Board leadership, campaign volunteers and guests gathered last Friday to celebrate the successful conclusion of the Promise Campaign for the first time since returning to the grounds.
The Promise Campaign, a major fundraising effort adopted in 2011, aimed to garner significant support for a host of initiatives that will help to build a more sustainable Chautauqua Institution.
The campaign, which ended Dec. 31, 2016, exceeded its $98.2 million goal by $5.3 million, totaling $103.5 million in donations from nearly 7,000 contributors. The campaign is the largest to date in Chautauqua’s 143-year history.
Retired president Tom Becker returned to the grounds to honor those who provided leadership and contributed generously to the campaign. His remarks at a reception Friday in the Athenaeum Hotel Parlor referenced the brilliance of Lewis Miller and John Heyl Vincent, whose fervor for lifelong learning became a model for leading a meaningful life. He also praised the Chautauquans who stepped up and endured the challenging time between 1944 and the Second Century Campaign.
“There was something else going on inside all of that,” Becker said. “It had to do with the real appreciation of what’s at stake in this place.”
Building on the past commitment of the community to advance Chautauqua’s mission, the Promise Campaign sought to launch Chautauqua into the future by widening its scope of programming and outreach to surrounding areas, and it’s already happening in real time.
The Jamestown High School graduation took place in the new Amphitheater on June 22 and Visual Arts at Chautauqua Institution invited nearly 300 Chautauqua County students to tour the galleries during the pre-season.
While the completion of the Promise Campaign celebrates advancement, Becker said the work never stops. He expressed his deep gratitude for his more than 30 years in a place that is “meaningfully human.”
“Through all kinds of technology and distractions our sense of this place diminished a bit in a larger context, but it never did to the people who were here,” Becker said. “That sense of how special this is, is present tonight as you celebrate … how each and every one of you are building an institution.”
Centered around the values of civility, innovation, inclusivity, engagement and sustainability, the Promise Campaign received significant support to advance essential areas of the Institution including:
- “Leadership” (with the endowing of staff and faculty chairs)
- “The Grounds” (by creating endowments for public spaces, improving the quality of Chautauqua Lake and with facility improvements)
- “Keeping The Promise” (including unspecified endowment and the Chautauqua Fund, of which the latter saw the support of nearly 6,000 donors to the annual fund over the course of these six years)
- “The Experience” (including endowed scholarships, the renovation of Hagen-Wensley House, which served as the first major capital project of the Promise Campaign, an unmet goal for the renovation of Bellinger Hall, along with the significant Amphitheater project and support for program enhancement and innovation)
“Every campaign builds on the ones that went before it, and we could not have done what we accomplished in the Promise Campaign if it hadn’t been for the prior campaigns,” said Geof Follansbee, vice president of development and CEO of the Chautauqua Foundation.
Resting comfortably as the crown jewel of the Promise Campaign is the newly minted Amphitheater, serving as a hive for Chautauquans of all ages to worship, witness speakers and enjoy performances for generations to come.
While Susan Hirt Hagen wasn’t able to see the rebuilt Amphitheater, the project couldn’t have been accomplished without her generosity.
The Chautauqua Institution Board of Trustees and Asset Policy Committee voted unanimously to name the back-of-house of the brand-new facility in honor of Hagen, who passed away in June 2016. If the weather cooperated, attendees at Friday’s reception would have been able to witness the unveiling of the sign overlooking the lake that reads, “Susan Hirt Hagen Center at the Chautauqua Amphitheater.”
“Her passion was the Amphitheater,” said Chautauqua Institution Board of Trustees Chair James A. Pardo, Jr. “Not because of the structure, but because of the programming.”
Attendees received a taste of that programming when later in the evening from the Amphitheater stage, performers from the Chautauqua Theater Company presented three short plays written by Chautauqua County third- and fourth-graders from the Young Playwrights Project. Singers from the Chautauqua Opera Company closed out the evening in song.
Steve Percy and George Snyder, Promise Campaign co-chairs, expressed gratitude on stage after donors, volunteers and Chautauqua leaders were invited to tour the new Amphitheater, including the stage, choir loft and Hagen Center.
“I’d say we have a pretty special team of Chautauquans to make all of this happen,” Percy said.
Plaques staggered throughout the Hagen Center, acknowledging key contributors to the project, are constructed from the original wood of the old Amphitheater, Snyder said. Families or individuals who contributed $1,000 or more to the project are recognized on recently installed monuments in the upper plaza area of the Amphitheater, with additional contributions to be added in subsequent years. Donors who contributed $15,000 or more will be recognized with custom bench plaques to be installed prior to the 2018 season when all of the permanent benches are in place.
“Steve and I could not have even approached this work without (Promise Campaign volunteers’ and donors’) dedication and efforts, both in terms of fundraising and participation in the campaign,” Snyder said.
Cathy Bonner, chair of the Chautauqua Foundation Board of Directors, thanked everyone who played a role in the achievement of the campaign before mentioning the many birch trees on the grounds. Birches are narrow, deciduous plants that somewhat give way when one climbs them “like a fishing pole under the weight of a cat.”
Addressing Chautauqua Institution’s new president, Michael E. Hill, Bonner urged him to climb to attain a view that others cannot and, “Trust those birch trees because they’ll set you down on earth carefully, and you can share with us your vision, just like Tom did.”
Hill, who was installed on Sunday as the 18th president of the Institution, remarked how “promise” was the appropriate word for the day.
Hill proposed three promises to the crowd, which included listening and learning, being responsible citizens and seeking the best in human values. He recognized the Promise Campaign as an entry point to recommit to those core promises in order to “engage a greater number of Chautauquans.”
Hill thanked donors, volunteers and Chautauqua leaders for making the Amphitheater renovation a proud reality, believing the facility will encourage people to interact in a time when the country is trying to find ways to communicate with one another more earnestly.
“I’m profoundly grateful for your labor of love,” Hill said. “As I watched this magnificent resource be built, day by day, inch by inch, wondering if we would make it, all of you who contributed to dream that it was possible are the reason that we’re standing here.”