Our Stories & Our Friendships

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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 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.  

Amit Taneja 
Senior Vice President & Chief IDEA Officer 

The Business Case for Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accessibility

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I have had many engaging conversations with Chautauquans this season that have centered around the ethical, moral and values-based reasons that warrant our current efforts and focus on making Chautauqua more inclusive, diverse, equitable and accessible (IDEA, for short). Many of these reasons are articulated in our strategic IDEA plan (available at and are supported by Chautauqua’s shared values. However, some have offered complimentary thoughts on why this work also makes good business and strategic sense for the long-term vitality of the Institution. I couldn’t agree more.  

The IDEA Strategic Plan supports many of the strategic priorities outlined in the Institution’s larger 150 Forward strategic plan (see A few examples of how 150 Forward’s goals and objectives are envisioned in the IDEA plan are provided below.   

• The Institution has a stated goal of increasing census (i.e. number of people attending the summer assembly season). Part of this increase in census will come from the strategies to recruit and retain new, diverse patrons to the grounds. This work will be especially important for our future as each successive generation of Americans is more racially diverse.   

• The Institution has a stated focus on labor and talent solutions. In a highly competitive job market, our IDEA work will help us create a more equitable and accessible workplace and will help us achieve our goal of becoming an employer of choice. Advancement in these areas will also encourage more applicants, including diverse applicants. Strategic growth in this area could help us address some labor shortages happening on the local and national level.   

• The Institution has a stated objective to “optimize the Summer Assembly Season on the Chautauqua grounds to provide a first-class experience.” The IDEA plan outlines several strategies that will enhance the Summer Assembly Season for all existing and new Chautauquans, including enhanced dialogue offerings, ethnic food options and greater accessibility for all. This, in turn, will help with our census goals listed above.  

• The Institution has a stated objective to grow and diversify revenue. There has already been evidence of significant support for IDEA-related philanthropy to start this work, and we will continue to engage Chautauquans who are interested in funding this work — especially so around accessibility. Additionally, the IDEA plan provides pathways for the Institution to serve as a convener of professional organizations interested in IDEA work, which could lead to new conferences, online programs, etc., all which could generate new revenue streams.  

The Institution has a stated objective to “expand Chautauqua’s convening authority year-round to broaden its impact beyond the Summer Assembly Season.” The IDEA plan envisions partnerships with businesses, professional organizations and nonprofits (e.g. inviting organizations with “employee resource groups” to participate in our online and year-round offerings, including CHQ Assembly, Mirror Project, book reads, etc).  

The select examples presented here show the interconnectedness of the IDEA plan to the Institution’s larger strategic direction. When a plan makes good ethical sense, is consistent with our values, and makes good business sense, then it makes it all the more worthy of our collective attention and support.  

Amit Taneja  
Senior Vice President & Chief IDEA Officer   

The Chautauqua Way: Open to New Perspectives, Seeking to Understand

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As a relatively new Chautauquan myself, this past week gave me greater insight and hope on how Chautauqua can model a different path forward when it comes to controversial subjects. Last year, a few Chautauquans expressed concerns about a drag show on our grounds. Some of the feedback was generally based on a lack of understanding about the connection and significance of drag to LGBTQ history. In the absence of that understanding, some folks may not have fully understood the historical and contemporary relevance of drag as a performance art. For this reason, and based on requests we received from members of the Chautauqua community who wanted to understand more, we organized an educational lecture to open a dialogue.   

Many Chautauquans, including those who were ambivalent about drag, showed up to a packed Smith Wilkes Hall this past week to hear Ms. Gloria Swansong’s lecture on “LGBTQ History: Drag as Performance Art.” The audience members asked thoughtful questions, and the result was an engaging dialogue. The lecture seems to have convinced a diverse cross section of the audience to see a professional drag show. The LGBTQ and Friends Community Group held a drag show at Norton Hall that same evening, and not only did the show sell out, they had to turn away over 100 people at the door. What was even more impressive was the extremely diverse audience by age, race, sexuality and gender. Just like we did at the ABBA concert, both 18-year-old and 88-year-old Chautauquans found common joy in yet another art form.   

