Four Arts’ Lecture Series Less Impressive Than Usual

As the year’s cultural seasons are being announced in dribs and drabs, one of the venues I always like to keep an eye on is the Society of the Four Arts, the picturesque and high-class garden, library, concert hall and single-screen movie theater in Palm Beach. Activities run from December to April, and most of the schedules are already up on the website.

The Friday night film series, free for members and just $5 for the rest of the public, offer a number of second-chance screenings of popular art films from 2009 and 2010, from “An Education” (Jan. 14) to Roman Polanski’s “The Ghost Writer” (Feb. 11) to the Oscar-winning Spanish film “The Secret in Their Eyes” (March 25). I’m most excited about the series’ opener, a rare 35mm film screening of “Dr. Zhivago” (2:30 p.m. only on Dec. 17).

Art exhibitions next season offer three shows of elegant, uncontroversial fare, from a Medieval English alabaster sculpture (opening Dec. 4), to 19th century landscape paintings (Jan. 29 to March 20). The “Campus on the Lake” book lecture series is stocked with multiple events each week beginning Dec. 1, and the concert series features world-renowned orchestras and solo classical music on Wednesday and Sunday evenings.

But the jewel in the Society of the Four Arts’ crown has always been its O’Keefe Speakers Series (free for members and $25 for nonmembers) – a jewel that, unfortunately, will be gleaming a little less bright this upcoming season. The schedule hasn’t been announced on the website yet, but I received a sneak peek by email request. Here goes:

Jan. 4: Thomas Friedman, Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times columnist and author

Jan. 11: Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish Research Program at the Washington Institute

Jan. 18: John Loring, director emeritus at Tiffany & Co.

Jan. 25: Dawn Upshaw, award-winning opera singer

Feb. 1: Andrew Ross Sorkin, best-selling author of “Too Big to Fail”

Feb. 8: Marlene Barasch Strauss, former professor of art history at NYU

Feb. 15: Karl Marlantes, former Marine and author of the military memoir “Matterhorn”

Feb. 22: Douglas Brinkley, Theodore Roosevelt biographer

March 1: Steven Emerson, scholar on Islamic extremism

March 8: Tom Parker-Bowls, food columnist and author of two books on eating

March 15: Christopher Buckley, political satirist, author and son of William F. Buckley

March 22: Vincente Fox, former president of Mexico

March 29: John Burton Rogers, Jr., CEO and cofounder of a next-generation car company

The annual lecture series is known for amassing important figures in arts, culture, politics, history and business, and while this year is technically is no exception, the stars are dimmer than they have been in the past. Vincente Fox is obviously a huge name, but I’m only excited about hearing Thomas Friedman and Christopher Buckley.

By contrast, the last couple of seasons have been star-stocked with the likes of Lauren Bacall, Isabella Rossellini, Glenn Close, Andre Previn, Chuck Hagel, Carl Hiaasen, Frank Rich, David Gergen, David Brooks and Maureen Dowd. Who, besides Fox, Friedman and Buckley, could play on that team? Perhaps the Four Arts has set its own standards too high, but by my estimation, the 2010-2011 doesn’t quite live up to expectations.