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Clay Jenkinson returns to Vail to discuss eroding trust in American institutions, 10 greatest photos

March 17, 2024, 10:31 pm

The Vail Symposium recently issued the following press release on Clay Jenkinson conducting two programs this week:

Clay Jenkinson, humanities scholar, author and social commentator, returns to Vail this week for two programs. On Wednesday, March 20 at Vail Interfaith Chapel, he’ll moderate a panel discussion on “Eroding Trust in American Institutions.” On Thursday, March 21 at Eagle River Presbyterian Church, the conversation turns to the 10 greatest photographs of all time. Jenkinson’s programs are always well-balanced and impeccably researched; these events promise to deliver an excellent experience.

”We’ll see Clay’s true intellectual breadth across these two programs,” said Vail Symposium Executive Director James Kenly. “Trust in institutions is the glue that holds a democracy together and this program will explore its history of ups and downs and try to put the trends of 2024 into context. In the photography program, Clay will welcome audience participation and a lively discussion about what qualifies as a ‘great photograph’ and which moments in time resonate with us the most.”

These topics frequently land in the headlines and have short-term impacts and long-term implications here in the US and around the world.

Wednesday, March 20 – Vail Interfaith Chapel, 6-8 p.m. – Conversations on Controversial Issues moderated by Clay Jenkinson: The Eroding Trust in American Institutions

In October 2020 in The Atlantic, David Brooks wrote “Social trust is a measure of the moral quality of a society—of whether the people and institutions in it are trustworthy, whether they keep their promises and work for the common good. When people in a church lose faith or trust in God, the church collapses. When people in a society lose faith or trust in their institutions and in each other, the nation collapses.”

In an era of increasing polarization and shifts in how individuals perceive and interact with systems such as law enforcement, churches, the press, politics, and education, what are the factors that influence confidence? Do declines in trust occur evenly across demographics and systems? Is this eroding trust unique to this time in our history?

In this fireside-style discussion, Clay Jenkinson and UC Berkeley political scientist Dr. Henry Brady will explore the unique characteristics of the American experiment that depend on trust in our institutions, other epochs in American history that were riddled with distrust and how we recovered, and what we can do to rebuild this critical component of life in America.

Wednesday, Feb. 7 – Eagle River Presbyterian Church, 6-7:30 p.m.: The Ten Greatest Photographs of All Time
Photography began in 1826-1827, when Joseph Nicéphore Niépce exposed the first photograph in human history. Now, thanks to smartphone technology, more photographs are taken each day than were taken in the entire history of the world before the start of the twenty-first century.

Clay Jenkinson has chosen 10 magnificent photographs (in addition to plenty of runners-up and honorable mentions) to explore how great photographs epitomize a moment or an era, capture an extraordinary event, provide a window into the human condition, or make us ache with appreciation and wonder. One perhaps obvious choice is “Lunch Atop a Skyscraper” (1932), taken atop Rockefeller Center in 1932 by Charles Ebbets, Thomas Kelley and William Leftwhich. Recently it has been alleged that the photograph was staged, but it is in fact authentic, taken 69 floors above the New York streets.

In each instance, Clay tells the backstory of the photograph: who took it, when, under what circumstances, what has happened in the aftermath and what influence the photograph has had on the world. Audience members will be encouraged to nominate their own favorites, which we will call up to examine together.

About the speakers:

Clay Jenkinson is a humanities scholar, author and social commentator who has devoted most of his professional career to public humanities programs and scholarship – a commitment recognized at the highest level by his National Humanities Medal. His performances are always humorous, educational, thought-provoking and enlightening, while maintaining a steady focus on ideas. Jenkinson is widely regarded as one of the most articulate public speakers in the country and he brings a humanities perspective –partly learned as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University– to everything he does. Clay’s books (including Repairing Jefferson’s America: A Guide to Civility and Enlightened Citizenship) are available at The Bookworm and his on-going work can be found in the Listening To America podcast at www.ltamerica.org.

Henry Brady is the Class of 1941 Monroe Deutsch Professor of Political Science and Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley. He served as dean of the Goldman School of Public Policy from 2009-2021. He received his PhD in Economics and Political Science from MIT in 1980. He has written on electoral politics and political participation, social welfare policy, political polling, and statistical methodology, and he has worked for the federal Office of Management and Budget and other organizations in Washington, D.C.


What: Conversations on Controversial Issues moderated by Clay Jenkinson: Eroding Trust in American Institutions
When: Wednesday, March 20 | 6-8 p.m.
Where: Vail Interfaith Chapel | Vail
More information: Tickets are $35 in advance and $45 at the door. Please visit vailsymposium.org for more information.

What: The Ten Greatest Photographs of All Time
When: Thursday, March 21, 2024 | 6-7:30 p.m.
Where: Eagle River Presbyterian Church | Avon
More information: Tickets are $25 in advance and $35 at the door. Please visit vailsymposium.org for more information.

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