I would like to note that this sort of disagreement is not new for Chautauqua. In 1979, when we had the first production of Equus, there was controversy about nudity as part of that performance, along with plays offered that same season that had “strong language and adult homosexuality.” One reviewer wrote the following: “No one has to like these three plays. And no one has to approve of their language, nudity and homosexuality. But no one ought to dismiss them, out of hand, just on account of the controversial content, because the plays are serious statements about life, society and the human conditions as found today, and ought to be judged by how much light they throw on the subjects they address.”  

The arts have always pushed boundaries for society, and new art forms did not come to Chautauqua easily. To learn more about Chautauqua’s struggles with theater, dance and jazz coming to the grounds, I recommend that you look at one of archivist Jon Schmitz’s digital contributions to the Heritage Lecture Series on “Entertaining Gate Crashers — How Theater, Dance, and ‘All That Jazz’ Made it on to the Chautauqua Platform” on CHQ Assembly. Yes, at one point, theater as an art form was offensive — even blasphemous. Where would we be today without the Chautauqua Theater Company, or without jazz performers like Wynton Marsalis?  

All of this is to say that we have been here before, and we will experience contention again. Some Chautauquans worry that we might be moving too fast. Others feel that we are long overdue for changes and that we are not adapting quickly enough. Our strategic plan clearly outlines this tension as part of our shared values: “A balance between Chautauqua’s heritage and the need to innovate.” How then, do we strike the right balance? How do we lean into change without destroying our traditions? How do we engage in dialogue without casting aspersions when we disagree?  

There are some important lessons to be learned from this instance. The chance to hear a different perspective and to be in dialogue seems to have created greater understanding; empathy for someone else’s history may help us understand their reality today. Chautauquans came to the lecture and listened with good intent and open hearts and minds. Not everyone might agree that drag belongs on our grounds, but they have more information on why others might feel differently.   

We could have handled this issue as a community exactly how our larger society generally deals with controversy — by not engaging in dialogue. We could have gone back to our camps. We could have drawn lines based on our existing beliefs and understanding. We could have demonized the “other.” But, as a community, we made a conscious choice to listen, seek understanding and build empathy. That, my friends, is no small feat. Could this be our secret ingredient to change the brokenness of our world? It gives me hope that Chautauqua might illuminate this as an alternative path forward for us and the rest of society.  

Amit Taneja 
Senior Vice President & Chief IDEA Officer 

A Crash Course in Accessibility

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One focal area of my job is to work toward a more accessible Chautauqua. I think of accessibility broadly, including physical, programmatic and technological accessibility. Chautauqua Institution has made a public commitment to do an accessibility audit in its Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accessibility (IDEA) Strategic Plan (available at To be clear: We believe we are compliant with the law, but our shared values call us to do more.   

Last week, I had a profound experience with Chautauqua’s accessibility. I was invited by Chautauquan Terrie Vaile Hauck to accompany her on a loaned mobility scooter. I am writing about this experience with her permission. On our ride, as we navigated curbs, uneven pavements, narrow bathrooms and lobbies, it became even more clear to me that we have a lot of work to do. I made long lists of high-priority items. Some of these are quick and easy fixes, such as moving garbage cans closer to the pavement. Others, like installing an elevator in Hultquist, require time and significant resources (in this case, $350,000).   

The most profound part of my ride-along experience was the frustration I felt when I could not access buildings because there was no automatic door opener button or ramp to make it accessible. Well, it wasn’t exactly just frustration. I also felt sad because I felt like I didn’t matter. In a community that values the dignity and contributions of all people, no Chautauquan should ever have to feel like that. As Terrie put it, “When you are in a wheelchair or scooter, sometimes you just become invisible to the rest of the world.” While a two-hour scooter ride doesn’t even scratch the surface of understanding the full experience of people who have mobility challenges, it did provide me with some empathy and insight. Thank you, Terrie, for challenging and educating me.   

