CHAUTAUQUA - "We (have been) blown away by our experiences ... and I don't want this to end."
Ken Burns' feelings at the end of his week seven lectures of the Chautauqua Institution season are probably being shared by hundreds to thousands of the institution's summer residents today as another successful season wraps up along the north end of Chautauqua Lake.
Nestled in the town of Chautauqua, which was named by the Smithsonian Magazine as the best small town to visit in America, the institution hosted an array of renowned individuals who lectured to full crowds this summer. Chautauqua also hosted bands, orchestras, theatrical acts and other entertainment.
This year's lecture themes were aimed to continue Chautauqua's tradition of self-improvement and lifelong learning through a wide variety of programs to open the minds of those in attendance. From global food supplies to the rise of Brazil, the institution lectures touched on a multitude of worldwide issues. The final week of lectures, called Health Care: From Bench to Bedside, featured speeches from Scott Giberson, acting deputy U.S. surgeon general, and Daniel Weinberger, world leader in schizophrenia research, among others. The health lectures concluded with John R. Lumpkin, senior vice president and director of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Health Care Group.
"The lectures have been really strong this year and local residents are really coming out," said George Murphy, institution vice president and chief marketing officer. "We had spectacular crowds who were engaged in the wide variety of talks given throughout the season."
According to Murphy, the institution hasn't calculated all the numbers yet, but everything looks to be up from last year. The institution had a very strong season kicking off with Tom Brokaw during the first week of lectures, called "Roger Rosenblatt and Friends." Rosenblatt, a Chautauqua-favorite memoirist, returned to Chautauqua and brought some friends along including Brokaw, Margaret Atwood, Elizabeth Stout, Jules Feiffer and Paul Muldoon.
Brokaw, anchor and managing editor of "NBC Nightly News," spoke about his writing abilities and his most successful book, "The Greatest Generation." He also spoke about his generation, which he coined as "the greatest," based on two historical events.
"The (Great) Depression and (World War II) defined this generation," Brokaw said. "And, gratefully, they were up in it. Many of them were either immigrants or first-generation Americans. They had a passion about this country, and they knew what it would take based on their earlier experiences in their home countries to preserve what we hold dear."
Another highlight of the season was a week with Burns, director and producer of documentary films, who devoted days to "The Central Park Five," "The Civil War," "Vietnam" and "The Roosevelts." Burns was joined by one of the wrongfully accused teenagers from a 1989 rape case and Geoffrey C. Ward, who worked with him on both "Vietnam" and "The Roosevelts."
Marty Merkley, institution vice president and director of programming, commended every institution office involved for their wealth of creative output during the season. Many programs put on by the institution brought packed crowds.
"Having Ken Burns talking to the crowd for a couple days was a highlight," Merkley said. "We had some stupendous concerts from the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra and we had plays that received great reviews. You can pick a day and you can find a highlight."
Murphy noted that the number of people who attended concerts was down a little bit due to the expense nowadays going and seeing well-known bands. Competition among the casinos in Buffalo and the surrounding area also played a role in the decreased numbers. Among the entertainers who performed this year's concert series were Jennifer Nettles, three-time Grammy Award country singer, and The Beatles tribute band, Yesterday. The series of concerts ended Saturday with Patti Austin Live At Duke's Place featuring the Duke Ellington Orchestra.
"We had a great lineup, but the turnout wasn't what we expected," Murphy said.
Next year's entertainment is still in the works since most bands don't announce their schedule until the next season nears. However, many people who have come to visit the institution are booking their accommodations again, according to officials.
In April, the Smithsonian magazine named Chautauqua as the No. 1 best town to visit in a feature story. The feature, by New York Times columnist Susan Spano, said that Chautauqua Institutions mix of lectures, classes, recreational activities and fine performing and literary arts programs were in the basis for distinction.
Murphy said the distinction given to the institution is bigger than anything.
"The article ran and was distributed to a large number of people," Murphy said. "That allowed us to gain national exposure. Next year is going to be another strong year."
The 2014 season is all wrapped up, but next year's lecture schedule is out for the public to see. Themes and a list of speakers who have already committed are available.
The first week will hear lectures surrounding the theme, 21st-Century Literacies. Lectures will be given from proponents of literacy in numerous fields which include art, history, science, technology, geography and finance.
The second week will see Wes Moore, author of The Other Wes Moore, speak on the theme, Boys Will Be Boys, Then Men. A large and growing body of scholarship suggests that all boys are facing enormous challenges with healthy development and socialization.
Alberto R. Gonzales, former U.S. Attorney General is slated to speak during the third week about the ongoing debate of legal and illegal immigration. The week's theme will be Immigration.
In week four, titled Irrationality, Duke professor Dan Ariely and his social-science contemporaries will explore the complex, often irrational world of human decision making.
Art & Politics will be the theme of week five when lecturers will demonstrate how art is used in politics and to influence political processes.
The theme of week six will be Vanishing, taking a look at what no longer exists in anthropology, ecology, technology and ideology.
Redefining Europe will take place in week seven as part of a Colonial Williamsburg/Chautauqua Institution "Emerging Citizenship" series. Ulrike Guerot, senior associate for Germany, Open Society Initiative for Europe; Jean-David Levitte, senior policy adviser, Rock Creek Advisors and former French ambassador to the United States; and Roger Cohen, New York Times columnist, will explore what it means to be a citizen of Europe today.
Robin Wright, joint fellow for the U.S. Institute for Peace & Woodrow Wilson Center, has been confirmed for week eight, titled The Middle East Now and Next.
Closing out the 2015 season will be Creating Health Communities, completing a three-year institution series on American health care.
The 2015 season will run June 27 through Aug. 30.
For a full list of themes and dates, and confirmation of more lecturers as it becomes available, visit www.ciweb.org.