From the President

‘I Know Our Founders Would Be Proud’


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 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.


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


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!


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


Welcome to Week Eight of CHQ Assembly!


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


Welcome to Week Seven of CHQ Assembly. 


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


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 

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


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. 


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.

A Week Four Message from Chautauqua’s President


Welcome to Week Four of CHQ Assembly! I so thoroughly enjoyed our Week Three conversations about “Art and Democracy,” and my only consolation that they have concluded is the exciting lineup we have in store for you as we probe “The Ethics of Tech: Scientific, Corporate and Personal Responsibility,” a topic all the more relevant for the Chautauqua Lecture Series as our world has shifted ever more so online.  

Big Tech companies have begun to acknowledge their tremendous and sometimes harmful impact on society — particularly with regard to marginalized communities and civil liberties, and usually only following public calls for ethics reform and oversight. This week we explore: 

  • Is it enough for these giants to self-police, or is an industry-wide code of ethics or government regulation necessary to protect a future dominated by artificial intelligence, datafication and facial recognition? 
  • Does such oversight stifle innovation? How is the rest of the world responding? 
  • And, while it’s easy to see ourselves as victims, how do we take personal responsibility as consumers and users?  

In our companion Interfaith Lecture Series, we double down on our exploration of the ethical dimension, asking how ethical considerations translate in a technologically transforming world. Technology seems to be overtaking the world, from our obsession with electronic devices to the emerging artificial intelligence that helps us do everything from keep grocery lists to make war between nations. Outside of the practical applications, however, is there a question of right or wrong? What happens when technological capacity reaches a level that calls into question our very role as human beings in a society? In this week, we explore the ethical, spiritual and religious dimensions of “new tech.” Is it a step away from our own spiritual growth or can it be harnessed to create greater understanding? 

I’m deeply grateful to our friends David and Joan Lincoln, who championed the exploration of ethics as part of a Chautauqua program, and to their daughter, Katie, for carrying that torch today. We were saddened to lose Joan four years ago, and then David two years later, but honored that this week’s exploration carries on their legacy and, in particular, David’s deep commitment to the exploration of ethics in our world. 

Rabbi David Wolpe joins us this week, continuing our new practice of making sure we have at least one Jewish leader as a chaplain-in-residence each season. I know you’ll want to take in his prayerful reflections as part of our worship services each morning.

Lastly, our students started studying with us online this past week. What you cannot see is the hundreds of young people who continue to use Chautauqua as their summer home for education in the performing and visual arts. I’m so deeply grateful to our artistic directors and school leads for making sure the arc of this Chautauqua tradition continues. 

I hope you enjoy this week on “The Ethics of Tech,” and that the new CHQ Assembly remains a perfect platform to explore this vital topic as we head toward the midpoint of our season.

A Week Three Message from Chautauqua’s President

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Welcome to Week Three of CHQ Assembly. Our first two weeks have certainly been an adventure for us all, and we’re deeply grateful that you’ve decided to be a part of our “beta test” this summer. Last week we looked at “Forces Unseen,” and we move from there to a topic that’s very visible, and very much in sync with our multidisciplinary approach at Chautauqua: “Art and Democracy.” 

Artist, advocate, activist, citizen. What is the role of art — and the artist — in an active democracy? This week, we will hear from artists raising the social consciousness, challenging the status quo and engaging communities large and small toward meaningful action. We consider how art and artmaking serve as catalysts for dissent and change and have the unique ability to bring community together to heal following trauma. And we ask: How are the arts uniquely positioned to move the conversation forward, when other attempts at dialogue fail? 

In many ways, this is a specialty for Chautauqua. We have been graced by our own professional artistic companies and ensembles for most of our history. Whether that be the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra, Chautauqua Theater Company, Chautauqua Opera Company, Chautauqua Visual Arts, or any of the countless numbers of artistic luminaries who have studied in our Schools of Performing and Visual Arts, we have long been an organization and community in which the arts flourish. This year, however, through the medium of CHQ Assembly, we take what we have known from our own artists and those from across the globe to probe further what the arts can teach us during times when we may not be able to grasp or hear important messages without them. 

Throughout our experience of the COVID-19 pandemic, artists have been giving voice to our frustrations and our hopes, and I know this week will do the same. I’m so excited to welcome Anna Deavere Smith, Ford Foundation President Darren Walker and my dear friend Paula Kerger, president and CEO of PBS, among many others, to help us unpack this week. 

In our companion Interfaith Lecture Series, we look at the ways that art might provide a “Glimpse into the Divine.” Art inspires, art teaches, art speaks, art energizes, art soothes, art heals, art empowers. Art underlies and underlines the commonalities of human existence. In this week we look into the spiritual power of art to glimpse the divine, in all its forms, and change the world. In addition to an amazing lineup of interfaith speakers, we’re so excited to have Fr. Greg Boyle back with us as our chaplain of the week. 

I want to close this column by thanking all of you who are participating in this summer of beta testing for our new suite of CHQ Assembly online platforms. Most days it’s been a splendid adventure, but I know that there have also been days when our Week Two theme of “Forces Unseen” seemed to be taking over, as technology and other issues prevented us from staging certain programs as scheduled. I thought it might be useful to share some behind-the-scenes “numbers” with you as a sign of our gratitude for sticking with us when those moments occur. 

We launched the 2020 Summer Assembly Season just 11 days ago (at this writing), with five entirely new digital platforms, three new on-grounds television studios with multiple camera systems, and an entirely new crew that has never worked together or on a project of this particular nature, while also coordinating with more than a dozen remote studios and videographers around the country. We’ve learned a lot about how to tackle issues with our own equipment and processes, and we’ve also encountered some problems that are simply outside our control, like when the Google Cloud hosting platform experienced an East Coast crash, or when our video streaming platform has nationwide technical issues, or when our ISP has a massive service interruption. These “forces unseen” truly have made for an interesting summer so far! But because you’ve stuck with us, we also have some incredibly hopeful numbers to share. 

In just our first two weeks, we have produced: 

  •   33 lecture, worship, and performing arts programs that aired and are available on-demand at
  •   51 programs on the Virtual Porch, at;
  •   three 3D virtual gallery tours on the Chautauqua Visual Arts platform, at; and  
  •   multiple master and enrichment classes on the Online Classroom platform, at

And to characterize the audience for our offerings so far: 

  •   nearly 6,000 people have subscribed to our Video Platform,
  •   CHQ Assembly programs have been accessed 73,000 times, with some 40,000 of those viewing programs through to completion; and 
  •   participants in the CHQ Assembly represent 50 countries(!) in addition to the U.S. 

Comparatively, some of our larger festival partners who have four to five times the size of our budgets have shrunk weeks of programming into five hours of offerings. I mean that not as a dig on anyone else, but rather as an acknowledgment of and testimony to the resiliency of the Chautauqua spirit. Each day we learn more, and we continue to learn from you. Thank you for accepting our offer to beta test this season. It will make CHQ Assembly a powerhouse of convening for years to come.

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