can one lay claim to three 150th birthdays, and this year is the first; the second being the 150th Assembly season in 2023 and, in 2024,  marking 150 years since the opening of the first Assembly. But to the first: the grounds are 150 years old this year. It was in 1871 that the Chautauqua Lake Camp Meeting Association purchased the land, cleared the grounds and built the first auditorium in what is now Miller Park. The first camp meeting was opened on the morning of June 27, 1871 — exactly 150 years ago to this day and to this hour. Those early Chautauquans had a sense of the sacredness of this space, as the Rev. Carruthers opened the meeting with a sermon based on Matthew 18:20: “For where two or more gather in my name, there am I.”

But those who organized that first, modest gathering could have had no idea that they were laying the groundwork for such a legacy. When our wonderful archivist, Jon Schmitz, told me of this anniversary date a few weeks ago, my mind immediately went to this question: What are we doing today that could potentially spawn a movement worthy of mention 100 or more years from now?

Of course, it’s exceedingly difficult and dangerous to get into the business of predicting the future, so I’ll reflect with you on our hopes – those of our board of trustees and our leadership team and staff — for what the Chautauqua of today will be known for when those who come after celebrate that tomorrow.

We hope that future generations will look to this era in the life of Chautauqua as the moment that commenced a significant initiative to improve the condition of Chautauqua Lake. Amid a pandemic and related challenges, in 2020 and 2021, Chautauqua Institution launched an ambitious journey toward sustainability and ecological wellness for Chautauqua Lake in partnership with government and community leaders, and our celebrated science partner, The Jefferson Project. 

“After all we’ve just been through to get to this moment, to get back here, to come home to Chautauqua,  I believe nothing can stand in our way.”

-Michael E. Hill, 18th President, Chautauqua Insititution

Naming the science-based conservation of Chautauqua Lake among four top objectives in our strategic plan, 150 Forward, represents a firm commitment on behalf of the Institution that says: “We share responsibility for the care and conservation of Chautauqua Lake, and we intend to claim and maintain a leadership role in this work. We will not stop until Chautauqua Lake is removed from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation list of impaired waterways.” We see a future where Chautauqua Lake and the communities that depend on it serve as a model and example of recovery and collaboration that influences and informs freshwater conservation efforts in the U.S. and abroad.

That care for our environment was also behind the launch this year of the Chautauqua Climate Change Initiative. Like our lake initiative, this is a generational issue. But it is one to which we believe Chautauqua must commit. When future generations look back at this time in the life of this storied Institution, we hope there is overwhelming evidence that we helped to create greater awareness of climate change while also helping to bridge divides on the issue. Where there is disagreement, Chautauqua will play a role in bringing people together to focus on what they can agree on toward influencing and creating positive change for the planet. 

Through the generosity of two visionary philanthropist families, starting this year, Chautauqua invests in programs during and beyond the Summer Assembly, on and off these sacred grounds, in bringing people together to consider their role in stemming the trajectory of climate change. Our new director of the Chautauqua Climate Change Initiative, Mark Wenzler, brought national attention to us already in his choice to bike — not drive or fly — from our Washington, D.C. office to Chautauqua, New York, two weeks ago. He documented his five-day trip daily on social media by highlighting the beauty of creation along the way and the fragility of our world’s ecology exposed and exacerbated by human activity. 

During his short tenure with us, Mark has already begun to frame the initiative with three primary areas of focus: education, stewardship and justice. He will be with us most of the summer and will create opportunities to discuss his ideas and hear from you about yours. Mark is also hosting our first Chautauqua Travels program in November, to New Orleans, where Chautauqua will lead a group travel adventure with one-of-a-kind experiences to create deeper understanding of the impact of climate change in that part of the world, most notably the bayou region’s continuing recovery from the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina. I’m looking forward to joining Mark on the trip, and I hope some of you will be a part of the journey.

One cannot speak of justice in the world without reflecting on the other force that has rocked the United States alongside the pandemic, namely the continued quest to address the scourge of systemic racism that has plagued our nation. This has been an issue since the founding of our nation and since you and I gathered together on these sacred grounds, in this sacred grove, the nation has again experienced too many deaths of Black and brown bodies at the hands of hatred and indifference. 

So many of us have asked the question about what we can do to make a difference. I know we often feel so helpless and yet want to be a part of the solution. Dr. King gave us such a straightforward answer when he wrote, “Men hate each other because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they cannot communicate with each other; they can’t communicate with each other because they are separated from each other.”