You may have already noticed some expanded accessibility offerings at the Institution. In addition to assistive listening devices, we are now also offering braille transcription services for Chautauquans who are blind or have impaired vision. Braille menus are available in all Institution operated food establishments. There is a new landing spot on Children’s Beach for folks to park their scooters and wheelchairs. The Tuesday Bestor Fresh Market is also now set up so that all tables are lined up right next to Pratt’s paved surface. Our main gate parking lot has new ADA-compliant parking spots. The upcoming food festival will have multiple entry points for mobility devices. The list goes on. And yet, there is much more to do.   

I had previously invited an accessibility expert to be on our grounds during Week Six and help with these efforts. Unfortunately, she had to cancel because of a medical issue. Nonetheless, I plan to host two public listening sessions on accessibility this week at the Jessica Trapasso Memorial Pavilion at the Children’s School (an accessible location) from 4 to 5 p.m. on Monday and from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. on Friday. If you are unable to make it, please feel free to send comments to 

I am of the firm belief that the longer you come to Chautauqua, the longer you live. Chautauqua is a place where we can rejuvenate our minds, bodies and spirits. If we become more accessible, then perhaps we will create better conditions for Chautauquans to continue to come to these sacred grounds for longer into their lives.   

The Institution has done significant work on accessibility already. Each year, we do a number of capital improvement projects around accessibility. The number of buildings on our grounds that were constructed after the passing of the ADA can be counted on one hand. Our grounds are historical, and the list of accessibility enhancement projects is long. If you would be interested in discussing how you could enhance or accelerate our efforts in this area, please call my colleagues in the Advancement Office at 716-357-6404, or email 

Amit Taneja 
Senior Vice President & Chief IDEA Officer   

Creating Empathy: Differences, Assumptions and Understanding

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Last week I wrote a column in this weekly series on how the most common sources of exclusion experienced by diverse communities at Chautauqua generally center around two themes: highlighting differences and making assumptions. Many of you stopped me on the grounds to share how helpful that column was, how it made you think, and the ways in which it provided concrete examples of how things might go awry. Others commented that they were working on more proactive, inclusive approaches to starting a conversation that avoided these missteps. The feedback was overwhelmingly helpful and positive, and I am grateful for your willingness to receive it with open hearts and minds.    

However, I had one interaction with a Chautauquan that was extremely different and difficult. I was approached in a public space and asked, “How many of those examples did you make up, or was all of it made up?” To be honest, I was shocked to hear this question. At the center of it, I felt that my integrity as a human and as a professional was being questioned. It instantly brought back memories and stories common to me, and other historically marginalized individuals, of when our pain and our experiences are directly questioned, dismissed or ignored. When those instances happen, it feels like an affront to our human dignity.    

In my daily life, I try to practice grace and “presupposition,” a Jesuit concept that invites us to approach situations with the best possible interpretation at the forefront. However, in that moment of affront, I was unable to do either. I did retort with a strong response, that I was offended that my integrity was being questioned. I was neither kind, nor patient. I did not wish to seek dialogue. I was hurt, and I wanted the other person to know that. Such a strong and closed response is extremely rare for me, but it was how I truly felt in the moment. To their credit, they did apologize. It took me a moment to gather myself and explain how the comment landed. We moved on to other topics.    

It wasn’t until later that evening that I realized something important — that I failed to understand the question from their perspective. The comment came from a Chautauquan who likely (to the best of my knowledge) has not experienced these instances of exclusion themselves on the grounds. Additionally, if we don’t experience these moments ourselves, then we might be less likely to recognize or see these instances when they are happening right in front of us. In short, they fall outside our reality and our understanding of the world. In their Chautauqua, these examples did not happen. That was an “a-ha” moment for me.   

I’m sharing this to create an invitation for all of us to practice grace and radical empathy for each other, especially when we disagree or see the world differently. I always try to give people the benefit of the doubt when their lived experience does not match mine. Instead of questioning their interpretation, I ask, “Please, tell me more.” If we do that, then we can approach conversations from a place of dialogue, and not debate. We can seek deeper understandings, build bridges to seek common ground, and affirm each other’s dignity. This is easy to preach, and hard to practice. Put yourself in the shoes of this Chautauquan. How would you approach this conversation differently? What might you say?   

