Morning Lecture Previews

Ford Foundation President Darren Walker to give lecture on art, social justice, philanthropy

Ford Foundation – Portrait Session 2016

With $600 million, one person can buy 198,675,496 meals. Or, they could attend a public, in-state college for 13,636 years. They could purchase 17,647 brand-new cars or 2,608 median-priced homes in the United States. To most people, $600 million is something they will never see. But, to Darren Walker, it is the amount of money the Ford Foundation will distribute in just one year.

The arts are an essential component of our democracy. Artists have the power to help us reimagine a more just society,” Walker said. “Right now, they are on the front lines with protestors fighting for equality and dignity. The arts can lead us forward, help our communities heal, and bring us together to bridge real divides. Now, in this time of unprecedented crisis, is the time to invest in and support the arts and artists.”

Walker, president of the Ford Foundation, sees his role in philanthropy as a way to remedy class disparities in the world. It is a way to give resources, and even a voice to those in need. To Walker, philanthropy is social justice.


At 10:45 a.m. EDT Tuesday, July 14, on CHQ Assembly, Walker will speak about how philanthropy and social justice fit into the week’s theme of “Art and Democracy.” 

“The arts are an essential component of our democracy. Artists have the power to help us reimagine a more just society,” Walker said. “Right now, they are on the front lines with protestors fighting for equality and dignity. The arts can lead us forward, help our communities heal, and bring us together to bridge real divides. Now, in this time of unprecedented crisis, is the time to invest in and support the arts and artists.”

The Ford Foundation has awarded grants to a number of arts-based projects since Walker became president in 2016, including to the Ellis Marsalis Center for Music, Ballet Hispánico, Mississippi Museum of Art, and more.

In his leadership, Walker has worked to specifically support artists from marginalized or underrepresented communities in the art world. According to The New York Times, Walker sold the Ford Foundation’s blue chip art collection to purchase hundreds of works from female artists and artists of color. 

Walker serves on the boards for the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, the National Gallery of Art, Carnegie Hall, and more. Walker co-chairs the New York City Mayoral Commission on City Art, Monuments, and Markers. 

Matt Ewalt, Institution vice president and Emily and Richard Smucker Chair for Education, said that Walker’s philanthropic history and interest in art made him a great fit to speak at the Institution.

“Through his leadership at the Ford Foundation, and the investments of the foundation toward advancing human dignity, Darren Walker continues to demonstrate how the arts connect us and challenge us to be and do more, to demonstrate why we must invest in the arts, and, ultimately, to make clear how the arts are critical to our democracy,” Ewalt said. 

This program is made possible by the Dr. Edwin Prince Booth Memorial Fund. 

Anna Deavere Smith to use blend of lecture, theater to explore issues of social inequality


Anna Deavere Smith believes in not casting people aside, especially when it comes to students in the nation’s public schools. 

“A lot of things that a (Black, brown or Native American) kid might do in school that a white kid would do, too, would be called mischief,” said Smith, a nationally renowned playwright and actress, in a February 2018 interview on “Real Time with Bill Maher.” “Poor kids get pathologized and sent to jail. It really starts with expulsions and suspensions. That cycle of mass incarceration destroys communities and families and everything else.”

Notes from the Field, a 2015 one-woman play written and performed by Smith, is based on issues surrounding race, class and America’s school-to-prison pipeline, and uses more than 200 interviews Smith conducted with students and teachers caught up in the pipeline as its framework.

“My plays usually start with outrage and then they go to a sort of mourning, and then they usually end up with love or forgiveness,” she told Maher. “I play Congressman John Lewis; he ends the play. After this whole play of seeing violent acts … I try to bring it all home with acts of courage.”

One such courageous act that Smith highlighted was that of Bree Newsome Bass, a Black activist who was arrested after climbing a flagpole to remove a Confederate flag in 2015.

“I think to tell the stories of this country you have to tell it through the voices of many people, not just one race and not just one gender,” she said on “Real Time.”

Smith will continue exploring elements of her own artistic expression, as well as addressing the issues of the current moment, in her lecture titled “Community, Character, Diversity” at 10:45 a.m. EDT on Monday, July 13, on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform. Her presentation opens a week centered on the theme of “Art and Democracy.”

“In her singular art form, Anna Deavere Smith demonstrates the power of art and artmaking as a catalyst for change,” said Vice President and Emily and Richard Smucker Chair for Education Matt Ewalt. “Professor Smith will open our week reflecting on the theme of art and democracy through her unique blend of lecture and theater, exploring issues of racism and social inequality in ways only possible through her art.”

Though a live performance on the Amphitheater stage is not possible, as it was for Smith in the past, her lecture will take place virtually.

“We’ve provided Professor Smith with the theme and a ‘studio in a box,’ as she’ll film her presentation at her home in Los Angeles and then join us live for a moderated Q&A,” he said.

This program is made possible by the Boyle Family Lectureship Fund & the Lewis Miller Memorial Fund.

Derek Thompson of ‘The Atlantic’ to discuss the future beyond COVID-19 pandemic


For Derek Thompson, landing a job at The Atlantic was “like winning the lottery. I was so lucky, and remain lucky. The Atlantic is a uniquely wonderful place to be able to think and write about the world.” 

Thompson joined The Atlantic in 2009, during the economic recession that ushered in Barack Obama’s time at the White House. That first year, Thompson wrote about government spending and the tanking labor market. Now, 11 years later and with one book behind him, a new catastrophe has focused his reporting — that of COVID-19. 

Thompson will highlight his vision of post-pandemic life in his lecture titled “How COVID-19 is Reshaping Our World,” at 10:45 a.m. EDT on Friday, July 10, on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform

“(Thompson) is doing some remarkable work for The Atlantic right now,” said Vice President and Emily and Richard Smucker Chair for Education Matt Ewalt. “When we originally confirmed the lecture, we were interested in the themes he explores in his book Hit Makers … (but) over the past few months, as the world changed, his work in particular on COVID-19 provided an opportunity for us to pivot and close our week and ask: What does the future look like post-COVID?”

Ewalt says that the shift in lecture content occurred almost simultaneously with the shift that Chautauqua Institution underwent to go online. 

“One of our first questions was about weekly themes that we’d confirmed a year and a half ago. We could have set the themes aside,” he said, “but instead, we realized that our current moment brought even more urgency” to these topics. COVID provided a new lens to view the chosen themes, as was the case with Thompson’s lecture.

“Whatever the true cause for our failure (to combat COVID-19),” Thompson wrote in a recent op-ed, “when I look at the twin catastrophes of this annus horribilis, the plague and the police protests, what strikes me is that America’s safekeeping institutions have forgotten how to properly see the threats of the 21st century and move quickly to respond to them.” Thompson’s lecture will envision not only this failure, but a glimpse of what could exist beyond that failing.