I hope that in Chautauqua’s tomorrow, you and I figure out ways to make our own corner of the world a model for inclusion, diversity, equity and accessibility, that we find ways to make Chautauqua less separated from any and all who wish to participate in our mission. I hope we realize the pledge to turn our gates into gateways. I’m so grateful that we begin this season with the leadership of Amit Taneja, our new Senior Vice President and Chief Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accessibility Officer. While one hire alone will not realize Chautauqua’s desired vision for IDEA, I know having someone to help us shepherd this work will take us a long way toward it, and I’m deeply grateful for all those Chautauquans who invested to make this significant step possible. Welcome, Amit. 

As we celebrate the 150th anniversary of the first Chautauqua Lake Camp Meeting, we also hope that our vision to be more and do more in the world has begun to take hold. As we began our time together today, I was reminded that last year we convened our season through CHQ Assembly, our new digital collective that has allowed us to program regularly for the past year. I hope as we continue to embrace this important new resource this year and for years to come, that we will continue to find ways to transport our robust series of programs and services that exemplify the magic we create here during the Summer Assembly to any and all who cannot be with us in person. And I hope that we will more deeply explore the ways that Chautauqua can return to its roots of being as much a movement as it is a place. We learned just how important that can be when the pandemic took the gift of gathering in person, and we also learned that when we don’t choose between place and movement, as if there must be a winner and a loser, that we have the chance to do unimaginable things with and for the world.

Our distinctive formulas for diving deeper through interfaith engagement, exploring the critical issues of the day through lectures, learning and enrichment through the literary arts, and probing challenging issues through the lenses of performing and visual arts can and must be ever-more leveraged in communities and organizations across the nation with Chautauqua as a lead partner. And in so doing, I hope that the Summer Assembly itself continues to bring people here every year to engage across disciplines and amidst multiple generations of participants who seek an authentic community — all with a goal to bring newfound goodness and ideas to their other home communities.

As this Summer Assembly begins, I ask you to reflect on the themes we plan to investigate in the coming weeks. While we decide on these themes more than a year prior to the start of each season, I continue to marvel at how prescient they seem to be. In February 2020 — how did we know how important it would be to talk about empathy in 2021, much less resilience? “Navigating our Divides;” “Trust, Society and Democracy;” “Exploring Today’s Unknowns” — all these themes take on a more significant sense of importance and new meaning after what we have been through. And, most importantly, they promise to bring people of diverging perspectives together, face to face, once again. What a joy it is to be in community, at times agreeing to disagree, but always reaffirming our commitment to civil dialogue and celebrating the very best in human values.

And that’s what our forebears in that camp meeting 150 years ago really understood, isn’t it? That it is important for us to come together, to be in community, to learn and pray and laugh and cry and feel together. To feed off each other’s energy and intellect and artistry. To share in the delight of a passing greeting with a stranger, or a lengthy embrace with a long-missed neighbor.

From the first sermon on these grounds, again I recite Matthew 18:20: “For where two or more gather in my name, there am I.”

Whether you believe in a higher power or not, I know you understand the blessing that is this place and the company of one another. The expressions of joy I have witnessed across these grounds in recent weeks have been unlike any I’ve seen in my time at Chautauqua. Personally, I can’t count the number of times I’ve almost choked up in unexpected encounters with members of our community. It’s just so wonderful to see everyone again.

This moment is a gift. I urge you to feel it fully and deeply. Lean into those impromptu Bestor Plaza conversations. Allow yourself to be transported by a soaring aria. Let the majesty of the Massey Memorial Organ overwhelm you, as we all become one in its resonance.

Speaking of the Massey, the last time many of you heard this great organ in person, it was under the command of our beloved and dearly missed organist Jared Jacobsen. We shared some sorrowful days in the wake of Jared’s death, and many more since. The recent past has provided too many reminders that life is precious and fleeting.

And yet, the Massey is still here, in all its majesty, now animated by the masterful Joshua Stafford. And through wars, depressions, pandemics and the sheer toll of time, Chautauqua is here, 150 years after people first gathered in her groves, now given life anew by you. We honor our history and, especially, the adversity we’ve overcome by carrying the torch forward. Chautauqua the Place remains vibrant and full of light, after a year in which we proved Chautauqua the Movement is relevant and needed in the modern world.