This experience affirmed for me that we need to create greater dialogue and space for historically marginalized communities to share their stories within the wider Chautauqua community. This is a specific goal of the Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accessibility (IDEA) Strategic Plan (available at, and I look forward to creating those opportunities for conversations in the future. For now, let’s work together to build love, compassion and understanding, in whatever way possible.   

Amit Taneja  
Senior Vice President & Chief IDEA Officer 

Collective Approaches to Building the Beloved Community

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This week’s column was inspired by a few recent conversations with Chautauquans who have asked for advice on what they can do better to create a more welcoming and inclusive community — particularly for diverse populations who are new to Chautauqua. In a similar vein, The Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accessibility (IDEA) Strategic Plan (available at asks us to move from conversations of unconscious bias to a more proactive stance of conscious inclusion. This question reflects the commitments of many Chautauquans to translate their values (like a desire to be welcoming and inclusive) into concrete action steps.   

In my role, I get to hear a range of experiences, from those who feel a sense of true inclusion and belonging, to times when we collectively miss the mark. As such, I see myself as both the “keeper of the stories” and the “storyteller” as I reflect back on the common themes I frequently hear. There are many stories of diverse Chautauquans who have experienced what Martin Luther King Jr. called the Beloved Community. From time to time, however, the most common sources of exclusion generally center around two themes: highlighting differences and making assumptions.   

I believe (and know!) that many Chautauquans are actively trying to welcome diverse communities and individuals to the grounds. However, I have heard from some diverse guests that when a conversation starts with highlighting a difference, it may make them feel like an outsider. Examples include someone starting a conversation with a Black individual with “Your skin is so beautiful, I bet you never get sunburn!” Others might involve touching someone’s hair without their consent, because it “looked so unique.” For others, it might be a comment about their accent or their ethnic clothing. Those who have shared these stories with me have the same refrain: “Why not seek the commonality first, rather than starting with the difference?” As one person put it, “We are all here at Chautauqua because we love the four pillars. Ask me how my day is going, or what I thought of the lecture this morning. Seek our shared experience first, not the difference.” My advice is to do exactly that — start with the commonality, and if you are able to build rapport (with special attention to social cues), the conversation might naturally evolve to more intimate topics.   

The second theme of exclusion has to do with assumptions. Some Chautauquans of color attending the Dance Theatre of Harlem reported being asked if they were family members of the performers. Later that evening, a different group asked them if they were art students. A person who uses a manual wheelchair reported that a stranger came up to them and said, “You’re not going to be able to make it up the hill. I’ll give you a push.” Sometimes, diverse Chautauquans are misidentified and assumed to be someone else (for example, staff of color being mistaken as Chautauqua Theater Company actors, or property owners cleaning their own porch being asked their hourly cleaning rate.) In some instances, these might be genuine attempts to start a conversation. Despite the intent, the impact is off-putting for many. My second piece of advice would be to not make assumptions. Instead, ask broad questions. Open-ended questions often lead to better conversations.  

I know that for some Chautauquans, these might be hard things to hear. In addition to the two basic recommendations above, I invite us all to think about how we might respond if we witness such actions happening in front of us. How can we, as a community, approach our peers and invite them to consider alternative approaches? Chautauqua is about lifelong learning, and I hope that we can approach these conversations with open hearts and minds. If you’d like to be in further discussion on this topic, I invite you to attend the Hebrew Congregation’s Shirley Lazarus Speaker Series at 7 p.m. Sunday, July 17, 2022, in Smith Wilkes Hall, where I’ll be probing these ideas. All are welcome.  

Amit Taneja 
Senior Vice President & Chief IDEA Officer   

Where to Start? With Each Other.

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Guest Column from Chautauqua Dialogues

The Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accessibility (IDEA) Strategic Plan asks every Chautauqua community group not what Chautauqua Institution can do for us, but together what and how community groups and the Institution can implement the plan? 

The plan asks us to align our mission and vision statements, as well as our actions to help accomplish its objectives. Chautauqua Dialogues has identified a key “Shared Value” in the plan as the foundation for its initial focus for action: “Dialogue to achieve enhanced understanding that leads to positive action.” 