Thompson’s writing on economics and pop culture long intrigued Chautauqua Lecture Series planners like Ewalt, and the original plan was for Thompson to discuss these underlying currents. “Yet it’s a testament to his work,” said Ewalt, “that we find ourselves shifting from a lecture that likely would have been lighter, to a really serious examination of the longer ramifications of COVID-19 on our way of life.” 

Thompson said he loves “writing about the invisible forces that move the world,” and that economics is “not the only one.” 

Ewalt said that the lecture, which closes Week Two’s theme of “Forces Unseen: What Shapes Our Daily Lives,” is a good note to end on. 

“(Thompson’s) is not the only lecture that will address COVID,” he said, “but it’s a good way to close the week and look to the future.”

This program is made possible by The Reginald and Elizabeth Lenna Lectureship in Business and Economics.

Joan Donovan To Talk About Media Manipulation and Online Extremism


After the Christchurch mosque shootings in March 2019, many news agencies reported on the shooter’s philosophies, rather than the victims’ stories. The attacks were streamed live on Facebook, and social media platforms were roundly criticized for not reacting fast enough to stop the spread of that material.

For Joan Donovan, whose work focuses on online extremism, media manipulation, and disinformation campaigns, the platforms’ responses meant that “we need to rethink what it means to talk about these issues,” as she told Global News. “We need to shift the conversation to understanding exactly how much Islamophobia is on all of these major broadcast platforms, and we need to listen to the stories of people who are getting harassed and silenced because they’re talking about their religion or sexuality online.”

Donovan is the research director of the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard Kennedy School, and leads The Technology and Social Change Project. At 10:45 a.m. EDT Thursday, July 9, she will present her lecture, “On Media Manipulation and Online Extremism,” on CHQ Assembly. This will be the fourth presentation in Week Two’s theme for the Chautauqua Lecture Series: “Forces Unseen: What Shapes Our Daily Lives.” After the lecture, Shannon Rozner, chief of staff and vice president of strategic initiatives for Chautauqua, will serve as moderator for a live Q-and-A. 

Donovan and the TaSC team also produce the “Meme War Weekly” newsletter and the “BIG, If True” webinar series. The prior discusses “political messaging that comes from the wilds of the internet,” such as how the alt-right uses the internet to spread their manifestos. The latter brings in experts in communication, cybersecurity and other fields to delve into how misinformation is spread across different platforms.

“At a time in which disinformation regarding COVID-19 is prevalent,” said Matt Ewalt, vice president and Emily and Richard Smucker Chair for Education, “and at the same time we see the impact of rumor and speculation that Black Lives Matter demonstrations are being orchestrated by ‘antifa,’ Dr. Donovan’s voice is even more critical for our understanding what forces are at work and how we as individuals navigate this landscape.”

Donovan recently spoke with the Associated Press about the shift that many “ReOpen” Facebook groups have undergone in recent weeks; previously a breeding ground for COVID-19 disinformation and conspiracy theories, those groups are now attacking protesters in the Black Lives Matter movement. 

“Unless Facebook is actively looking for disinformation in those spaces, they will go unnoticed for a long time, and they will grow,” she told the AP. “Over time, people will drag other people into them, and they will continue to organize.”

This program is made possible by The Robert Jacobs Memorial Lectureship Fund.

Black List founder Franklin Leonard to outline how unseen forces in Hollywood lead to box-office hits that shape society


“Spotlight.” “Argo.” “The King’s Speech.” “Manchester by the Sea.” Aside from all being Oscar Award-winning movies, they all have another thing in common: They never would have made it to the box office without Franklin Leonard’s Black List.

Leonard, founder and CEO of the Black List, will speak at 10:45 a.m. EDT Wednesday, July 8, on CHQ Assembly’s Video Platform with a lecture on the Week Two theme, “Forces Unseen: What Shapes Our Daily Lives.”

Leonard grew up in West Central Georgia, a self-described movie junkie and “Black nerd of the Deep South.”

“I have always loved movies,” Leonard said. “It was my primary social outlet, in part because I didn’t have much of a social life when I was a kid. My dad was in the army, so I moved about every 11 months for the first eight years of my life. Movies were everywhere though — movies were consistent.” 

One thing sticks out about the hundreds of movies he watched back then: A lack of representation; the absence of Franklin Leonards in a sea of Steven Spielbergs and Michael Bays. 

“It never, ever occurred to me that I could work in the film industry,” he said. “I didn’t know anyone who had. There were no models for it, or anyone who looked like me or came from where I came from.”

After graduating from Harvard with a degree in social political theory, Leonard would take a job in communications, moving on to write a weekly column for the Trinidad and Tobago Guardian. After his third post-grad job as a business analyst for a management consulting firm, he would make a “hard right turn” into Los Angeles in 2003, working as a motion picture literary assistant. 

“I wasn’t happy with the work I was doing right out of college, so I decided to just let myself go full force into what I had always had a passion for,” Leonard said.

His first decade in Hollywood would include stretches at John Goldwyn Productions, Sydney Pollack and Anthony Minghella’s Mirage Enterprises, Universal Pictures, Will Smith’s Overbrook Entertainment, and Leonardo DiCaprio’s production company, Appian Way Productions, where he worked as a script reader. 

“My job, really, was finding good material that we could turn into movies,” he said. “I always felt like I was doing a very bad job at that and needed a more efficient process to do it better.” 

Enter the Black List — a list of producers’ favorite unproduced screenplays and the main unseen force Leonard will hone in on during his lecture — which started with an idea so “obvious,” he said, he couldn’t believe it didn’t already exist. All it took was a series of emails in 2005, in which Leonard would ask producers and peers to give him great screenplays they had read but ultimately passed on. He put those results into a pivot table and the first Black List was created.

While the idea seemed simple, the results proved the concept filled a gap in the industry. That first list in 2005 included “Juno,” the first Fox Searchlight film to surpass $100 million at the box office, and Academy Award-nominated “Lars and the Real Girl.” Since then, Leonard has published the Black List annually as a survey of over 250 film executives on the best screenplays they’ve read that have yet to be produced. 

“I have always hoped the list has provided greater access to talented writers in the industry and I also hope it has allowed the industry to better recognize the contribution of writers to the value chain of a movie,” he said. “I think that prior to the Black List and even still, the aggregate contribution of writers remains grossly undervalued, which is something I plan to include in my talk.”

The numbers and awards that Black List selections have accumulated throughout the years raises an important question: If the movies on the list are consistently successful, why do they get passed off initially?