I can’t help but think of Beethoven’s Ninth, a most triumphant artistic portrayal of the arrival of joy through suffering, which has countless times reverberated through this sacred space. Many of you are familiar with its final and most famous movement, an orchestration of Friederich Schiller’s famous “Ode to Joy.” One by one, the composer resurfaces and dismisses themes from the first three movements — too heavy, too dark, not joyful enough. He then introduces the choral finale by inserting his own line at the top of the poem: “O friends, not these tones! Let us take a more joyous strain.”

Friends, let this be our refrain this summer, which will still present its challenges. Whenever we feel the onset of darkness or bitterness, let us dismiss it and instead look for light and joy. Where we encounter injustice or hate, let us drive it out with justice and love. When we disagree, let us assume good faith in each other, and conduct ourselves with kindness and grace. This summer, let us take a more joyous strain. 

And in this season of joyousness, let us continue to clear the ground that will have Chautauquans 150 years from now celebrating our courage and our tenacity. Let’s harness the tremendous possibilities of Chautauqua for the betterment of our corner of the world and beyond. After all we’ve just been through to get to this moment, to get back here, to come home to Chautauqua, I believe nothing can stand in our way. 

So welcome home, Chautauqua, and let’s get to it.

I tap the gavel three times. 

Chautauqua 2021 has begun.

‘I Know Our Founders Would Be Proud’

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In my four seasons as Chautauqua Institution’s president, this may be the oddest column to write to you. Normally at this point, I am sharing my sadness that our Summer Assembly Season has come to a close and I share reflections of my favorite moments from the previous nine weeks. I’ll save the latter for our closing Three Taps of the Gavel address at 8 p.m. EDT Sunday, Aug. 30 (join us at assembly.chq.org or on your CHQ Assembly app). And the odd part about the former is that while our 147th Summer Assembly Season concludes this week, we start anew in September with a new round of programming on CHQ Assembly.

Michael_Hill
Hill

COVID-19 took many things from all of us. There were missed celebrations and deeply sad moments. There was a “new normal” and a mourning of lost summer traditions, but it also ushered in a moment of reinvention for Chautauqua with the advent of CHQ Assembly. I’m so deeply grateful to all who took this beta test journey with us of the new digital collective. It was heartwarming to reconnect with you from around the world as you tuned in for lectures, classes, religious services and time-honored Chautauqua traditions. We have always said that Chautauqua is a powerfully connected community, and I am so grateful to all who used CHQ Assembly this summer to stay linked to one another. 

We begin now unpacking all we’ve learned from this summer. It’s amazing to think that people in 50 countries were a part of our Assembly this summer. It’s remarkable to note that of our 10,000 paid CHQ Assembly subscribers, only 3,500 have an email that we can tie back to an existing Chautauquan. This tells me that many more count themselves among a deeply expanded community, and, for that, I’m truly excited. Not since the days of the founding of the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle has Chautauqua endeavored to have such a far-reaching impact; I know our founders would be proud. 

As I close out this column, I hope and pray that we will be able to safely gather with one another on the grounds of the Institution for our 148th Summer Assembly Season. I miss your faces, and I miss the energy of our in-person community. But I also know that when we do gather in person again, we will be joined by a growing legion of new Chautauquans, some of whom may never physically come here, but who share our passion for the exploration of the best in human values. May that be the blessing that comes out of this incredibly surreal time … until we meet again. 

Ever grateful, 

Michael E. Hill 

18th President, Chautauqua Institution 

A Week Nine Message from Chautauqua’s President

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Welcome to Week Nine of CHQ Assembly. This is the last week of our “traditional” Summer Assembly Season (although not the last week of our Assembly). It’s hard to believe we’ve already reached this point!

Michael_Hill
Hill

This week for the Chautauqua Lecture Series, we look at “The Future We Want, The World We Need: Collective Action for Tomorrow’s Challenges,” a week in partnership with the U.N. Foundation. It is so fitting, having just closed a week on our U.S. Constitution, that we now turn outward, beyond our shores, to look at the state of the world as a whole. From climate change and new technologies to COVID-19 and a reckoning regarding systemic racism, the world faces countless interrelated and fast-moving drivers of economic, political and social change. In particular, we’ll ask: 

  •       What will the world look like over the coming decades, and how can we work together to better prepare for the future? 
  •       Where are the most important opportunities to realize a more equitable and sustainable world? What are our biggest collective challenges? 

During the 75th anniversary of the United Nations, we examine what we can learn from international communities and partnerships driving innovative solutions to global issues and identify tools that communities can use to learn from one another and drive collective action. 