Over the last 11 years, Chautauqua Dialogues has created a methodology for conversation that facilitates a level playing field for discussion. A key mechanism provides participants an opportunity to reflect on what resonates with them from the lectures they hear and a path to articulating their thoughts and feelings in a civil manner.  

Chautauquans have the opportunity to participate as either dialogue participants or as facilitators. We have created a curriculum for training Chautauquans who wish to become dialogue facilitators. Training is open to everyone and encourages short-term residents to participate. It begins online during the off-season and continues during the season when experienced facilitators mentor newcomers in live sessions.  

Our program emulates the tradition of training Sunday school teachers that began in 1874 at the Chautauqua Lake Sunday School Assembly, the first Chautauqua Assembly. John H. Vincent believed that Sunday school teachers must have appropriate training to be effective in leading their classes. The coordinators of Chautauqua Dialogues believe likewise. Just as John H. Vincent and Lewis Miller developed a prescribed course much broader than Bible lectures, the founders of Chautauqua Dialogues have developed a course that not only teaches techniques for a great conversation, but also provides course materials and instruction that emphasize how different cultural forces impinge on our ability for civil and open discourse. And, just as Vincent and Miller planned for teachers to return to their communities to do good work, we too plan for our facilitators to return to their communities to do good work. 

Chautauqua Dialogues is blessed by partnerships with 12 denominational houses and Hurlbut Church that act as host venues for the program. This has allowed the Dialogues to increase the number of opportunities for Chautauquans to enter into sessions at 14 different locations on different days and times on a weekly basis. 

Chautauqua Dialogues gives people an opportunity to enhance their Chautauqua experience by becoming more than a consumer of information. Now, Chautauquans have the opportunity to engage with others, learn from others and see how others perceive information in a much different way than they do themselves. We want every participant to see how important it is to listen to others, be able to articulate their thoughts and feelings, and know that their opinions have value. 

We are hopeful that our dialogues model a different path for our community and our nation — particularly to stay in conversation with others. You can find out more information about our offerings and reserve a spot for yourself at We welcome all to participate.  

Roger Doebke & Lynn Stahl 
Chautauqua Dialogues Lead Coordinators 

Expanding the Porch

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I have been encouraged and grateful to all those who have engaged with me through their questions and ideas on how we invite new, diverse communities to become a part of the Chautauqua family. The Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accessibility (IDEA) Plan, available at, provides some pathways for this work. Objective three of this plan states that we will “build relationships, experimental pipelines and collaborations to welcome more diverse populations to our grounds and programs.”  

What might that look like? We believe that we have an opportunity to build relationships and, a focus area of the IDEA Plan, especially invite “mission-aligned regional community organizations and professional organizations that serve diverse populations to engage with our grounds and programs.” This may range from the national and regional networks of historically Black fraternities and sororities (like The Divine Nine), regional cultural organizations (like the Federation of India Community Associations Cleveland), and professional organizations (like the Hispanic National Bar Association and Medical Society of Eastern Philadelphia, which serves Black doctors in Philadelphia). The organizations listed here are only examples of organizations and networks. If you have suggestions of similar organizations, please share those ideas directly with me at  

It is important to note that my office and the Institution will do its part to make these connections. However, I invite all Chautauquans to help with these efforts. As an individual, are you able to invite a friend or colleague to come and visit the magic of Chautauqua? As a representative of a denominational house or a community group, are you able to tap into your networks to extend similar invitations? I invite your active participation in these efforts. I will also note that we have started the first steps in this direction, and the inaugural Haudenosaunee Confederacy Day is one small example of this relationship building.   

Ultimately, our goal is to connect with individuals and organizations that would be interested in our four formal pillars — Education, Religion, Arts and Recreation. There are many diverse communities in our region, and nationally, that are deeply connected to one or more of our pillars and would readily direct their time and resources to experience Chautauqua. Others might be seeking an additional hidden pillar of Chautauqua — something I affectionately call the “porch” — a euphemism for community and belonging. So much of our connection to Chautauqua is with our stellar program, but the other half of the equation that brings people back year after year, generation after generation is: community. The “porch” is the most visual representation of that sense of belonging.  