“The assumptions that Hollywood makes about what kind of movies are commercially viable are not automatically accurate,” Leonard said. “Hollywood is an opaque industry, very much by design. I worry about overexplaining that in my lecture, but it is really important for people to understand the system in which movies exist.”

The system is complicated, he said. It’s not enough to feature a Black lead or queer character. To Leonard, box-office hits like “Black Panther” and “Crazy Rich Asians” do not directly indicate the industry is changing its ways. In his words, these films are continuations of a truth about inclusion, not an up-and-coming trend.

“Movies about people of color, about women, about the queer community, have always been just as likely to make money as movies about straight white men,” Leonard said. “The issue was not their ability to make money — the issue was the people making decisions about both whether they could or how they should be supported in the marketplace.” 

Ultimately, Leonard believes what is seen on the big screen has “a great deal of unseen forces” that affect a viewer long after a film is finished. According to him, movies change the way people “see the world” around them. 

“There are many unseen forces that go into the things that we see, and those things catalyze unseen forces that have great consequences for our lives,” he said. “What we see determines how we see the world. The failures the industry has historically had on a number of fronts have defined the way most of us see the world, and the consequences of that in every aspect of our lives can be catastrophic.”

What kind of consequences?

“Literally every single cultural failure that we are experiencing right now,” Leonard said.

This program is made possible by The Crawford N. and May Sellstrom Bargar Lectureship In Business and Economics & the Robert S. Bargar Memorial Lectureship.

Former police chief and member of Obama-era task force Cedric Alexander to speak on police reform and systemic racism


In a time that many consider one of great unrest, Cedric Alexander hopes to build trust and community through systemic reform.

Alexander will discuss systemic racism and the need for police reform in the United States with Chautauqua Institution President Michael E. Hill to open Week Two of the Chautauqua Lecture Series, centering on the theme “Forces Unseen: What Shapes Our Daily Lives.” The lecture will be available at 10:45 a.m. EDT Monday, July 6, on CHQ Assembly.

Alexander is the former chief of police in DeKalb County, Georgia, former president of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, and former member of President Barack Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing. He is also the author of In Defense of Public Service: How 22 Million Government Workers Will Save Our Republic, his recently released book on what he calls “the fourth branch” of the government — the sector of government workers throughout the country — which he plans to discuss during his lecture. 

A strong supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement, Alexander considers the current moment an especially important time for police reform. 

“We have an environment where people of color in this country do not feel safe as it relates to the police,” Alexander said. “It is painful for me to hear that.”

He plans to address this issue during his discussion with Hill, and looks forward to the opportunity to start dialogue. 

“We need to listen to citizens when they tell us they feel unsafe,” Alexander said. “It is important that we start to rebuild the trust and legitimacy of the police.”

Alexander has appeared in front of Congress several times to testify on facial recognition technology and crime mapping, among other topics. He has been an outspoken advocate for the creation of a national database of “police officers who have stepped out of bounds,” as well as more intensive police training and accountability. 

In 2014, Obama created the Task Force on 21st Century Policing, to which he appointed Alexander. White House officials said the group’s creation was part of an effort by the Obama administration to strengthen trust between law enforcement and citizens, something Alexander has spent much of his career supporting. 

“The police is the community and the community is the police,” Alexander said. “It is the responsibility of the government on all levels to create legislation and begin reforms to rebuild this community.”

This program is made possible by the June and Albert Bonyor Lectureship Fund.

Geoffrey Kemp and Barbara Bodine to address water scarcity in Middle East

Geoffrey Kemp_Barbara Bodine
Kemp & Bodine

As the world experiences climate change, countries in the Middle East face a looming issue that offers no perfect solution: water scarcity. 

“The Middle East faces numerous climate problems, but none is more troubling than the scarcity of freshwater,” said Geoffrey Kemp, senior director of Regional Security Programs at the Center for National Interest and former security advisor to President Ronald Reagan. “Water is more valuable than oil, and has never been more relevant than it is today.”

Kemp will be joined by Ambassador (ret.) Barbara Bodine, director of the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy at Georgetown University for a discussion on climate change and water scarcity in the Middle East at 10:45 a.m. EDT Friday, July 3, on CHQ Assembly for the annual Middle East Update. The presentation will be followed by a Q-and-A session where viewers can share their inquiries. 

Bodine plans to share her first-hand experience of life in the Persian Gulf region to illustrate this issue for an American audience. Bodine served as the United States ambassador to Yemen from 1997 to 2001. She knows first-hand the role that water plays in not just daily chores, but in culture.

“(Water) has always had a particular venerate in Middle East culture,” Bodine siad. “It is a gift from God. A lot of the Quran talks about the water given to man by God. They also consider it a common good: Water belongs to no person.”

Most Middle East countries lack a freshwater source. Countries like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have turned to their Persian Gulf access to extract salt from seawater in a process called desalinization as a substitute for freshwater. However, Bodine said that this process is not sustainable in the long run. 

“They are on a vicious cycle, because the thing about desalination plans that people don’t think about is when you have to desalinate water, what do you do with the salt? What they do is they dump it right back into the Gulf,” Bodine said. “They turn around and desalinate that water, and they dump salt back in.”

Some countries turn to freshwater aquifers in underground pockets. But, much like fossil fuels, these water supplies will one day run dry. Additionally, Bodine said the cost of oil to run the machinery to access the water begins to add up. 

Yemen is uniquely impacted by this water crisis. Since the beginning of a civil war in 2014, much of the country’s infrastructure has been reduced to rubble by airstrikes and armed conflict. A reported 80% of the population is highly vulnerable to the effects of war such as waterborne illness, famine, and most recently the spread of COVID-19.

Since the conflict began, the Yemeni people have struggled with access to clean water. In recent years, unclean water led to the largest outbreak of cholera in recorded history. This, among other factors, has led to the UN declaring the societal state of Yemen the greatest humanitarian crisis in the world

Bodine pointed out that the country’s population is more concentrated in the mountain highlands as opposed to the coastline, in contrast to Saudi Arabia and UAE that have major urban centers on the Gulf. The process of desalinating Gulf water is, therefore, not cost effective for this nation. Bodine said that unlike their neighbors, Yemen does not have the seemingly endless pool of resources to carry out aquifer water production. 

“Yemen is a totally different case (than other Gulf states) with a large population, no natural water — apart from aquifers — and a civil war,” Kemp said. “Yemenis have to keep digging down into the ground to get water from historic aquifers. It comes to the surface, and much of it is used for agriculture. The deeper they go, the more expensive it is for the oil they have to import to manage these wells. And at some point, they will run out (of water).”

While Middle Eastern countries lack access to freshwater, climate change presents the risk of sea levels rising and destroying much of these countries’ assets. Much of this land is at sea level, leaving it susceptible.