In our companion Interfaith Lecture Series, we look at “The Future We Want, The World We Need.” In a constantly evolving world, what needs to change, what can change, and what do we and all peoples actually need — not only to survive, but to sustain life and to thrive? In this week, we will ask these humanitarian questions and more: questions that make us think; questions that trigger other questions. 

I’m so deeply grateful to our Week Nine program sponsor, Erie Insurance, for supporting us in this global exploration as we close our season. Erie Insurance is also our neighbor, in the best sense of that relationship, as we have worked together on regional development issues, asked questions of legacy organizations and thought together about the future of our region, nation and world. A special shout-out to Erie Insurance CEO and my friend Tim NeCastro for all of his work with Chautauqua. We are not only grateful to Erie Insurance for their sponsorship of this week, but the program content they will bring to the week on the CHQ Assembly Virtual Porch. At 3:30 p.m. EDT Monday, Aug. 24, please join us on the Virtual Porch for a Roundtable on Equity and Collective Action, discussing “Belonging and Placemaking for Equitable Communities of the Future.” This panel will feature Tesha Nesbit Arrington, director of diversity and inclusion at Erie Insurance; Patrick Fisher, executive director of Erie Arts & Culture; and Leslie Sotomayor, artist, curator and assistant professor in art education at Edinboro University. It’s sure to be an illuminating program, dedicated to the issues of our nation and the places we call home.  

Normally I end the Week Nine column with some notation that this is the final week, and how sad I am that we will not see one another until we meet again. That is not the case this year for a couple of reasons. First, to state the obvious, we have not been gathering in person for programming this year, and so many of those who have come to the Institution to live for the summer have noted that they are staying here for an extended period. But more importantly, this gathering on CHQ Assembly will continue well past our traditional Summer Assembly Season. I hope you have enjoyed the content and engagement online this summer, and I encourage you to stay with us, as we’ll continue to program CHQ Assembly throughout the year. In this way, our old parting of “until we meet again” need not be a sad one! 

Thank you for being a part of our beta test of CHQ Assembly this summer, and for the many expressions of care and concern throughout this most unusual year.  

A Week Eight Message from Chautauqua’s President

Michael_Hill

Welcome to Week Eight of CHQ Assembly!

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Hill

We leave our Week Seven exploration on “The Science of Us” to revisit a document that has formed so much of what defines “us” in the United States: our Constitution. James Madison is often called “The Father of the Constitution,” but he is also reported to have believed that the document would likely need to be dramatically revisited after 250 years. It is that thesis that we pick up in this week on “Reframing the Constitution” as we check Madison’s assumption. 

Now, 230 years after its ratification, the U.S. Constitution remains one of the most difficult to amend of any in the world. During this week we ask if the Constitution is securing the “blessings of liberty” for all Americans and whether Constitutional reform — from amendment to outright replacement — is necessary and even possible. We look at Constitutional politics to understand the “unamendability” of the U.S. Constitution, consider resistance to a constitutional convention from both the political left and right, and determine what we can learn from younger democracies around the world.  

We bring to the table this week some of the great minds on this topic and on civic education in America in general. I’m so thrilled to be in conversation this week with the president of the National Constitution Center, my friend Jeffrey Rosen, as well as presidential historian and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jon Meacham, among many others. 

Fr. Richard Rohr moved Chautauqua audiences in droves during our 2019 season. The Franciscan mystic, theologian and movement-maker challenged us both as a chaplain of the week and in conversation each subsequent afternoon as part of our Interfaith Lecture Series. This year, we welcome Fr. Richard back during our week on “Reframing the Constitution” to help citizens more intentionally think about how they are reframing their own journey. He is joined by Brian McLaren, who will serve as our chaplain of the week.  

Among so many other exciting programs this week, you also won’t want to miss Friday’s “Cocktails, Concerts & Conversations: An Evening of Chamber Music and Conversation with Joshua Bell and Larisa Martínez,” as Mr. Bell and Ms. Martínez share music and conversation from their home to yours. These artists will be prerecording a special recital just for Chautauqua, and then they will join us for a live conversation during which we will invite questions from viewers. 

We’re rounding the corner on our entire CHQ Assembly Summer Season with just one more week after this one, but the last two are among our greatest explorations this summer. We look forward to being with you on the journey. 

A Week Seven Message from Chautauqua’s President

Michael_Hill

Welcome to Week Seven of CHQ Assembly. 

Michael_Hill
Hill

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

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Michael_Hill
Hill

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 giving.chq.org/birthday. 

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

Michael_Hill

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. 

Michael_Hill
Hill

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.

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