Our task ahead then is threefold. First, how do we identify and reach out to the types of organizations listed above to invite them to the grounds or participate in year-round and online activities? How do we build multimedia marketing strategies aimed at recruiting diverse populations to the grounds and beyond; in other words, make an argument for “Why Chautauqua?” Last, but not least, if we are to welcome diverse communities, we need to make sure that we collectively create a fully inclusive experience that leads to a sense of belonging. More on that in a future column.   
Amit Taneja  
Senior Vice President & Chief IDEA Officer 

Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, Accessibility: Our Path Forward

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Welcome back to the grounds! I am grateful to all Chautauquans — our patrons, property owners, community group leaders and others — who extended a gracious and warm welcome in 2021 for my first season as senior vice president and chief inclusion, diversity, equity and accessibility (IDEA) officer. I had numerous conversations centered around your hopes and aspirations for our community, including areas where we have room for growth. These conversations were extremely helpful in shaping the Institution’s IDEA plan that will guide our collective work in the next two years. I am pleased to share that we have launched a new IDEA website,, where the plan is available to download. 

I would like to share three key features of this plan. First, the plan assumes that all those who call themselves Chautauquans — whether they are staff, trustees, patrons or other community members — have a key role in ensuring its success. Second, the plan aligns with many of the strategic priorities outlined in the Institution’s larger strategic plan, 150 Forward. Third, the plan is both aspirational and achievable; it outlines pathways where our efforts to welcome new and diverse patrons to the grounds overlap with our collective efforts to create a sense of welcome and belonging for all those who grace our grounds and programs.  

Many Chautauquans feel passionately about the work enveloped in the IDEA plan being a strategic priority and investment to ensure the long-term vitality of the Institution. These thoughts came up during the listening sessions that led to the creation of 150 Forward and were reiterated to me by many Chautauquans. I am especially grateful to those who shared their hopes and fears, particularly in outlining both the ethical and moral reasons for us to engage in this work, but also the business opportunities. I hope that the strategies, specific objectives and focus areas listed in the plan provide us the foundation to thoughtfully and meaningfully engage in this work. 

I had the pleasure of presenting this plan via Zoom to a few Chautauquans, as well as some community groups and leaders, over the past two months. I look forward to sharing the plan again during the upcoming season. Details for these gathering times and locations will be in the Daily’s calendar listings. My hope for these gatherings is to seek reflections from all Chautauquans. I especially encourage you to review the IDEA plan while considering the following invitation: Are there specific focus areas you’d support, or strategies that you might be willing to contribute to? 

In the coming weeks, we will provide you further details about some of the specific plans we put into motion. These range from our renewed focus on Chautauqua Dialogues to updates on our Accessibility Audit work. I hope that you will join me in this collective endeavor. 

Amit Taneja 
Senior Vice President & Chief IDEA Officer 

Miracles Man: Motown icon Robinson to close out 2021 Chautauqua season



Smokey Robinson

The final mainstage performer of Chautauqua’s 2021 season really needs no introduction.

Legendary singer-songwriter Smokey Robinson, once pronounced by Bob Dylan as America’s greatest living poet, returns to the Institution to perform at 8:15 p.m. Saturday in the Amphitheater. The show requires a separate ticket purchase by all attendees; tickets are available at and any ticketing location.

Robinson’s career spans more than five decades, starting with Smokey Robinson and The Miracles. Their hit “Shop Around” was Motown Records’ first No. 1 hit on the R&B singles chart. The list of Robinson-penned classics is endless: “You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me,” “The Tracks of My Tears,” “Tears of a Clown,” “I Second That Emotion” and, of course, “My Girl,” made famous by The Temptations.

“When you hear any one of my songs by another (Motown) artist, I’d written those songs specifically for them,” Robinson told George Varga of The San Diego Union-Tribune. “I didn’t stockpile songs and say: ‘This will work for me.’ ”

If it wasn’t for The Temptations, Robinson said, he probably never would have had a career at Motown, where he eventually went on to be vice president, serving as in-house producer, talent scout and songwriter. “My Girl” has become an “international anthem” at Robinson’s concerts.

