Bestor Society members gathered at 3 Taps last Saturday for the annual President’s Address and a warm evening by the lake, mingling with members of the administration and each other as live music from School of Music students filled the air. The society, composed of Chautauquans who donate at least $5,000 to the Chautauqua Fund annually and named after Arthur E. Bestor — who led the Institution through two world wars and an economic depression — is responsible for approximately three-quarters of Chautauqua’s annual philanthropic support.
“Bestor Society contributions account for nearly 80% of all money raised for the Chautauqua Fund. More broadly, your contributions are key to Chautauqua reaching our strategic plan goals,” said Candace Maxwell, chair of the Chautauqua Institution Board of Trustees. “In 2022, philanthropy will make up 31% of our revenue, based on our estimates, compared to 22% in 2019. … We are already exceeding our strategic plan goal in this area for 2022. We remain extremely grateful for your investment, your commitment to Chautauqua and your generous support.”
Maxwell highlighted the continued growth at Chautauqua through her speech.
“Your gifts are essential for the fulfillment of Chautauqua’s strategic plan. They allow us to invest in programmatic innovations and infrastructure improvements,” Maxwell said, listing accomplishments such as late-night dancing with Ballet Hispánico, the collaboration with the Jefferson Project on preserving the health of Chautauqua Lake and creating CHQ Assembly. “… You are making these and so many other advancements possible,” Maxwell said.
Maxwell then introduced Bill and Debbie Currin, co-chairs of the Chautauqua Fund, who discussed the importance of giving. The Chautauqua Fund supports myriad initiatives — including student scholarships.
“Hundreds of students are able to come to Chautauqua each year because of scholarships that are supported by the Chautauqua Fund. It’s a symbiotic relationship. We donate money to support the scholarships; students use those scholarships to hone their craft with some of the best teachers in the world; and they then fill our beautiful grounds with music, with theater, with art for all of us to enjoy,” Bill Currin said. “… Chautauqua wouldn’t be able to support these artists, or bring in lectures, or host the interfaith services without the leadership … of those of us in the Bestor Society.”
The event then shifted to the President’s Address, which highlighted Chautauqua’s need to grow, change, shift and shape. President Michael E. Hill noted that Chautauqua’s ability to do just that in the past has been key to both the Institution’s resilience, and its ability to move forward.
“I know that we all joke about ‘change’ being an ugly word at Chautauqua, but if you think about it, Chautauqua has always become what it needed to be for its current generation,” Hill said. “As you are one of the most important groups of investors in Chautauqua’s future, I’m excited to share what we’ve heard that this generation needs and wants of — and for — Chautauqua.”
Hill identified four important words for Chautauqua’s future: grow, change, shift and shape. Hill outlined the need to grow attendance, diversity and revenue streams; and to change both the ways Chautauqua grows and attracts talent and partnerships, becomes more accessible, and utilizes technology.
Chautauqua, he said, must shift from just aspiring to be a welcoming community to actually being one. It must also shift to a proactive position on lake conservation and to curate impactful conversations throughout the year.
Finally, Hill called for the need to shape the future of Chautauqua and the Summer Assembly, and to expand Chautauqua’s worldwide reach.
“Grow and change, shift and shape: In a nutshell, that’s what our shared work calls us to do,” Hill said. “It will likely come as no surprise to you that to do all of this, we will need to widen and deepen the impact of philanthropy on our mission and operations and we will do that, in large part, through a major capital campaign.”
Plans are already taking shape for the Institution’s sesquicentennial in 2024, starting the celebration in summer 2023 and culminating on Old First Night 2024.
“There will be multiple opportunities to not only celebrate, but also to help us reflect on the impact of this organization over the past century and a half — an impact made possible by people like you who continue to prioritize Chautauqua in your philanthropic giving,” Hill said.
Hill asked the Bestor Society members to imagine what Chautauqua could look like in the future.
He asked them to imagine a renovated Bellinger Hall for students from the Schools of Performing and Visual Arts, as well as a new generation of Chautauquans who will visit beyond the summer season. Hill sketched out the idea of a collaborative home for theater, arts education and Special Studies courses that can be used year-round.
He asked if Chautauqua could become a research and learning center for the trends impacting the lake, sharing knowledge gained with others working on issues of freshwater waterways. He noted the power of Climate Change Initiative to test if the Institution’s convening authority can move beyond the season and help develop a consensus on climate change solutions.
Hill hopes that Chautauqua can offer fellowships to bring the best and brightest to share their talents with Chautauquans, and to expand the Chautauqua Fund to ensure that the Chautauqua experience is constantly improving.
Ultimately Hill said, Chautauqua can make a difference by empowering other ever-growing communities.
“I suggest to you that these are the questions we need to raise and answer together. This group — the Bestor Society — is the core group of individuals who represent our litmus test,” Hill said. “With your heads nodding in the right direction in response to these and other questions, we can and will proceed confidently into these and other initiatives to secure the future of Chautauqua.”
Hill closed by thanking members of the Bestor Society for the role they play.
“Thank you for helping us to grow, change, shift and shape,” he said. “It is your hands and hearts that help us to achieve that balance between tradition and innovation.”