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Institution to celebrate Old First Night, welcome fundraising match program

People watch as the Chautauqua community Band performs during the family-friendly Chautauqua Birthday celebration and Annual old First Night Concert. BRIAN HAYES/DAILY FILE PHOTO

Geof Follansbee knew Chautauqua Institution needed Old First Night this year more than ever before. 

As a sixth-generation Chautauqan and the Institution’s vice president of advancement, Follansbee felt that the celebration was too integral to the summer season to skip, even when the Institution’s board of trustees voted unanimously to move all programming online in May. The celebration may not look the way it always had — but Follansbee and the executive team worked to reconstruct the annual celebration online. 

“I don’t know if 10 people are going to watch or 500,” Follansbee said. “I hope that people, in what is a difficult time for sure, see this as a positive step forward for Chautauqua. This is an optimistic moment and optimistic, brief little program that says we are 146 (years old), and we’re looking forward to 147 and way beyond that.”

Follansbee will kick off the celebration livestream at 7 p.m. EDT Tuesday, Aug. 4, on the CHQ Assembly Virtual Porch. The program will include remarks from President Michael E. Hill, musical performances, and traditional practices like the drooping of the lilies and the roll call. 

The roll call will be conducted by eighth-generation and lifelong Chautauquan Dick Karslake, who has emceed this practice for the past three decades.

“What’s supposed to happen is that we will run two roll calls. The first one is the number of years that you have been coming to Chautauqua,” Karslake said. “I remember growing up at Chautauqua, how thrilled I was to stand for the number of years (I had been attending), but more importantly in my case — the number of generations (your family has been attending the Institution), which is the second big roll call.”

The roll call typically involves physical audience interaction in the Amphitheater. But this year, audience members can participate through an on-screen poll during the livestream. 

The Old First Night celebration will also welcome remarks from Bill and Debbie Currin, volunteer co-chairs of the 2020 Chautauqua Fund.

“The importance of the Chautauqua Fund is that it is the main philanthropic base for the Chautauqua Institution,” Debbie Currin said. “The gate passes, the (revenue) that comes in from other Chautauquan properties do not pay for the whole season, all the speakers and performances. It’s imperative that the Chautauqua Fund be very strong and lend support to make up the difference in this year, more than ever.”

In a traditional year, philanthropy accounts for somewhere between 20% and 25% of the overall coffers. This year, we’re relying on it to be around 54%,” Downey said. “We’re much more reliant on philanthropy this year than we’ve ever been in the past. Our revenue from ticket sales from parking and other revenue generators (like the golf course, hotel and bookstore) is taking a hit.”

The Currins will draw the audience’s attention to the chance to have their donation doubled. This year, the Edward L. Anderson, Jr. Foundation is matching every donation or pledge to the 2020 Chautauqua Fund up to $500 per donor that is made between Aug. 1-10, until funds are exhausted. 

“It should inspire a number of people to think, ‘Oh gosh, as opposed to giving $10, maybe I’ll give $25, (but actually give) $50. Or, I’ll give $50 and it’ll be $100.’ Hopefully, it will inspire a few people to increase their donation during a special week,” Bill Currin said. 

This match opportunity comes in a year where donations are increasingly essential. Tina Downey, the director of the Chautauqua Fund, pointed out that the reliance on donations for the 2020 season has doubled. 

“In a traditional year, philanthropy accounts for somewhere between 20% and 25% of the overall coffers. This year, we’re relying on it to be around 54%,” Downey said. “We’re much more reliant on philanthropy this year than we’ve ever been in the past. Our revenue from ticket sales from parking and other revenue generators (like the golf course, hotel and bookstore) is taking a hit.”

The Chautauqua Fund underwrites lectures, worship services, youth programs and more at the Institution. If a donor wishes to pledge their gift to a certain program, Downey said that the Fund will honor that. Otherwise, the Institution will allocate those funds where they deem necessary.

“I cannot stress enough … This year is the year to (donate). We have to be successful this year to ensure Chautauqua’s continuation,” Bill Currin said. “(The community) have stepped up. Some people have increased their giving, some people are on the fence right now. We’re encouraging (those on the fence) to please donate. We are well along the way to reaching the goal, but you don’t reach the goal until you reach the goal.”

Tags : Bill CurrinChautauqua FundDebbie CurrinDick KarslakeEdward L. AndersonGeof FollansbeeJr. FoundationOld First Night
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The author Jamie Clarkson

Jamie Clarkson is a first-year reporter at The Chautauquan Daily, covering everything from the environment to the African American Heritage House and Heritage Lecture Series. In May 2020, Jamie graduated with a Bachelor’s of Science in Journalism with specializations in women’s, gender and sexuality studies and music from the Ohio University E.W. Scripps School of Journalism. She will return to Scripps in the fall to pursue her master’s degree. This summer she will be quarantine-reporting from her home in Bremen, Ohio.

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