“If you look at all the major cities like Jeddah, Kuwait City, on and on — they are all right smack dab on the coast,” Bodine said. “(Their location has) an advantage for desalination, and a marked disadvantage if sea levels rise.”

Bodine said that as salt water rises, it contaminates the soil around it — so even as it retreats, the soil is too salty for agriculture. If the gulf waters rise too far, it will infiltrate major urban centers and the institutions that define these countries: financial centers, industrial centers, and locations of dense populations. 

Climate change has already affected the region with a rise in natural disasters. In 2015, Yemen was hit back-to-back with two tropical cyclones

“Just to compound it further, as climate changes, rain changes. Rain patterns, weather patterns, cyclone patterns, drought patterns — this can all have an impact elsewhere, which will reverberate back to the Middle East,” Bodine said. 

With pressures on basic needs, Middle East nations risk conflict with each other, or within. Take the Arab Spring, Bodine said.

“There were many root causes to the Arab Spring, but one of them was that there had been some significant droughts around the world. The cost of food, particularly basic foodstuffs like wheat and rice, shot up dramatically,” Bodine said. “You do a significant change in the cost of food, and you have political instability. 

Many Middle Eastern people flee their homes because of food scarcity and the insecurity of basic need, and Bodine said that is why many seek refuge in places like Europe.

“Just as our folks during the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl — what did they do? They picked up and moved,” Bodine said. “It’s not different any place else in the world that water becomes a driver of instability, of migration, of political conflict.”

Kemp noted that the issue of climate change and water scarcity is present, but not immediately dire. 

“No country, not even Yemen, faces an imminent depletion of fresh water to the point where people won’t have it. It’s a long-term problem,” Kemp said. “But, the longer the problem remains unaddressed, the more expensive it will be to fix, particularly in a crisis, as climate change gets worse.” 

Both Kemp and Bodine hope to further the audience’s understanding of the Middle East through this year’s MEU. They hope to give a nuanced look at issues inflicting the region, as opposed to the views Bodine said many Americans have.

“We tend to reduce the various components of the Middle East to very simple, almost cartoonish ideas of who they are and what they are and how they are connected to us, and how we are connected to them,” Bodine said. “To come away with a better appreciation of how it’s all interwoven would be the message I hope people would come away from the talk having heard.”

This program is made possible by Beverly and Bruce Conner Endowment for Education & The Ethel Paris and Theodore Albert Viehe Lectureship.

Christiana Figueres to stress the urgency of climate change response in a COVID world


Long before Christiana Figueres spearheaded the 2015 Paris Agreement as U.N. Executive Secretary for the U.N.’s Climate Change Convention, she was a teenager admiring Costa Rica’s endangered golden toad in the Monteverde Cloud Forest. She hoped to bring her kids to see the toad one day.

She never had a chance. Her second daughter was born the same year the last golden toad was seen in 1989

The rare toad’s extinction shook Figueres into action to reverse humans’ effect on the environment.

“If I have witnessed an extinction in my short lifetime,” Figueres said, then there must be a higher rate of extinction than she initially thought.

Figueres will discuss how the global coronavirus pandemic has compounded the need to address climate change solutions — solutions that are within reach — during a special presentation for the Chautauqua Lecture Series. Titled “The State of Global Environmental Action,” it will be broadcast at 11:30 a.m. EDT on Thursday, July 2, on CHQ Assembly’s Virtual Porch. She will be in conversation with Tom Rivett-Carnac as co-founders of their joint enterprise Global Optimism, which drives civilians and leaders alike to see and act on positive mindsets toward reversing climate change. Rivett-Carnac also served as Figueres’ special advisor while she served as executive secretary.

Both the time and location for the program have changed; according to Vice President and Emily and Richard Smucker Chair for Education Matt Ewalt, this move gives Chautauquans more opportunity to engage with Figueres following her conversation filmed earlier this week with Rivett-Carnac, and accommodates both speakers’ time zones. Figueres is based in Costa Rica and Rivett-Carnac is in London.

Figueres had grown up attending political events with her parents, who were major political leaders in Costa Rica. Her father, three-time President José Figueres Ferrer, served three terms in the presidency while her mother, Karen Olsen Beck, served in the Legislative Assembly and as Costa Rican ambassador to Israel.

Figueres’ own career began in 1982 as minister counselor at the Costa Rican Assembly in Bonne, Germany, thanks to her educational background and ability to speak German. She later moved into the role of director of international cooperation in Costa Rica’s Ministry of Planning, and was named chief of staff to the Minister of Agriculture.

In 1995, she moved to the United States and served in Costa Rica’s climate change negotiating team while founding the nonprofit Center for Sustainable Development of the Americas that same year. She created opportunities for Latin American countries to actively participate in the Climate Change Convention by creating national climate change programs in Guatemala, Panama, Colombia, Argentina, Ecuador, Honduras, El Salvador and the Dominican Republic, while also working to ensure each program’s establishment. She also advised governments and private companies alike on climate-related business decisions.

In 2001, National Geographic magazine awarded her with the Hero for the Planet Award.

She wasn’t done.

In 2010, she was elected Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. She led the construction of the first Paris Agreement in 2015, which called for all signing countries to counter the expected 2 degrees Celsius global rise in temperature by reducing emissions in their own countries by 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Figueres’ stamp is still all over the Paris Agreement. “Affordable, scalable solutions are now available to enable countries to leapfrog to cleaner, more resilient economies,” states the United Nations’ description for why the Paris Agreement is still an ongoing priority.

Figueres said these solutions are already in motion.

“The world is decarbonizing,” Figueres said. “This technology is dropping in price without the volatile prices like the gas sector has. It’s so much more user-friendly, it’s less risky and will continue to grow. It’s not going to be stopped by politics.”

The current U.S. administration pulled out of the most recent version of the Paris Agreement in November 2019. To date, the United States is the only country to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. A month prior to the U.S. withdrawal, the BBC reported that the United States and Brazil had pledged a $100m (£80m) biodiversity conservation fund for the Amazon led by the private sector, which was coupled with a prioritized agreement to actually promote private-sector development in the Amazon. At the time this was reported, over 80,000 fires had erupted throughout the Amazon that year.

But Figueres is not worried about any individual country’s politics dragging down global progress.

“You cannot debate science. The only thing that will change is the granularity in science,” Figueres said. Political sway in individual countries like the United States “doesn’t change where we’re heading.”

Figueres did note that parts of the United States still ally with the rest of the world.

“(Within the United States), states, especially in the east and west, truly do understand what’s going on,” Figueres said. “Sixty percent of the U.S. economy continues to decarbonize. The private sector understands that this is a difficulty in the White House, but it is not a permanent feature.”

