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Gary Lauer says Salt Lake City has often been more of a fly-over city than a cultural destination. That is a reputation he hopes his new lecture series can change.

Lauer, the president and co-founder of the Wasatch Speaker Series, has arranged a lineup of seven prominent lecturers at Abravanel Hall, including former Vice President Joe Biden and scientist-turned-humanitarian activist Jane Goodall.

"In the past, these speakers have flown over Salt Lake City for the most part on their way to the West Coast, and our objective is very simple: have them come directly to Salt Lake City and experience and be part of the community here," he said.

Lauer said he and his son, Rob, were inspired to found the series together based on what they saw as a cultural and community need in Utah after looking at demographic information and entertainment offerings.

Each event consists of around 50 minutes of prepared speech followed by approximately 30 minutes of audience Q&A and will look to also foster "controversial" but "healthy" conversations in the state, Lauer said.

He noted, for example, that Biden may have some negative commentary about President Donald Trump's administration and said National Geographic magazine photographer Paul Nicklen will address climate change based on transformations he's seen firsthand during his time photographing the Arctic.

"There's some really interesting, healthy controversy and discussion to be had there," he said.

Sarah Pearce, the division director for the Salt Lake County Center for the Arts, said the Wasatch Speaker Series will provide people in the county with unparalleled access to prestigious speakers.

"We have had some really robust programming in the past, but this is an unprecedented lineup that we've never seen before," she said. "I think speaker series are starting to be more and more popular, and we're excited to be bringing all of these high-caliber speakers to Salt Lake County."

Despite the surge of community interest, Lauer said it wasn't easy to establish the lineup for the series' inaugural season.

"It took some work because this has never been done here before," he said. "We had to convince people like Joe Biden and Jane Goodall and others that this was going to be highly legitimate and it's something that they were going to enjoy and that the audience would enjoy."

Ticket packages don't come cheap, running from $399 to $599.

"I know it's not affordable to everyone and I wish it could be," he said. He noted he is working on efforts that would allow others to attend one of the events in cases where a ticket holder is unable to attend all seven evenings and doesn't offer the tickets to a friend.

"We're going to go out to some of the junior high schools and high schools in the greater Salt Lake City area — likely in places that are on the lower end of the economic scale — and find some really interesting, deserving kids and bring them in for that evening gratis," he said.

Twitter: @tstevens95 Wasatch Speaker Series lecturers:

Oct. 4 • Sanjay Gupta, a journalist and neurosurgeon who uses his expertise in the two fields in his role as CNN's chief medical correspondent.

Nov. 6 • Former Vice President Joe Biden, who worked alongside President Barack Obama, also served as a Delaware senator for 36 years, during which time he passed the Violence Against Women act in 1994.

Nov. 27 • Jane Pauley, the host of CBS "Sunday Morning" and former anchor of both "Dateline NBC" and her own daytime program, also advocates for mental health through the lens of her own experience with bipolar disorder.

Jan. 1 • Capt. Scott Kelly is an astronaut and retired U.S. Navy captain who spent a year in space and paved the way for NASA studies on the effects of space travel and exploration on the human body.

Jan. 18 • Gen. Martin Dempsey recently retired from the military after 41 years. During his last few years of service, he acted as the chief of staff of the United States Army and then as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

March 7 • Paul Nicklen is a biologist photographer and Arctic explorer from Canada and has covered a variety of natural history and conservation issues for National Geographic magazine.

March 29 • Dr. Jane Goodall is a primatologist, ethologist, anthropologist and U.N. Messenger of Peace whose work currently revolves around protecting endangered species.

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