“Content dictates form,” preaches Stephen Sondheim, Broadway’s peerless wordsmith. Sometimes, content can dictate the forum, too.
Debuted last season, the Poetry Makerspace has moved from the Colonnade to the Hultquist Center, taking its current occupant — the interactive Traveling Stanzas exhibit from Kent State University’s Wick Poetry Center — along for the journey across Bestor Plaza and moving into the former home of the CLSC Veranda.
And while Dan Egan, the first Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle author of the 2019 season, signed copies of The Death and Life of the Great Lakes Wednesday at the Literary Arts Center at Alumni Hall, the CLSC Octagon celebrated its grand opening.
Re-christened the CLSC Octagon, the former Veranda moved from the Hultquist Center to the Octagon Building — the second-oldest CLSC building on the grounds, a former meeting place for the Quaker community and a structure in need of renovation.
Moving to the Octagon means that the CLSC is now directly across the street from Alumni Hall, which houses the Alumni Association of the CLSC and the Chautauqua Writers’ Center.
Stephine Hunt, manager of the CLSC Octagon, said the new location “makes it much more convenient” for alumni, formation meetings and future classes.
“It’ll be nice to say, ‘Hey, if you are actually interested in graduating (from the CLSC), applications are right there,’ ” Hunt said, “instead of having to describe to them where they have to go to try and find it.”
Director of Literary Arts Atom Atkinson hopes to feed a revitalized collaboration between the Institution and its graduated members.
“(The new location) will enhance our capacity from the Hall of Philosophy podium,” they said. “At a CLSC presentation, we can say: ‘This is possible because it is underwritten by members like you. If you want to become a member today, go right there — it is open.’ ”
Now that the literary-minded have only to cross Cookman Avenue to ping-pong between buildings, it is easier to sniff out books by CLSC authors right after a Thursday presentation, or explore other facets of this season’s programming. Atkinson hopes the layout feels more natural for members and visitors.
“It presents a lot of rich opportunities for us to maximize the experience for people so they don’t feel like they are on some sort of adventure to find the book, become a member, graduate and find community along the way,” they said. “We’re really making it possible for one thing to organically lead to another.”
Filling the space left behind by the old CLSC Veranda is the Poetry Makerspace, unique among other literary arts programs at Chautauqua in that it is hands-on and kid-friendly, and requires a year-round facility, according to Atkinson.
“(The Makerspace is) of value for the schools and students and families who utilize our grounds for field trips well outside the summer assembly season,” they said. Coincidentally, the Chautauqua Foundation office in the Colonnade was expanding, sothe Plaza Market had to shift down, ousting the Makerspace to the Hultquist Center.
Sony Ton-Aime, Wick Poetry fellow, “love(s) the new space,” particularly for its sense of flow. In the Colonnade, the Makerspace lived in one big room. In the Hultquist Center, a mixture of more private and public areas and different spaces for different stations enhance the poetry-making experience, Ton-Aime said.
“Just the fact that you’re going from one room to another, already you feel like there’s some different things happening,” he said. “Without knowing, it’s kind of this subliminal effect that is happening in your brain with this smaller space and bigger space.”
“The Listening Wall,” a new Makerspace addition, is a large-screen TV stocked with digital oral histories, images and videos. Both budding and seasoned poets may interact with the texts, extracting and rearranging words of their choosing and then submitting their original work. It’s similar to the Emerge app, but bigger, and Ton-Aime appreciates the Wall’s public-facing positioning.
He’s also seeing an uptick in traffic.
“(People are) coming from the lectures, the morning sessions,” Ton-Aime said. “They are stopping by, most of them are looking for the CLSC … but because they are already people who are interested in books, they say, ‘Oh, this is where you can write poetry.’ ”
Ton-Aime likes his new base of operations, and hopes that others will, too.
“I’m looking forward to seeing more and more people come in and enjoy what we have to offer,” he said.
Although he acknowledges that Chautauquans might need some time to adapt to the fresh setup, ultimately Ton-Aime thinks that for the CLSC Octagon to be in its new space is “perfect. Because you feel like, ‘OK, this is the literary arts home now.’ ”