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    Saint Helena Forum seeks to cultivate

 ‘mind country’ with intellectual conferences


Jesse Duarte

Feb 25, 2020 Updated Feb 26, 2020

  Wine country, prepare to meet mind country.


Organizers of the first Saint Helena Forum are planning an ongoing series of events and conferences showcasing cutting-edge ideas in science and the humanities.

The first event is “Gender Matters: A 20/20 Vision for an Inclusive Future,” set for May 1-3 at the St. Helena Performing Arts Center.  A visit by the Martha Graham Dance Company will follow in November, giving adults and kids a chance to interact with dancers and watch their rehearsals and performances.

Creating the North Bay equivalent of the Aspen Ideas Festival or the Camden Conference would have the added benefits of building community among a large network of local volunteers and drawing guests to St. Helena – and its struggling businesses – for reasons other than drinking wine, said Doug Barr, board chair of the Saint Helena Forum.

Barr envisions the event “changing wine country into mind country” and positioning St. Helena as an intellectual and cultural destination that also happens to have great wineries.

He said organizers of the Camden Conference, which focuses on world affairs, told him “this is the best thing that ever happened to their town — not because of the speakers … but because of the volunteer effort.”

About 30 active volunteers are working on the nonprofit Saint Helena Forum. It grew out of an idea that came up when Barr, a vintner with an extensive background in film and television production, was studying St. Helena’s public facilities as a member of the SHAPE Committee.

“One idea that kept coming up was having more cultural things for people in St. Helena to do,” Barr said. “Both the seniors and the students growing up here need things that are meaningful that aren’t about wine marketing.”

The organization’s full name is the Saint Helena Forum For Innovation & Creativity. The words “Innovation & Creativity” were kept “intentionally vague” so that the forum can tackle a wide range of subject matter, Barr said.  Artificial intelligence might be the topic of next year’s conference, and Barr envisions filling out the calendar with artist residencies where students can witness choreographers, film composers and other creative types in action.


But for now, a lot depends on the success of the upcoming conference on gender.

“Gender Matters” will reflect on how women and men can work together to form a more inclusive, equal society.

Barr hopes to attract donors and sponsors and fill up the Performing Arts Center’s 360 seats. Sixty of the seats will be available to locals on a pay-what-you-can basis.

“Nobody makes a nickel on this,” Barr said. “Every dime goes into the next program.”

To buy tickets or donate, visit

You can reach Jesse Duarte at 967-6803 or

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