The Conference on World Affairs, originally founded in 1948 as a forum on international affairs, expanded rapidly in its early years to encompass the arts, media, science, diplomacy, technology, environment, spirituality, politics, business, medicine, human rights, and so on. Roger Ebert, who participated in the CWA for four decades, always referred to the CWA as "the Conference on Everything Conceivable."
Each April 100 participants representing a wide range of backgrounds gather in Boulder for what The New York Times calls "a week-long extravaganza of discussion and debate" on approximately 200 panels, plenaries and performances. Conference participants discuss issues on an impromptu basis-a refreshing alternative to the specialized gatherings of academia and the business world. Molly Ivins, a frequent participant over 25 years, wrote that CWA offers "whole new ways of looking at old questions and information that can transform the way you look at things."
Ebert says, "Why is this week like lifeblood for me? Once we settle into our life's careers, most of us charge the line with our heads down. I have a tendency, for example, to think the world revolves around movies. Once a year at the Conference, I am forced to think on subjects not of my own choosing. I get to talk to people from other worlds."
The CWA owes its existence to a vast network of volunteers. Although many of the panelists ordinarily command large speaking or performance fees, CWA participants attend at their own expense, finding reward in a fascinating and diverse group of people from around the globe. University faculty, staff and students work alongside Boulder community members to plan and host the week's public events, as well as the participants' meals and social events. Students provide local transportation, greeting participants at Denver International Airport when they arrive. Gracious Boulder community members open their homes to house participants during the week.
All events are free and open to the public-and attended by students, faculty, staff, alumni, townsfolk, journalists and visitors from around the nation. Audiences range in size from an intimate 75 to well over 2,000 at individual sessions, with a combined total of about 90,000 over the course of five days.