As Chautauqua navigates the 21st century, the dynamics of the Institution are changing. Fewer people are coming for the whole nine weeks of summer; rather, people are more often coming for only a week, or even just one day. The balance between old and new, generational families and summer vacationers is shifting, and as part of their mission, the NOW Generation hopes to bring all that Chautauqua encompasses into equilibrium.
The NOW Generation is a group of young adults ages 21-40 (although these ages are more guidelines than set requirements), led by an advisory council, who are looking to engage and connect with Chautauquans. The advisory council plans and hosts events throughout the season, works on increasing connectivity and engagement across this generation of Chautauquans, and in the last several years has developed this involvement by hosting events around the country during the off-season as well.
“(We’re) a group of people who are seeking connectivity with Chautauqua,” said Katie Cooke, NOW Generation advisory council chair. “As the governing body of (this) group, we’re trying to encourage engagement with our peers, with the leadership and with one another.”
The NOW Generation offers a community where inclusivity is emphasized and where different perspectives and experiences with Chautauqua are included. Membership is open to anyone, and there is no financial requirement associated with joining. Individuals who do want to make a financial contribution have the opportunity to join the Lewis Miller Circle by making an annual gift of $250 or more to the Chautauqua Fund. Gifts of all sizes are also accepted and appreciated.
Russell Bermel, NOW Generation advisory council member, has been coming to Chautauqua ever since his family bought a home here when he was 12. Although he started coming to the Institution at a young enough age to be enveloped in what Chautauqua fully offers, Bermel recognizes the different experiences of those whose families have been coming for generations, and those “quote unquote, summer families.”
“I don’t feel like a newcomer; I feel entrenched in it,” Bermel said. “But I appreciate the two different lenses you view Chautauqua under, and the two different ways you would enjoy the space and time.”
Bermel’s favorite NOW Generation event during the season is Summerfest, which this year will be held at 10 a.m. July 29 at the Youth Activities Center. Held after the Old First Night run, Summerfest is a free event that offers food, fun and games for Chautauquans of all ages. For Bermel, the YAC was an integral part of his childhood.
“I love it. It brings everyone together,” Bermel said. “(Going back to the YAC,) it’s almost like going back to a high school reunion. All the emotions and feelings rush back the moment you walk in those doors.”
Some of the other events the NOW Generation has planned for the summer include:
Annual NOW Generation President’s Reception from 5:30 to 7 p.m. July 2 at the Girls’ Club. This is an adults-only event.
Toddler Time at Timothy’s Playground in Miller Park every Tuesday (excluding July 4) during Weeks One to Six from 10 to 11 a.m. This event is for families with babies and toddlers.
Wednesdays at the Water from 2:15 to 3:15 p.m. every Wednesday during Weeks One through Six at the Children’s Beach. This event is for families with children up to 10 years of age.
For Cooke, the NOW Generation events are intended to serve as a platform for different Chautauquans to connect, whether they grew up coming to Chautauqua or came to Chautauqua as an adult. One area she wanted to focus on in recent years was connecting young families with each other.
“I saw there was a need to establish some kind of support system for young families,” Cooke said. “I think the connecting of young families is really taking off, (and) that’s great because it makes Chautauqua a real possibility for young families. It makes you feel more comfortable.”
In the last couple years, the NOW Generation advisory council has set its sights beyond the regular season and begun planning events and different ways for Chautauquans to engage year round.
“We’ve established this summer presence and people know who we are,” Cooke said. “What else can we do beyond that?”
During the 2014-2015 off-season, the advisory board, along with the help of volunteers, hosted various events in cities across the country, such as ice-skating in New York City and bowling in Washington, D.C. In the recent 2016-2017 off-season, the board expanded this year-round engagement by planning “CHQ Near You” gatherings across the nation.
On April 29, young Chautauquans hosted corresponding events in nine different cities that were loosely based on the pillars of the Institution. They used the hashtag “#CHQNearYou” to share their experiences on social media.
“It was really beautiful to see how interconnected we are,” Bermel said. “(It showed) the power of how we come together in the summer, go out into society and lead our lives (and then) we took that moment to come back together.”
Cooke said CHQ Near You was everything she thought it might be, and although there are no immediate plans to recreate the event in the 2017-2018 off-season, the council is currently planning other ways to build on this off-season engagement. In October 2017, the council is hoping to host an event at Chautauqua so people can visit in the fall and bring friends and family who are unable to make it during the summer.
“Chautauqua has historically been so traditional, which is why we both love it and feel like it needs to change at the same time,” Bermel said. “We’re so excited to bring it up into the 21st century.”
For more information about the NOW Generation or to RSVP for upcoming events, visit the Facebook page (facebook.com/NOWGenCHQ) or contact Megan Sorenson, staff liaison, at 716-357-6243 or firstname.lastname@example.org to sign up for the e-newsletter.