His list of honors is nearly as long as his song catalogue — he’s received the Grammy Living Legend Award, the NARAS Lifetime Achievement Award, the Library of Congress’ Gershwin Prize for Popular Song, the Kennedy Center Honors and the National Medal of Arts from the President of the United States. 

And, of course, he’s been inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriters’ Hall of Fame, as well as the Rhythm & Blues Hall of Fame in his hometown, Detroit.

All told, Robinson has more than 4,000 songs to his credit, and now he’s back on the road this month for the first time since early 2020. He kept busy during lockdown, continuing to write new songs, recording and contributing to the script for a feature film about his life. But all that work was put on pause when he spent 11 days in a hospital, in intensive care, after contracting COVID-19 in December 2020.

“It wiped me out,” Robinson told Varga. “It was touch and go.”

COVID-19 “messed with my vocal cords,” Robinson said, but now recovered and resuming touring feels good, and meaningful.

“Everything means more to me now,” he told Varga.

Robinson to close with message of Chautauqua’s unique role in the world



The Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson

When the Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson preached at the closing worship service for 2020, he said, “We are not going to emerge from the pandemic until we understand what we are supposed to learn during such a time as this.” Given the pandemic, the injustice of the justice system and the climate heading in the wrong direction, Chautauqua had to wrestle with how to not let go until blessed by God.

Chautauqua found a way through the CHQ Assembly Video Platform, a new way for Chautauqua to spread its wings and its message. 

“Chautauqua is part of wrestling with how to answer the question: What does the world need more than ever? Unlike Davos, TED Talks or Aspen, we are not afraid to find God in all the wrestling. We are meant to renew our commitment to our mission and have the courage to have conversations that matter, and provide hope to a fearful, chaotic world,” Robinson said in the closing service. 

The Department of Religion wrestled with all they learned last year while developing the worship services and lecture series for the 2021 season. Speaking about the 2021 season, Robinson said, “It’s been a great season for the Department of Religion. A steady stream of thoughtful, lively and inspired preachers. And what we lost in a slightly pared-back series of lectures, we more than made up for in quality. Maureen (Rovegno) and I could not be more pleased with our 2021 season.”

Robinson, vice president of religion and senior pastor, will preach at the final 10:45 a.m. Sunday ecumenical worship service with sermon. His sermon title is “Are We More than a Theme Park?” The Scripture reading is Matthew 25:31-46. Rovegno, director of religion, will serve as liturgist. Chautauqua Institution President Michael E. Hill will read the Scripture.

Robinson was elected Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire on June 7, 2003, becoming the first openly gay and partnered priest to be elected Bishop in historic Christendom. He served as IX Bishop of New Hampshire until his retirement in early 2013. A senior fellow at both the Center for American Progress and Auburn Seminary, Robinson is a celebrated interfaith leader whose ministry has focused on helping congregations and clergy, especially in times of conflict, utilizing his skills in congregational dynamics, conflict resolution and mediation. He is the author of In the Eye of the Storm: Swept to the Center by God and God Believes in Love: Straight Talk about Gay Marriage. In 2009, at the invitation of President Barack Obama, Robinson prayed the invocation at the Opening Inaugural Event at the Lincoln Memorial.

Stafford, Robinson reflect on 2021 season, look ahead to final Sacred Song Service, 2022



Joshua Stafford leads sacred song during evening service on Sunday August 22, 2021 in the Amphitheater. KRISTEN TRIPLETT/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Josh Stafford entered the 2021 Chautauqua season excited, but hesitant. With COVID-19 regulations seemingly changing every day, Stafford wasn’t sure what his first in-person year as the Jared Jacobsen Chair for the Organist and director of sacred music would look like practically until the season started.

“It’s been wonderful to settle into a rhythm and have everything go so well this year,” he said.

Reflecting on this year, Stafford said he worked nearly nonstop all summer. 

“I had always known this was a big job, and it never really stopped, but I don’t think I was quite prepared for the pace of the season,” he said. “It really is relentless in a wonderful way.”

The pace will finally relent after this Sunday’s 8 p.m. Sacred Song Service in the Amphitheater. 