In the meantime, Figueres said that the European Union and China, while implementing climate change response needs into existing economic goals — like China’s Belt and Road initiative (also known as the New Silk Road) — are leading international efforts for funding solutions, and consider climate change to be an economic crisis of its own. The focus is on creating long-lasting jobs, products and services that respond to climate change response needs.

Figueres said the international community will do whatever it takes to fulfill those needs, and are “borrowing trillions of dollars to make it happen. And these countries have no intention of paying (back the debt). Future generations are going to be saddled with this debt. And if this generation is going to saddle this debt, it better be one that’s worth it for your future.”

This program is made possible by The Walter L. & Martha Tinkham Miller Fund.

Katharine Wilkinson to Discuss Questions of Climate Change, What it Means to be Human on a Changing Planet


During President George W. Bush’s second term, Katharine Wilkinson noticed people were talking past each other, not to each other, about climate change — even when they shared a lot of the same concerns.


As she grappled with this, she found others with a similar attitude though the The Evangelical Climate Initiative Launch. This organization had bought a full page ad in The New York Times that stated, “Our commitment to Jesus Christ compels us to solve the global warming crisis,” and it was signed by many high-profile evangelical leaders.

“I just was like ‘Where did this come from?’” Wilkinson said. “I had been thinking about this intersection, but it totally surprised me.”

The ad motivated her to continue studying evangelical engagement on climate change, eventually getting a Rhodes Scholarship to attend Oxford and writing Between God and Green: How Evangelicals Are Cultivating a Middle Ground on Climate Change, which delved into the relationship between modern religion and the climate change movement. 

For her lecture at 10:45 a.m. EDT Wednesday, July 1, on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform, she wants to grapple with questions like what it means to be human on a changing planet; how society can be radically reshaped to come back into balance with the planet’s living system; and how the task at hand — her lecture title is “How to Reduce Greenhouse Gases” — can be addressed rapidly. Her lecture is part of Week One: “Climate Change: Prioritizing Our Global and Local Response.”

“In a lot of ways, the lecture is kind of my effort at mapmaking, as sort of a cartography of this moment that we find ourselves in. … I think (these times) can be really confusing and really hard to make sense of,” she said.

Wilkinson’s climate change journey began when she was 16 and spent a semester living in the woods at The Outdoor Academy in the Appalachian Mountains in western North Carolina. As one of 25 students, she awakened to the challenges facing the planet, and learned what it meant to be part of the solution.

“I kind of carried that fire in the belly back home to Atlanta (and) with me through high school, and then I got even more deeply engaged in both study, (and) also activism as an undergraduate student,” Wilkinson said. “It just kind of kept snowballing from there.”

As an undergraduate, she majored in religion, and two of her professors also taught in her field and environmental studies. The intersections in her college classes between religion and the environment excited Wilkinson.

“My undergraduate adviser actually had a (saying) that specialization is for insects,” she said. “And I have kind of been a hopeless interdisciplinary on my winding path.”

This winding path brought her to research the connection between climate and gender, and the realization that the impacts of climate change are not gender-neutral. Wilkson said that women and girls, particularly those of color, those who are indigenous or who live in poor, rural areas, are impacted first and worst by climate change. Women and girls are more likely to die, be injured in a natural disaster, or be vulnerable to sex trafficking; and often bear the burdens of gathering firewood, water and growing food. 

In addition to her work with gender and religion, Wilkinson also works on researching the connection with leadership and climate change. Wilkinson said that transformational leadership comes from women and girls in the climate movement.

She is co-editing an anthology of writing by women climate leaders, to be released in September, titled All We Can Save: Truth, Courage, and Solutions for the Climate Crisis. Contributing writers include a diverse group — from strategists and scientists to teenage activists and grandmothers from across the United States.

“It’s this wonderful kind of patchwork quilt,” Wilkinson said.

Wilkinson and her co-editor, Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, are including poetry and visual art in the anthology as well, to connect readers to the climate crisis both emotionally and spiritually.

“We need to have ways to come to this topic with our heads, but also with our hearts and, and ultimately with our hands,” Wilkinson said. “It’s a collection that is super accessible and also really welcoming. Because, to change everything, it’s going to take everyone. And we really need the largest and strongest team possible.”

This program is made possible by the David and Wendy Barensfeld Lectureship.

Ocean Conservancy CEO Janis Searles Jones to discuss climate change and the ocean


Oceans cover 70 percent of Earth, and Janis Searles Jones’ work is dedicated to the conservation of those oceans in the face of the changing climate.

At 10:45 a.m. EDT Tuesday, June 30, Chautauqua Institution will host  Jones as the day’s speaker for the Chautauqua Lecture Series. She’ll be joined at the beginning by George Leonard, Ocean Conservancy’s chief scientist, who will provide a brief, opening primer on ocean science and the impact of climate change. The lecture will be available for streaming on the CHQ Assembly platform. 

Jones is the CEO of Ocean Conservancy, one of the largest and most established conservation organizations in the United States. According to their website, the mission of the Ocean Conservancy is “to protect the ocean from today’s greatest global challenges.”

The theme of the lecture series for this week at the Chautauqua Institution is “Climate Change: Prioritizing Our Global and Local Response,” during which Jones will present her lecture: “The Ocean and the Climate: How to Save Both.” According to Vice President and Emily and Richard Smucker Chair for Education Matt Ewalt, Jones will discuss “why public conversation, research and policy on climate action must look to the ocean.

Not only will Jones speak on the importance of ocean conservancy, she will also discuss the need for comprehensive scientific research in the field. In a 2019 event put on by Aspen Ideas, Jones told listeners about this need, and said that “there’s a lot we don’t know about oceans yet. Ocean science is burgeoning, but it was largely ignored until recently.” 

“Our forests, deserts, and jungles have been meticulously studied for centuries,” Jones said at the Aspen Ideas event. “It’s time to start seriously investing in ocean science as well.”

A graduate of the Lewis & Clark Law School and a 2017 Pew Marine Fellow, Jones frequently lectures on the topic of the ocean and environmental law, her area of study. In 2017, Jones took on the role of CEO of Ocean Conservancy, where she leads a team of over 100 researchers, conservationists and policy writers toward her goal of oceanic protection and conservation.

“Our team cares deeply about not just the ocean, but about the people and coastal communities that rely on the ocean every day,” Jones wrote on Ocean Conservancy’s blog. 

A long-time lover of the ocean and the environment, Jones attributes her introduction to ocean conservation to a teacher she had in elementary school. 

