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CW Journal : Autumn 09 : Message from the President

President Colin G. Campbell

President Colin G. Campbell

Message from the President

A Remarkable Experience

For most of a week in late August, I joined six men who helped in the eighteenth century to build our republic, four scholars of their lives and times, two prize-winning authors on the period, a national television news anchor, an ambassador, a Supreme Court justice, and several thousand vacationers in a fascinating, illuminating, provocative, and altogether necessary conversation titled the History of Liberty. The place was a remarkable lakeside vacation community in upstate New York, the occasion a Colonial Williamsburg Foundation partnership with the Chautauqua Institution.

Founded in 1874, the Chautauqua Institution is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to renewal of the spirit, stimulation of the mind, appreciation of the arts, physical well-being, and lifelong learning. Colonial Williamsburg and Chautauqua swim in the same intellectual waters, share the same set of values, dream the same dreams about the potential of democracy, and seek, in constructive and tangible ways, to help “form a more perfect Union.”

Although I knew Chautauqua by reputation, my sense of our common cause was sharpened in 2006 when I was there as a speaker in a seminar about citizenship. This time, in an ambitious expansion of our involvement, interpreters—fifteen in all—trustees, associates, and friends of the foundation addressed a subject at the core of Colonial Williamsburg’s mission.

All our Historic Area characters did us proud, among them Thomas Jefferson and his manservant Jupiter, in the persons of Bill Barker and Richard Josey; preachers Gowan Pamphlet and Lewis Craig, portrayed by James Ingram and Bill Weldon; and Patrick Henry and George Mason, brought to life by Richard Schumann and Mark Sowell. The support of the Kern Foundation of Waukesha helped make their appearances possible.

Historians Hunter Rawlings of Cornell, Gordon Wood of Brown, Charles Haynes of the First Amendment Center of Nashville and Washington, DC, Oliver “Buzz” Thomas of the Niswonger Foundation, David McCullough and Annette Gordon-Reed, PBS’s Jim Lehrer, William Luers, former ambassador to Venezuela and Czechoslovakia, and Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy all engaged large crowds.

Professor Wood and Jim Lehrer, chairman of the Raleigh Tavern Society, are senior foundation trustees, and Justice Kennedy is a current member of the board.

Each morning a riveted Amphitheater audience of 3,500 or more heard the speakers address broad issues like the classical roots of the concepts of freedom and liberty and the impact of the American Revolution beyond our shores. Afternoon sessions were devoted to Religious Liberty and the Faith of the Founders at the Hall of Philosophy, where crowds of up to 1,000 considered such ideas as freedom of religion and church-state separation. All of these sessions offered a vehicle for exchanges with the presenters. There were great questions, lively engagement, and thoughtful comments.

The talks, all of which addressed contemporary aspects of their subjects as well as their history, were complementary, and there was a remarkable coherence to the entire program. The interactions were lively and thoughtful and showed an impressive level of engagement and enthusiasm for the topics. Every day, people from the audiences stopped me on the grounds to say how enriching and enjoyable they found these exchanges.

Being at the Chautauqua Institution for this five-day program was a memorable experience that gave me a clear sense of the impact and value that exporting Colonial Williamsburg can have. The experiment worked extraordinarily well, and I came away persuaded that continuing our relationship with Chautauqua and developing similar partnerships with other like-minded organizations could be an important institutional direction.

Others are, like Chautauqua and Colonial Williamsburg, working in their own ways to see that the future may learn from the past. The National Trust for Historic Preservation, the presidential museums like Mount Vernon, Montpelier, and Monticello, other Virginia historic sites, and the Public Broadcasting System come to mind. The opportunities for collaboration with any of them to address subjects of mutual interest could create for our audiences Chautauqua-like experiences of significant substance and broad appeal. That, it seems to me, would be an initiative well worth pursuing.

Colin G. Campbell
Chairman and President