New President Discusses Vision For Chautauqua Institution

Newly-appointed Chautauqua Institution president Michael E. Hill, pictured center, was the guest-of-honor at a local meet-and-greet Tuesday, hosted by the Chautauqua Region Community Foundation and held at the Robert H. Jackson Center. P-J photo by A.J. Rao

Thoughtful, civil dialogues and a hearty thirst for inclusion are notable hallmarks of Chautauqua Institution.

For newly-appointed president Michael E. Hill, it is this brand, in particular, that makes the Institution both a unique and valuable refuge, especially at a time when the country is so fraught with divisions.

On Tuesday, Hill shared such thoughts and more during a local meet-and-greet, hosted by the Chautauqua Region Community Foundation and held at the Robert H. Jackson Center. Prior to a public interview with Greg Peterson, co-founder of the Jackson Center, Hill fielded questions from the press, in which he outlined his vision for the Institution and his transition as its new leader.

“I’ve been welcomed as you would welcome a new neighbor to a community,” Hill said. “One of the exciting elements of coming into a presidency that has so much history is getting to see the people that help make the institution what it is. I’m excited to be doing that not only locally, but around the country where I greet Chautauquans who call the place home in the summer. (I’m excited) to discover again why so many people love this place and why it’s such a treasure.”

Hill said his vision for the Institution involves expanding its reach beyond the Chautauqua campus and beyond its summer schedule.

“I think we can be going to other cities with Chautauqua’s brand and have meaningful, deep and powerful conversations which would not only amplify the brand, but help us bring back even newer audiences to the Institution during its traditional summer,” he said. “When I say the Chautauqua brand … it’s the deep exploration, it’s the civil dialogue, it’s the platform under which people who may think diametrically-opposed things can come together and try to find solutions.”

Hill described this last point as particularly relevant given the current state of the country.

“For me, Chautauqua is a perfect antidote for a lot of the division and strife that we’re finding not only in our nation, but in the world,” he said. “(Chautauqua) is uniquely set up to have conversations about where we have commonalities and where we can find common solutions versus division. That’s certainly a core element of what I’d like to do … not only through the lecture platform, but through religious dialogue and the arts programming.”

In regard to contract negotiations involving the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra, Hill said he was “cautiously optimistic” that an offer extended to the symphony will prove worthwhile.

The symphony has until the end of January to respond.

Hill said the construction of the new Amphitheater is also being monitored closely and should be completed by the 2017 summer season.

As far as being recognized by the Jackson Center, Hill said it was an honor.

“I love reading Justice Jackson’s background and biography because in so many ways it mirrors what we’ve always tried to do in Chautauqua,” Hill said. “We’re highly concerned about human rights and the way people are treated in society … so to be in a building that bears his name … it’s a real honor.”

Hill was appointed president in November by the Institution’s Board of Trustees, becoming Chautauqua’s 18th president and succeeding Tom Becker, whose 13-year tenure ended Dec 31.

According to the Institution, Hill is an experienced leader of arts, cultural and social service organizations including Washington National Cathedral, The Washington Ballet and United Cerebral Palsy.  Youth For Understanding USA is one of the world’s oldest, largest and most respected intercultural exchange programs.

At 42, Hill has a diverse work history with a variety of organizations, holding senior management positions at several nonprofits and having extensive experience in fundraising, programming, marketing and communications.

A native of Norfolk, NY, Hill earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism at St. Bonaventure University, where he is a member of their Board of Trustees, and a master’s degree in arts and cultural management from Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota.