Sunday, February 18, 2018

Peter Diamandis Charts An Optimistic Future at The Richmond Forum

Through an array of photos, charts, and videos, engineer and physician Peter Diamandis led Richmond Forum attendees through his optimistic view of the future. A future, he says, that is better—and closer—than you think.

“We’re living in a science fiction world,” he said on Saturday in reference to the recent SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket test launch. “You tell me what can’t be done.”

Diamandis’ mission to turn science fiction into science fact has led him to begin 20 organizations with far-reaching goals like exploring and inhabiting other planets, mapping individualized genomes for health research, developing autonomous vehicles, and encouraging and mentoring the next generation of great thinkers.

It has brought him into collaboration with well-known innovators whom he counts among his friends, like Elon Musk, J. Craig Venter, and Jeff Bezos. He gained national attention when the incentive competition organization he founded, X Prize Foundation, awarded $10 million to Forum alumnus Burt Rutan for his work developing SpaceShipOne, a private spacecraft capable of achieving sub-orbital spaceflight.

To Diamandis, it doesn’t matter where or how an idea originates, or how impossible it sounds, but where that idea might lead. As he tells his Singularity University students, “The day before something is truly a breakthrough, it’s a crazy idea.”

What drives the breakthroughs of Diamandis’ organizations and others like them is the power of exponential change. They take advantage of the rapid evolution of technology to disrupt industries and reinvent the way we live. Companies invested in their old ways of doing thing like Kodak, Blockbuster, and department stores give way to newcomers, Instagram, Netflix, and Amazon, that have adopted exponential technologies as a foundation for doing business.

The implications of exponential change reverberate far beyond the corporate world. Humanity is entering an era where every single person on the planet is connected via the Internet and a global network of devices and sensors. Access to knowledge will be at unprecedented levels and 4.2 billion new voices will be added into the global conversation. New voices will beget new ideas and thus further innovation, exponential growth, and discovery.

The promises of new technologies—autonomous vehicles, gene mapping and editing that leads to an extended human lifespan, increasingly sophisticated artificial intelligence—are enticing, but raised questions from the Forum audience.

Many attendees wanted to know what effect advances in AI would have on the future of work, and whether there is a danger in machines becoming too smart. Diamandis discounted the sci-fi trope of AI as villainous, and instead believes that it’s “the greatest tool we will have to solve all of our problems.”

As far as jobs, technology has always displaced and shuffled workers around the job market. The U.S. used to be a largely agrarian nation, and now farmers make up 2% of the population. If autonomous vehicles put Uber drivers out of work, he proposed, perhaps the drivers would become overseers of the driverless fleet.

For all of Diamandis’ optimism, he has gotten some pushback, notably from former President Bill Clinton when Diamandis gave the closing keynote at the Clinton Global Initiative in 2014. “Why are you so optimistic about the future?” the former President asked, “Don’t you read the papers?”

“Respectfully, I’m positive about the future because I don’t watch the news, and I look at the data,” Diamandis replied. The data tell a positive story: poverty is the lowest in history, mortality rates are down, life expectancy is up, and we are living in the most peaceful time in human history.

With that data in mind, it’s a simple proposition for Dr. Diamandis to believe in a future of prosperity and abundance, because the path is already leading in that direction.

Written by Thomas Breeden for The Richmond Forum
February 17, 2018

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Glenn Close Gets Personal at The Richmond Forum

When award-winning actress Glenn Close took the stage of The Richmond Forum on Saturday night, it was the outcome of a lifetime of decisions, circumstance, and chance. Not just in her life, Close explained, but in the lives of each and every person in the room.

“So, hello,” she said to an audience of 4,500 in the packed Altria Theater.

In a very personal presentation, laced with a few songs and mementos she had carefully packed for her trip to Richmond, Close shared the story of her life: from the hay fields of her childhood to her family's involvement in the Moral Re-Armament cult to attending the College of William and Mary, where she learned the art and craft of acting that would become her life's work.

Despite the acclaim she has received, “I still haven’t peaked, so life continues to be exciting,” she said. “When I’m not working, I feel like a Ferrari in a garage."