“I felt like even though I was young, I could make a meaningful difference,” Jones wrote on Ocean Conservancy’s website. She still remembers her teacher’s favorite quote; “This is my country. Wherever I go, I will leave it more beautiful than I found it.”

“We are entering a time of unprecedented attacks on our ocean and environment, and yet I am optimistic,” Jones said in an interview with Rachel’s Network, a nonprofit that promotes women as leaders. “It is in the face of adversity that we fully grasp the need to work together to defend the present and build for the future.”

There will be a post-lecture community conversation at 12:30 p.m. EDT, Tuesday, June 30, on the CHQ Assembly Virtual Porch, moderated by Tereza Jezkova, who is an assistant professor in the Department of Biology at Miami University of Ohio. Additionally, Leonard — Ocean Conservancy’s chief scientist — will present a “Deeper Dive in Ocean Conservancy” at 3:30 p.m. EDT, Tuesday, June 30, on the Virtual Porch.

This program is made possible by the Helen S. and Merrill L. Bank Lectureship.


Whitman to open 2020 season lauding role of individual activism in climate change solutions


Influenced and inspired by generational traditions, Christine Todd Whitman’s love for both politics and the great outdoors runs so deep, she has decided to never choose between the two. 

She was born into a long line of Republican leaders. Her father was a chairman of the New Jersey Republican State Committee. Her mother was a Republican National Committeewoman. Both of her grandfathers served the party in New Jersey as chief financiers. 

Just as politics have a recurring place in the family tree, her commitment to environmental issues has roots of its own, stemming back to her upbringing at Pontefract, the family farm in New Jersey, where her parents raised her to leave every place better than she found it.

“That exposes you very early on to the effect man has on nature,” Whitman said. 

Whitman, president of The Whitman Strategy Group and former governor of New Jersey, will open the 2020 Chautauqua Lecture Series at 10:45 a.m. EDT Monday, June 29, on CHQ Assembly’s Video Platform with a lecture on the Week One theme, “Climate Change: Prioritizing Our Global and Local Response.”

Following her tenure as governor, Whitman served in President George W. Bush’s cabinet as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency from January 2001 to June 2003. In that role, she promoted environmental improvements such as watershed-based water protection policies and the reduction of sulfur emissions from non-road diesel engines.

To continue her work beyond the White House, she founded The Whitman Strategy Group, a consulting firm that specializes in energy and environmental issues, in 2004. Whitman said the firm was created to confront environmental challenges with innovative solutions.

“We work with companies that want to improve their environmental profile,” Whitman said. “We have had a number of clients come to us with new and innovative technologies. If we think it is scalable, we guide them in the right direction to help make it happen.”

To a point, that is.

“We don’t do any lobbying,” she said. 

Her firm’s success notwithstanding, Whitman said she knows the issue of climate change is too large to rely on organizations alone. Therefore, she will open the week and the 2020 season with an emphasis on individual action.

“It is up to us,” Whitman said. “As it has happened in the past in 1969 and 1970 with the first Earth Day and environmental movement, it was people who made the difference, not a government suddenly coming up with an idea.”

That is not to say citizens shouldn’t hold their governors accountable too, she said.

“(My lecture) is reminding people of the difference they can make by challenging their elected officials and the people who want their vote by asking them ‘What’s your commitment to this? What are you doing about it?” Whitman said. 

According to Whitman, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought the issue of climate change to an even higher level of “critical importance.” She said it will be even more important for future generations than the present, as COVID-19 won’t be the last crisis of its kind. 

“There is no question in my mind that we are going to see more pandemics like COVID-19 in the future, because as we change ecosystems, different pathogens develop in different ways and we are going to see more of these things,” she said. “No credible scientist will say COVID-19 is due to climate change, but they will say ‘This is what you can expect, along with more frequent and intense storms, more severe droughts, more severe flooding.’ All of those things have economic consequences for us, too. But, we can clean up our environment and still have economic growth.” 

This program is made possible by the Selina and Walter Braham Lectureship.

In final Interfaith Friday, Candler to bring liberal Christian perspective


The Very Rev. Samuel Candler is contemplative.

“I appreciate the presence of God in silence and in the outdoors,” said Candler, a lecturer and the dean of the Cathedral of St. Philip in the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta. “I grew up on a farm, so I still appreciate being outside. To me, there’s something about the early morning darkness that speaks of God’s power.”

And God’s power is exactly what Candler will speak on today.

At 2 p.m. today in the Hall of Philosophy, Candler will conclude Chautauqua’s Interfaith Friday lecture series with another unique Christian perspective on the problem of evil in religion. Candler will be joined in conversation by the Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson, Chautauqua’s vice president of religion and senior pastor.

“It’s a familiar problem,” Candler said. “And it gives me a chance to collect one of my most provocative talks on that subject.”

Candler has included his liberal view on Christianity and his sense of optimism in lectures all over the world, including in England, Costa Rica and Canada.
“A lot of times, people want to hear from a different culture,” he said. “There are a lot of different attitudes towards the United States these days, so I consider myself a spokesperson for the progressive Episcopal Church.”

One message Candler champions in his preaching and lecturing is the importance of interfaith relationships.

“I enjoy interfaith relationships,” he said. “I believe the future of spirituality is to understand and to appreciate different faith traditions.”

Along those lines, Candler is a member of The Faith Alliance, the interfaith network of the City of Atlanta.

“That group was especially active after 9/11,” he said. “It was important for people from different faith traditions to appreciate each other, especially during accusations of violence. We went on some trips with Christians, Jews and Muslims together: 10 Christians, 10 Jews and 10 Muslims living and traveling with each other.”

Candler said that those relationships are critically important “to understand people and to understand people’s sense of faith, so that when issues come up, we have a sense of something in common — as opposed to antagonism.”

‘We’ the People: Ariana Curtis to Speak on Race and Gender in Museum Studies


In her work, Ariana Curtis focuses on the idea of community — especially within black and Lantix narratives in the predominantly white field of museum studies.

Curtis, curator of Latinx studies at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, will speak at 10:45 a.m. Thursday, August 22 in the Amphitheater as part of Week Nine, “Exploring Race and Culture in America with Wynton Marsalis and Jazz at Lincoln Center.”

“I’m talking about what it means to create ‘we’ — the idea of community — speaking specifically about my own academic expertise, which is on this continuum of African American and Latinx identities,” Curtis said. “I’m talking about race and gender and how we represent those things in museum spaces.”

Curtis is a Fulbright scholar and anthropologist. She has worked in two museum spaces: her current role as curator in the NMAAHC, and her past role as curator of Latino Studies at the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum. Each museum centers African American culture, identity and history — making each an exceptional space in the museum field, Curtis said.

