One of the things that many Chautauquans like to do is to tell their “Chautauqua Origin Story.” For some, you and your family members have been coming here for generations. For many others, it is often a variation on a central theme — your cousin, co-worker, neighbor or friend introduced you to this wonderful, unique and magical place. You came once and fell in love with it! You have been coming ever since that. Does this sound true for you?
That is very much my Chautauqua story, as well. My husband and his family are from Chautauqua County, and he even used to work at the Chautauqua Bookstore during his college days. I first came to the grounds around eight years ago. After spending a day here, I instantly fell in love with not only the physical grounds, but the very idea of Chautauqua and what it stands for. There is no other place quite like it. I loved it so much that, at the end of the day during my first visit, we walked up to one of the real estate offices to take a look at property costs. Given our student loans at that time, we might have put the flier back in a hurry! Nonetheless, that feeling of connection was strong, and it was instant.
I share all of this here to use myself as an example that there are many diverse people out there who care about our four pillars — arts, education, religion and recreation. Some Chautauquans have argued that the only way to make Chautauqua racially diverse is to offer scholarships or financial aid. However, I do think that there is a whole cadre of prospective, racially diverse Chautauquans who would not only be aligned with our mission and values, but who could also easily afford to come here, or even buy property on the grounds. So, how then do we find these individuals and introduce them to Chautauqua?
I wrote about strategies that the Institution will pursue along these lines in an earlier column (see the July 2-3 weekend edition of The Chautauquan Daily). However, I want to hold up a model that works equally well. I was delighted to know that trustee Gwen Norton and her husband Peter were hosting two different families each week for the entire season with the simple goal of introducing them to Chautauqua. They spent time carefully thinking about people in their network who would appreciate Chautauqua, our mission and our offerings. I had the pleasure of meeting some of their guests, and I am hopeful that many of them will become life-long Chautauquans in the near future.
Do you have any friends, acquaintances, co-workers or neighbors in your personal network who might enjoy two or more of our pillars? If yes, would any of them add to the diversity of our patrons? I pose these questions to simply suggest that one of our best pathways to diversify Chautauqua is to replicate what we already know works well: when current Chautauquans introduce Chautauqua to their friends and acquaintances.
Many of you might already know that the opening week of the 2023 season is themed “On Friendship” (see all the themes at 2023.chq.org). I would argue that there would be no better time to invite your friends — especially friends who have not experienced Chautauqua yet — to come and visit with you. In doing so, not only will you have the opportunity to say “thank you for being a friend,” you will also spread and share the love and joy of Chautauqua with others.
Senior Vice President & Chief IDEA Officer