Chautauqua Institution President Michael E. Hill and Board of Trustees Chair Candy Maxwell will host a discussion regarding updates to the strategic plan, 150 Forward, during the season’s second Weekly Conversation.
This conversation will begin at 1 p.m. EDT, Thursday, July 9, on the Virtual Porch. Audience members can join in the conversation live by submitting their questions for Hill and Maxwell. The presentation will be made available on demand the same day.
During Week One’s conversation, which provided general updates on the summer and CHQ Assembly, Hill and Maxwell said the weekly conversations were designed as a way for the audience to join into Institution conversations, despite geographic separation. Maxwell noted that this virtual conversation may be more efficient than traditional, in-person conversations.
In the past, weekly conversations tended to cover similar subjects because the audience would vary from week-to-week, so Institution administration could not continue the thread from preceding topics. Maxwell said that now, since people across the country can tune in and watch conversations even after they are live-streamed, they can build upon topics previously covered.
“Because we are able to conduct these sessions virtually this year, I think we have a unique opportunity to cover a lot of different topics,” Maxwell said. “You have access to this webinar at any point during the season. Whether or not you are physically on the grounds, you are participating via an online experience.”
Hill later said that not only will the overall CHQ Assembly platform allow more complex conversation, it will facilitate more diverse perspectives. The Institution can now draw in people who would normally be limited by finances, interest, and location.
In an effort to attract this new audience, the Institution partnered with Mather, a not-for-profit organization that provides senior living residence and community-based programming for adults 55 and up. Mather provides CHQ Assembly access to its communities so that they can learn and engage with the Institution.
“There’s some fairly significant racial diversity in some of the communities that Mather supports that allows us to hopefully expand the representation of folks participating from a different racial background than has (traditionally) been a homogenous Chautauqua audience,” Hill said. “We’re also hoping that because price is not a barrier that we break through some socioeconomic diversity issues.”
Hill said he hopes that by reaching these new audiences, new perspectives will help shape conversations at Chautauqua.
During the conversation, Hill and Maxwell also explained the technical aspects of transitioning the Institution online. When the Board of Trustees unanimously voted to suspend in-person programming this season in May, Institution leaders quickly worked to move nine weeks of programming online — an amount of planning that is typically done over the course of several months to a year.
Financing this new endeavor was one of many obstacles they had to quickly maneuver through. Hill said that the Institution had about $10 million in cash reserves at the start of the pandemic, and spent about $7.5 million to shore up the Institution’s annual budget and make a virtual season possible. Community donations and Paycheck Protection Program funds have softened the blow.
A 2019 donation from Ted and Betsy Merchant to equip the grounds with technology had already spurred major infrastructure, equipment and software improvements that continued through the CHQ Assembly planning. The investments made it possible for popular event spaces to be redeployed as studios, in some cases providing familiar backgrounds.
“That gift has paid off in spades. What you can’t see on CHQ Assembly is that Lenna Hall, the Hall of Christ, the Amphitheater, the Becker Room, sometimes the Amphitheater stage, and other areas have been linked together like television studios. That gift has allowed us to talk between those buildings,” Hill said. “And we have also hardwired in camera devices in places like the Hall of Philosophy, which was our intent to use this summer for better livestreaming.” Those Hall of Philosophy cameras are temporarily being used in the Hall of Christ studio space.
In upcoming years, Hill said, the Institution plans to utilize CHQ Assembly and other online platforms as an amplifier for its content, even as programming reverts back to its traditional, in-person format.
Chautauquans can join the Weekly Conversation at 1 p.m. EDT every Thursday this season on the Virtual Porch. Upcoming topics will include diversifying revenue, Chautauqua Lake and more.