“I’ve always worked in black museums, so it wasn’t really until I had to contextualize the work in my TED Talk that I realized how exceptional my curatorial experiences have been,” Curtis said.

Curtis explained that in a 2018 study, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation — and several other organizations — surveyed over 300 art museums regarding gender and racial demographics of their staff — and found some severe disparities.

“Eighty-seven percent of the museums’ collections were male, and 85% were white,” Curtis said. “Ninety-three percent of all museum directors were white, 92.6% of board chairs were white, and 89% of board members were white. In some of the higher-paid positions like curators, educators and museum leaders, 84% of those jobs were (held by) white people.”

In her 2018 TED Talk, Curtis spoke on the need for authentic representation of women in museums, focusing on more than just the most famous women in history.

“Representation matters,” Curtis said, opening her TED Talk. “Authentic representations of women matter. I think that too often, our public representations of women are enveloped in the language of the extraordinary.”

Curtis said the talk gave her an opportunity to dive into the diverse realm of narratives — which are often filtered through a predominantly white lens.

“It was an opportunity for me to showcase collections that center black women and non-white women, given how museums generally tell stories and who is generally telling the stories,” Curtis said.

For that talk — and for any public speaking event — Curtis said she had to consider the context of museums and of her own curatorial experiences.

“I’m going to end with talking about curating these stories for TED, for a digital audience that’s outside of museum spaces, and what it means to contextualize the complete lack of diversity in the museum field for someone who’s always worked in black museum spaces,” Curtis said.

Unlike curating an exhibition, Curtis said, public lectures are a highly visible form of education, one in which her own appearance and identity become part of the narrative.

“When I curate an exhibition, people don’t necessarily know what I look like or who I am — they’re just enjoying the information on the wall,” Curtis said. “But when you do a public talk like Chautauqua or TED, who you are as a person has everything to do with the message you’re delivering and how it’s received. I had to think hard about what I wanted to say about museums, what I wanted to say about my position in museums as an Afro-Latina, as a curator, knowing these statistics of the field.”

In Curtis’ experience, multidisciplinary cultural studies can surprise museum visitors.

“Because we don’t often study non-white populations against each other, sometimes people are interested — or confused, even — about what Latinx studies can look like in an African American space,” she said.

Curtis said she hopes to educate listeners on the multitude of experiences her field of study includes — more than just the “exceptional” experiences often highlighted.

“ ‘Black’ is a very diverse category,” Curtis said. “ ‘Women’ is a diverse category — that’s kind of the point of the ‘everyday’ narrative. It’s really about diversity and inclusion, that you have to change the narrative in order to be inclusive, rather than just adding one or two exceptional people on top of a narrative that never included them.”

Runningwater to Talk Sundance Indigenous Program in Lecture


In a 1981 snapshot of Robert Redford and filmmakers — including Chris Spotted Eagle, of the Houmas Nation, and Larry Littlebird, of the Laguna and Kewa Pueblos —  a space for indigenous voice in film was born. The Sharon M. Beard photograph documents Sundance Institute’s first Filmmakers Lab, and the subsequent labs and programs have launched a decades-long independent film movement.

By 1994, Sundance Institute had developed initiatives to officially support Native American and indigenous artists, and in 1995, Chris Eyre and Sherman Alexie’s “Smoke Signals” became the first film written and directed by Native Americans presented at Sundance; it won the 1998 Sundance Festival’s Dramatic Audience Award and Dramatic Filmmaker Trophy. 

Thirty-eight years after the first Sundance lab, N. Bird Runningwater heads Sundance’s Indigenous Program as director, and he aims to further the legacy of the Redford-founded nonprofit.

“The work that I do is lending toward dismantling a level of invisibility of Native Americans in our own country, and in our own American popular culture,” said Runningwater, who has also received a Woodrow Wilson Foundation Fellowship in Public Policy, and serves on the board of directors of the First Peoples Fund. “That’s what inspires me to do the work that I do.”

Runningwater, who has served as a director and writer himself on several film and television projects, will speak at 10:45 a.m. Wednesday, August 21 in the Amphitheater, continuing Week Nine, “Exploring Race and Culture in America with Wynton Marsalis and Jazz at Lincoln Center.”

Runningwater’s role in one of Sundance’s core programs is vitally important to “supporting indigenous filmmakers in telling their stories and, by doing so, reframing the American story,” said Matt Ewalt, Chautauqua’s vice president and Emily and Richard Smucker Chair for Education.

“During a week in which we look at the intersection of race and culture in American society, Bird Runningwater brings critical insight into how Native Americans are all but invisible in American culture, including cinema,” Ewalt said.

Raised on the Mescalero Apache Reservation in New Mexico, Runningwater will bring his personal story to today’s lecture, as well as insight into how his own tribal histories — Runningwater was born of the Cheyenne and Mescalero Apache peoples — have inspired him in his Sundance directorship. As he endeavors to provide support for native American artists, Runningwater asks: How can Native stories be “made and seen?”

The core goal of Sundance’s Indigenous Program is to provide mentorship and resources to artists who typically have specific projects in the works, Runningwater said. And Sundance’s support manifests itself in a variety of ways — through grants and fellowships and in film labs.

Since 2004, the Indigenous Program’s Native Filmmakers Lab Fellowship has allowed first-time filmmakers space to create short films; each year, the Indigenous Program Full Circle Fellowship brings three U.S.-based Native youth to the Native Filmmakers Lab and Sundance Film Festival; and the Merata Mita Indigenous Women Artist Fellowship grants one Native woman the opportunity and resources to create a feature film. 

Named as one of TIME’s 2019 Leaders Who Are Shaping the Next Generation of Artists, Runningwater has helped curate the Sundance premieres of more than 110 indigenous-made films; under his leadership, Sundance’s Indigenous Program has fostered mentorship and support to more than 140 indigenous filmmakers. 

Though choosing a favorite project is like “picking your favorite child,” Runningwater said three recent artists to have been part of Sundance’s Indigenous Program, in some capacity, have gone on to establish especially “wonderful careers.” Looking to Diné filmmaker Sydney Freeland of “Hoverboard” fame, Sterlin Harjo and his Oklahoma-set, Native American-based works, and Taika Waititi and his Academy Award-nominated “Two Cars, One Night,” Runningwater described their collective works as “exceptional.”

In all cases, the Indigenous Program is committed to bringing indigenous stories — as told by indigenous people — onto screens and into the forefront of modern film. 

“We want to really nurture distinct, authentic voices who are trying to say something different,” Runningwater said.

