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Liking lectures

By Staff | Jan 28, 2015

Peter Blaze Corcoran, Susan Stuart and Maureen Watson are organizing the 2015 Rachel Carson Distinguished Lecture at the St. Michael & All Angels Episcopal Church in Sanibel. CRAIG GARRETT

The heart of paradise is its beaches, its wildlife and natural beauty, the intoxicating salted and fresh air.

But the mind is fed indoors: Sanibel and Captiva offer pages of workshops, films/documentaries, presentations, performances, exhibits, dozens of variations of each.

The centerpiece of intellectual life in the islands is the lecture. Not the stern version, but the enlightened one helping us understand how things tick, to absorb, share and evolve, organizers and participants said.

Pick a day in season, and a good learning opportunity is likely to surface. BIG ARTS, “Ding” Darling, SCCF, Bailey-Matthews, the Sanibel Community House and the public library, churches, each offers instant lectures to feed the mind. It is what attracts many to Sanibel and Captiva.

The islands “are one of the most sophisticated places in the world,” said Peter Blaze Corcoran, who on Jan. 30 will deliver remarks at the Rachel Carson Distinguished Lecture Series in Sanibel. Blaze Corcoran is an environmental expert and studied with Nobel Prize winner Wangari Maathai in Africa. The lecture topic that includes David W. Orr is the earth’s sustainability.

Sanibel and Captiva audiences “are very intelligent and curious. I feel very honored to be here,” Blaze Corcoran said.

Lectures in Frank Lloyd Wright’s work, the Everglades and environmental health, wildlife, terrorism, world politics, personal happiness, literature, children and education are among topics examined in the islands. Obama Administration appointee Dr. Ellen Scrivner recently lectured on policing/policy relating to the Ferguson, Missouri, conflict.

There are even loose Monday lectures at morning coffees at the Bailey’s store, a master gardener lecture series, a lively roundtable of locals lecturing one another on politics that reportedly gets heated.

But the hot-ticket lecture is the BIG ARTS Forum Series, a sellout event for about a dozen years. The series has included a US Supreme Court justice, famous authors, journalists and elected officials, US ambassadors, all players on the world stage. Arthur C. Brooks of the American Enterprise Institute on Jan. 21 was the year’s first Forum speaker, discussing a happier America. Kevin Carey on Jan. 28 will share views on education reform. Others in February will lecture on technology and Russia’s challenge to Europe. In all, eight speakers are scheduled, with each lecture sold. Speakers have an hour for remarks, another 45 minutes of informal questioning, a big deal when the speaker is a Ruth Bader Ginsberg. There’s a line at the door and box-office on lecture evenings, organizers said.

The Jan. 30 Carson lecture at the Saint Michael & All Angels Church, featuring Orr and Blaze Corcoran, will draw interest. Former Vice President Walter Mondale is invited as a keynote listener. Blaze Corcoran is FGCU’s director for the Center for Environmental and Sustainability Education, on sabbatical in Africa.

The Carson event’s co-chair, Maureen Watson, said islanders even travel abroad to absorb information, in her case, to France with an island group to study art.

Islanders, she said, “like to stay informed, like to hear experts.”

Not every lecture requires a Word Finder. Many are on sea turtles, alligators and birds, snakes and solar power, art and photography, island history and historical figures, health, travel and business, just about anything to tickle the fancy.

Lecture organizers point to the large number of educated, certainly successful and curious islanders, as reasons for learning opportunities. The BIG ARTS Forum Series, for instance, has hopefuls at the box-office on engagement evenings, in the off chance a ticket-holder fails to show, said Neal Halleran, organizer for this year’s Forum Series.

Speakers are scholars and leaders who, he said, “talk to us about trends in public policy issues affecting the world. Continuing education complements the whole thrust of BIG ARTS.”

Financial support is vital to attracting big-name lecturers. Many groups have committees and foundations to raise funds, to host private benefits, solicit resorts for accommodations. A key selling point in attracting speakers, however, is paradise itself, especially with crummy winter weather in the north, organizers said.

The “Ding” Darling Refuge has long hosted lectures and films. Many of the events are standing room. A key to the Ding’s success is a low cost for lectures/films. An island business subsidizes most of the Ding’s series events.

“For the Sanibel Captiva Trust Company,” CEO Al Hanser said of his firm’s underwriting, “it isn’t about giving away money, it is about helping the Ding Darling Wildlife Society educate others about making these islands a better place for generations to come.”