Chautauqua Institution was built on traditions — both big and small. From front porch conversations, to Recognition Day for the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle, Bryant Day, Old First Night and the Three Taps of the Gavel. When it was decided the 2020 season would take place online, Chautauqua Institution President Michael E. Hill wasn’t willing or ready to leave any of them behind.
“We had a conversation early on in our planning, where we talked about one of our goals being not allowing the arc of tradition to snap. I’m sad we couldn’t bring every tradition forward, but I think we really, really tried to get the biggies,” Hill said. “It was fun for me to see how many people showed up for them.”
Hill will reflect on the virtual season during the final Sacred Song Service and Closing Three Taps of the Gavel, “If We Knew Then …” at 8 p.m. EDT Sunday, Aug. 30, on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform.
I certainly think the closing ceremony and Three Taps — doing them from the Amphitheater with the Massey Organ — is a way to reassure people that the Chautauqua you know and love is still here,” Robinson said.
Aside from traditions, Hill said Chautauqua Institution is known for its “heavy sense of community.” Vice President of Religion and Senior Pastor Gene Robinson believes that the success of the season falls to both the Chautauqua staff and the Chautauquans watching from home “standing with the mentality that they are all in this together.”
“It’s one thing to produce the content, but if you don’t have people who are also willing to learn … and show up on a daily basis, then you don’t have as much of a program,” Robinson said. “I feel like we did our part and Chautauquans did their part, and that is a sense of community even though we weren’t together in one physical place.”
Preceding Hill’s remarks, Robinson will celebrate the completion of the virtual season through his final sermon “Chautauqua: For Such a Time as This,” at 11 a.m. EDT, also on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform, and then as he leads the Sacred Song Service. According to Robinson, the focus of the morning sermon will be about the “extraordinary experiment we embarked on.”
“What do we have the opportunity to learn from all of this, and what do we do about all of that?” Robinson said. “People will probably be just fascinated to see and sort of get a progress report — how did it go? Was it exactly what we thought? What were the surprises?”
One of the benefits from the virtual season, Robinson said, is the ability to continue programming year round.
“When we say ‘next season,’ we would normally be talking about next summer; but because of CHQ Assembly, next season begins the day after closing day, so we are looking forward to what happens in fall, winter and spring,” Robinson said. “To that end, I am putting together a once-a-month-lecture interview series on notable books … and authors, some of which we know and love.”
In terms of the next Summer Assembly, only time will tell how Chautauquans will gather together — whether that is strictly virtual again, or in a hybrid of both virtual and in-person programming, according to Hill.
“I am looking forward to ideally being with people in-person again, but if we can’t, (we know) that we have a vehicle that will allow us to hold the 148th Assembly,” Hill said. “Just knowing that it will happen no matter what is a great comfort.”
Regardless of what platforms next year’s traditions will belong to, Robinson rests assured the “symbolism” and sentimentality behind them all will carry through.
“I certainly think the closing ceremony and Three Taps — doing them from the Amphitheater with the Massey Organ — is a way to reassure people that the Chautauqua you know and love is still here,” Robinson said.