Scholar Sarah Lewis to Distill Award-Winning ‘Vision & Justice’ Issue in Talk


In 1926, high school junior Shadrach Emmanuel Lee asked his Brooklyn public high school history teacher why their textbooks featured no African Americans. Lee’s challenge of early 20th-century representations of excellence was met with a simple justification: African Americans had done nothing to warrant their inclusion. The question so disturbed Lee’s teacher that the young man was expelled.

It was Lee’s interrogation of the discriminatory narratives he saw institutionalized within his own life, as well as his career as a jazz musician and painter, that would lead Sarah Lewis, his granddaughter, to orient her scholarship around the intersection of art and justice.

At 10:45 a.m. Tuesday, August 20 in the Amphitheater, Lewis will offer a seminar-style lecture on race and culture within the United States. Her talk will be a “distillation” of the “Vision & Justice” course she teaches at Harvard University — a class that was incorporated into the school’s core curriculum after the award-winning Aperture issue of the same name, which Lewis guest edited, earned nationwide acclaim in 2016.

Inside the final week of Chautauqua Institution’s 2019 season, Lewis’ lecture lives next to a morning lecture from trumpeter and composer Wynton Marsalis, as well as performances from the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. Lewis described speaking during a week spotlighting Marsalis — who performed at her April 2019 “Visions & Justice” event, a “creative convening” that featured Carrie Mae Weems, Ava DuVernay and Bryan Stevenson — as “so exciting.”

“Jazz has played a part in getting America to understand itself more fully,” Lewis said, noting that her own syllabus includes examples of the genre’s impact on advancing social justice.

An alum of New York City’s K-12 Brearley School, Lewis received her bachelor’s degree from Harvard University, where she studied the history of modern and contemporary African American art. Armed with a Master of Philosophy from Oxford University and a Ph.D. from Yale University, Lewis has served on President Barack Obama’s Arts Policy Committee, and has held curatorial positions at The Museum of Modern Art and London’s Tate Modern.

Her book, The Rise: Creativity, the Gift of Failure, and the Search for Mastery, is “an atlas of stories about pioneering individuals” — the product of a “unique” process during which Lewis interviewed approximately 200 individuals and scoured scholarly journals for unusual anecdotes about “conversions,” or corrections from past mistakes. Lewis acknowledged that it’s “not common to write a book about failure,” and characterized the book as “deeply personal, emotional and spiritual.”

“Learning from failure was the one topic I had not been taught at Harvard, Oxford or Yale — these great institutions,” Lewis said. “If you don’t learn to manage failure, it can unravel everything else. I wrote The Rise for myself. I never expected it would become the book that it did.”

Just as she reconsidered moments too quickly judged as defeats in The Rise, so too did Lewis re-frame American photography in her seminal “Vision & Justice” Aperture issue. Organized around Frederick Douglass’ understanding of the importance of images in the struggle for dignity and equality in a culture of white supremacy — a concept he outlined in his Civil War-era speech “Pictures and Progress” — “Vision & Justice” is a compendium of how art “expands who counts and who belongs through culture.”

“(Douglass’) idea is that an image that moves you or me creates a kind of imagined picture of possibility,” Lewis said. “It’s the distance between the picture you’re seeing and the new view that you have of the world that can make the difference between progress or not. For every person, there’s a different image that will impact them. The dynamic is what’s so important. That’s the thing that counts.”

Looking ahead, Lewis hopes technology and increased support for the arts will “help break down the silos within our community” and that “the arts continue to let us understand what we don’t know we don’t know.” But humanity will continue to create for progressive ends.

“You can’t move past the technology of the soul,” she said. “I think artists today are doing what they’ve been doing from the beginning of time, which is to force us to see what we would rather shy away from. I don’t think that’s changed in any way.”

World-Renowned Trumpeter Wynton Marsalis to Lecture on Society, Culture and History


During most performances with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, trombonist Chris Crenshaw sits right in front of the organization’s managing and artistic director, nine-time Grammy Award-winning trumpeter and composer Wynton Marsalis.

“I always tell people that I have the best seat in the house,” Crenshaw said.

Although snagging even front row Amphitheater seats is a far cry from playing in the world’s preeminent jazz orchestra, Chautauquans will have the chance to replicate a sliver of Crenshaw’s intimate experience in the final week of Chautauqua’s 2019 season, “Exploring Race and Culture in America with Wynton Marsalis and Jazz at Lincoln Center,”

featuring Marsalis and the program he co-founded in 1987. At 10:45 a.m. Monday, August 19 in the Amphitheater, Marsalis — an educator and American culture advocate — will deliver a lecture that marks the beginning of a week encompassing the second-ever performance of “The Ever Fonky Lowdown,” as well as a Friday morning Amp conversation to bookend the week. Today, Marsalis will share his insights about the state of society through a historical lens.

Matt Ewalt, vice president and Emily and Richard Smucker Chair for Education, expressed gratitude for Marsalis’ “leadership and partnership in convening this important conversation.”

“It’s a conversation that brings together the arts, education and religion at Chautauqua and demonstrates the power and potential of an interdisciplinary approach in addressing — together — our greatest challenges as a larger community,” Ewalt said.

From an early age, Marsalis performed music in the jazz-steeped city of his birth. At age 8, he played traditional New Orleans music in a band led by banjoist Danny Barker. When he was 14, he performed with the New Orleans Philharmonic; by the end of high school, he had played with the New Orleans Symphony Brass Quintet, New Orleans Community Concert Band, New Orleans Youth Orchestra and New Orleans Symphony.

At 17, he became the youngest musician ever admitted  to Tanglewood Berkshire Music Center, and was awarded the school’s Harvey Shapiro Award for outstanding brass student. Studies at The Juilliard School followed, as did a recording contract with Columbia Records and the formation of his own touring band in 1981. Just 18 years after he first moved to New York City to pursue a professional career in music, Marsalis became the first jazz musician to win the Pulitzer Prize for Music.

“Anything a human being can conceive of or imagine, anything that has to do with human interaction, that has to do with creativity and creation, is in the province of jazz,” Marsalis told Charles Donelan in an interview for the Santa Barbara Independent. “It’s not possible to find a human thing without some connection to jazz, because that’s just how art forms are. Also, an art form that includes as many people as jazz ​— ​where to participate all you have to do is learn how to play an instrument ​— ​that’s a situation where you’re going to have a lot of different people involved.”

Marsalis also reflected on his work with Jazz at Lincoln Center during the interview.

“There’s no way I could have known we were going to do all that when we started,” he told Donelan. “There were so many people working in so many ways to realize this dream. I was only one part of it.”

Trombonist Crenshaw described Marsalis as having “a way with explaining how he wants the band to sound like,” a leader who meets high expectations with an all-inclusive attitude.

“We all can have input,” Crenshaw said. “We all feed off each other, but we’re keen to his vision.”

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