Her story begins with her earliest memories of the cast album of South Pacific and her childhood ambition of being a horse while growing up playing in the wide-open hay fields of Greenwich, Connecticut.

Close’s most vivid memory is one of meticulously plucking the heads off of clovers when she was five years old and realizing that her hand wasn’t actually her; she was whatever was making that hand move. Close recalled a strong feeling of separateness from herself in that moment.

“I wonder if that moment, which has stayed vivid in my mind all these years, is the reason I was compelled to become an actress at such an early age. Perhaps it’s a particularly acute feeling of separateness that fuels an actor’s engine; that creates an impulsive need to connect to a character and ultimately through that character to the audience.”

That balance between separation and connection became a cornerstone of Close’s life. It was how she found a way into characters like Alex Forrest from Fatal Attraction and Patti Hewes from Damages.

When asked by an audience member if there are pieces of herself in each role or if some are pure invention, Close replied, “I like to use my imagination…to think of things that might have happened in their life that leave either a subliminal or subconscious thing.” But, she said, it’s important to imagine a character without having any judgment. “If I judge, it’s impossible to find a place where we share a common humanity.”

Her life experience has shaped the way she approaches her characters. After first playing the role 22 years earlier, Close was given the opportunity to reprise Norma Desmond of Sunset Boulevard for a 2016 West End production. In doing so, she “threw out everything” from her previous interpretation of the character. Close realized a fragility and longing in the character that she says she would not have recognized without the loss and hardship that came to pass in her personal life in the time between 1994 and 2016.

In that time, her sister Jessie was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and her nephew Calen was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder. Mental illness was never a topic of discussion in the Close family, and the revelation that Jessie was contemplating suicide came “like a bullet out of the blue.”

In 2009, Close co-founded Bring Change to Mind, a nonprofit organization dedicated to ending the stigma and discrimination surrounding mental illness. Her goal, she said on Saturday, is to help her sister and nephew to live safe and productive lives.

From stage, Ms. Close also commended the work of the Cameron K. Gallagher Foundation and how the local community has rallied to support the Richmond non-profit's work to help those affected by teenage mental illness.

There is an inherent reluctance towards using the language of mental illness, she said. “I know the great power of the spoken word,” Close explained. “If we say the words enough, it will help normalize the words and minimize the power of those words."

Close likes to measure her life in change. She likes to see where she’s been, and where she’s going. She acknowledged the change happening through the marches occurring across the country and through the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements. But when asked how she decides to spend her time lately, she responded with a simple, “At this point, I don’t want to leave home and not have a good time.”

Written by Thomas Breeden for The Richmond Forum
January 20, 2018

Saturday, April 22, 2017

2017-2018 Speakers Announced! [SOLD OUT]

Following intermission at the April 22nd Richmond Forum program with actor and director Ron Howard, subscribers got their first look at the big names who will take the stage at the nationally recognized forum during the 2017–2018 season. The Richmond Forum's 32nd season will kick off in November with an address by President Barack Obama.

The 44th President of the United States will join the ranks of Presidents George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush, who have all appeared at the venerable series, along with many other world leaders. President Obama will deliver an address and participate in a Q&A.

"President Obama is, by far, the speaker most requested by our subscribers for next season," commented Forum Executive Director Bill Chapman. "We are extremely proud to be able to announce that President Obama will be coming to The Richmond Forum so soon after leaving office."

Glenn Close
Glenn Close
In January 2018, award-winning stage, television, and movie actress Glenn Close will come to The Richmond Forum. She is expected to discuss the characters in her life, both those she has inhabited in her powerful roles as an actress and those in her personal life. Known for her infamously psychotic character in the movie Fatal Attraction, Close has also become a leading advocate for public conversation about mental illness following the revelation that her sister suffered from mental illness for many years, unknown to her own family.

Peter Diamandis
Peter Diamandis
In February, technology entrepreneur and founder of the X-Prize Foundation, Peter Diamandis, will discuss artificial intelligence, robotics, synthetic technology and other advances that are changing our world at an exponential rate. Diamandis is also co-founder of Singularity University with Ray Kurzweil, and co-founder of Human Longevity, Inc., Planetary Resources, and other ventures. Diamandis is known for saying, "The best way to predict the future is to create it yourself."

Samantha Power
Ambassador Samantha Power
Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power will address The Forum in March, delivering a speech entitled "Why America Can't Afford to Look Away." Power is a leading voice internationally for principled American engagement in the world, global cooperation, and human rights. Prior to becoming the youngest-ever U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Power was a Pulitzer Prize winning author, war correspondent, and Harvard professor.

Joe Scarborough
Joe Scarborough
The season will conclude in April with an appearance by MSNBC Morning Joe host Joe Scarborough, a former Republican Congressman from Florida. Scarborough will bring his signature off-the-cuff commentary to the Forum stage, offering a dynamic and fast-paced perspective on the political and media landscape and the headlines of the day.

For over 30 seasons, The Richmond Forum has been bringing leaders from the world stage to our stage in Richmond—to expand horizons, stimulate conversation and inspire our community. With 4,500 attendees at each program, The Richmond Forum is the largest and most-respected non-profit speaker series in America, able to attract some of the biggest names in the world to its stage year after year.

Past Forum speakers have included filmmaker Steven Spielberg; former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto; Robert Redford; Archbishop Desmund Tutu; Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson; Anderson Cooper; B.B. King; Alan Alda; Mexican President Vicente Fox; Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu; former Secretaries of State Albright, Baker, Powell, and Rice; and three former U.S. Presidents: George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush.

Current subscribers have until May 27th to renew their subscriptions for next season. Seats not purchased by current subscribers by the deadline will go on sale to the public through a lottery. Anyone interested in learning more about becoming a season subscriber can learn more here.

[Update: The 2017-2018 Season is sold out.]

The Richmond Forum is a non-profit 501(c)(3) educational organization. All programs are held at the Altria Theater in Richmond, Virginia.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Forum Open Wins Best In Show Award

The animated video that has opened each Richmond Forum program this season recently received "Best in Show" honors at The Richmond Show, an annual awards show presented by the Advertising Club of Richmond. The video won top honors in the Production category. The two-minute open is a collaboration between Richmond's Cream Studio (animation) and Carlos Chafin of In Your Ear who composed the music. The script was written by Richmond Forum executive director Bill Chapman and the narration is provided by Forum attendee, and a member of the Cream Studio team, Dave Swain.

"We are very proud of this piece and very thankful for the tremendously creative and generous talents that we have here in Richmond and right in our Forum audience," said Chapman. "We are so pleased to see this video win such a well-deserved award!"

Watch the video and read more about how it all came together.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Congratulations to this year's Richmond Forum Scholars!

Front row: Morgan Canaan, Douglas S. Freeman - Center for Leadership, Government & Global Economics; Iram Amir, The Steward School; and Julia Gibson, Douglas S. Freeman - Center for Leadership, Government & Global Economics. Back row: Pablo Gomez Garcia, James River High School, and Fuller Wise, St. Christopher's School.

Our Scholars were chosen from a very impressive pool of high school juniors from around the region who submitted applications, essays, and recommendations. Finalists were chosen for personal interviews.

The new class Scholars got right to work at the November program, helping us behind the scenes. Given our tiny staff of three, our Scholars play essential roles in keeping everything running smoothly and taking good care of our speakers.

Learn more about our Richmond Forum Scholar program here.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

2016-2017 Programs Announced!

A sold-out audience at Saturday night's Richmond Forum program with Russell Wilson and Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. also got their first look at the big names that will take the stage at the nationally recognized series for the 2016–2017 season.

Nate Parker
The Richmond Forum's 31st season will kick off in November 2016 with one of the fastest-rising new directors in Hollywood, Nate Parker. Parker's new film, The Birth of a Nation, swept the awards at the Sundance Film Festival in January and broke festival records when the worldwide distribution rights were immediately purchased for $17.5 million. The film, scheduled for theatrical release on October 7, 2016, and already being discussed as an Oscar contender, portrays the life of Nat Turner and the 1831 slave rebellion he led in Southampton County, Virginia. At The Richmond Forum, Parker will discuss why, as a Virginia native, he needed to tell this story and how he believes it to be relevant to the ongoing black struggle for justice and equality today. Parker wrote, directed, and plays the title role in the film.

Meacham & Goodwin
The Forum's January 2017 program will take place the evening following the inauguration of our next U.S. President. To provide a long view of America's "new" presidents, historians Jon Meacham and Doris Kearns Goodwin will return to The Forum. The evening's discussion will include a look at past inaugural addresses, the fabled "first 100 days," and the transition from campaigner to Oval Office occupant. Steve Inskeep, host of NPR's Morning Edition will moderate the discussion.

In February, Peabody Award-winning broadcaster and 2013 National Humanities Medal recipient Krista Tippett will deliver a speech titled Becoming Wise. Tippett's radio program, On Being, is heard on 365 public radio stations across the U.S. and the podcast version of the program received 21 million downloads in 2015. Tippett thoughtfully delves into the mysteries of human existence in conversations about faith, spirituality, ethics, and moral wisdom with scientists, theologians, poets, activists, and others. At The Forum, Tippett will distill the insights gleaned from these conversations about what it means to be human and spiritual.

Barak & ElBaradei
In March, The Richmond Forum will welcome two distinguished leaders from the Middle East for a frank discussion of regional current events and the prospects and roadblocks to peace. Ehud Barak, former Israeli Prime Minister and, more recently, Defense Minister, will engage in a first-ever public discussion with Nobel Peace Prize recipient Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency and a leading figure in the 2011 Egyptian Revolution. The evening's conversation will be moderated by longtime Middle East reporter and foreign policy analyst Robin Wright.

The April 2017 Forum program will be announced at a later date.

For 30 seasons, The Richmond Forum has been bringing leaders from the world stage to our stage in Richmond—to expand horizons, stimulate conversation and inspire our community. With 4,500 attendees at each program, The Richmond Forum is the largest and most-respected speaker series in America.

Past Forum speakers have included filmmaker Steven Spielberg, former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, Robert Redford, Archbishop Desmund Tutu, Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, Anderson Cooper, B.B. King, Mexican President Vicente Fox, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, former Secretaries of State Albright, Baker, Powell, and Rice, and three former U.S. Presidents: George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush.

Current subscribers have until May 7th to renew their subscriptions for next season. Any seats not renewed will go on sale to the public through a lottery. Learn more about becoming a Richmond Forum subscriber.

The Richmond Forum is a non-profit 501(c)(3) educational organization. All programs are held at the Altria Theater in Richmond, Virginia.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Readers Respond to "The Forum Files"

Since the release of "The Forum Files" on November 21st, we've enjoyed seeing the reviews come in from Forum subscribers and other readers. Researched and written by award-winning author (and Forum subscriber) Ray McAllister, "The Forum Files" is a fascinating history of not only The Richmond Forum, but the tradition, going back to the 19th century, of bringing the world's most famous and accomplished people to Richmond to speak before large audiences. "The Forum Files" is filled with never-before-seen photos, speaker correspondence, and surprising behind-the-scenes stories.

What readers are saying!
"We are SO enjoying the book--it is even more phenomenal than we expected it to be! So good to read the history of the Forum before we started attending--30 years ago."
"I have learned so much. And even a few mysteries have been solved for me!"
"Beyond enjoying the amazing photos, I really got pulled into the story. Mr. McAllister has done a wonderful job."
"Who knew all this was going on behind the scenes at our forum?"
"It is terrific reading; a definite holiday coffee table book."
"I had a chance to look at the Forum book over the weekend. What wonderful memories are now preserved forever!"

"The book rocks. The Forum rocks!!"
"The Forum is my favorite Richmond activity and this just might be my favorite new Richmond book."
"My mother attended for years, and I can't wait to give her this book for Christmas. Thank you for doing this!"
"The Forum Files" is available online at or at the offices of The Richmond Forum. Books may also be ordered by phone at the number below.

6968 Forest Hill Avenue
Heritage Junction Office Park
At the corner of Forest Hill Avenue and Cherokee Road.
Our building actually faces Cherokee.
Hours: Monday through Friday, 9AM to 5PM
We will be closed December 24th - January 1st.
804-330-3993, ext. 301