As with every Sacred Song, “Day is Dying in the West” and “Largo” on the organ are featured songs, Stafford said. For anthems, he has selected “For the Beauty of the Earth” by John Rutter, “The House of Faith has Many Rooms,” by Craig Phillips and “Alleluia,” by Randall Thompson.

“I’m hoping to provide an uplifting and cheerful end to a wonderful season,” he said.

Stafford experienced worship in the Amp six days each week. He said it was wonderful working with the Motet Choir.

“It’s been a treat working with a group of singers who are mostly professional musicians in their day-to-day lives,” he said.

Regarding the 5,640-pipe Massey Memorial Organ, Stafford said it sounded better than it has in years. 

Vice President of Religion and Senior Pastor the Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson only had exemplary words for Stafford, saying he could not be more pleased with how Stafford’s performed this year.

“Nobody can quarrel with his ability to play,” Robinson said. “I’d put him up against anybody at any age with any amount of experience. He is just a brilliant musician.” 

Robinson said it’s clear the choir loves working for him.

“They rehearse seriously, and they give him their all,” he said. “That is a lot of them, of course, it’s also a lot of Josh. I think he inspires that in people.”

Stafford is a dynamic musician, playing a concerto one day and improvising a silent movie the next, something Robinson said most people wouldn’t dare attempt or have the skillset to attempt. Robinson was also impressed with people’s reactions to the silent movies.

Joshua Stafford, Jared Jacobsen Chair for the Organist; Director of Sacred Music, leads sacred song during evening service on Sunday August 22, 2021 in the Amphitheater. KRISTEN TRIPLETT/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

“People were laughing, and nobody was leaving,” he said.

For Sunday and weekday services, Stafford does not choose the music until he knows the scripture lesson and the sermon title. 

“He can find a text that so goes with the sermon, you’d think the preacher wrote it,” Robinson said. “It’s an astounding thing. Our preachers have all noticed, they’re all like, ‘Who chose this music? It is perfect!’ It’s Josh.”

In addition to the almost-daily sermons, Robinson said this might be the best group of preachers he’s seen since being at Chautauqua. 

“I’ve had more positive feedback about the preachers than I can ever remember getting,” he said.

Each one wrote a separate liturgy, something new for Chautauqua, he said. No two services repeated, while previous years saw three weeks of services repeated twice more, so each one of the services was done three times, he said. 

Due to the pandemic, Robinson said no worship booklets were used this year, instead displaying hymns on the screens. 

“For the most part, people have really liked that, and as a person up front it is nice to have people looking straight ahead or upwards and singing, as opposed to looking down into their book and singing into their book,” he said. “It just sounds better.”

The smaller choir was also a necessary change, he said, but he was amazed by the volume of music they did.

This Sunday, Robinson will be the preacher.

“That always adds a bit of drama to my life, because how do you sum up a season?” he said. 

He has an answer, though. His sermon, titled “Are We More Than a Theme Park?” will challenge people and offer a meaningful end to the summer, he said.

“Are we just here to be intellectually entertained, or is there more to it than that?” he said. “Do we hope for something more than that? What is that, and what does it look like?”

Turning back to Stafford, Robinson is proud to have him on staff, and feels it might be his best decision in his four years at Chautauqua. 

For Stafford, it’s been a dream come true, though he said it wasn’t the way he expected to get the job, following the sudden death of Chautauqua’s previous organist, Jared Jacobsen, on Aug. 27, 2019.

“This is a job I have dreamed of having since I was a kid,” he said.

Looking ahead to next year, Stafford is hopeful for a choir at least doubled in size, bringing organ recitals back to the Amp and having the organ heard at the Hall of Christ again. He also hopes to bring in an organ scholar to pass the knowledge and experience of Chautauqua to the next generation, he said. 

In the immediate future, Stafford said he is looking forward to resting after the season ends. He’ll return to his other job in Jacksonville, Florida, another relatively new position for him. For this year, it’s proven to be everything he hoped for, he said.

“I’m so excited to be here and be a part of Chautauqua and so thankful for the warm welcome I’ve received from almost everyone this summer,” he said. “It’s been really wonderful.”

A taste of tradition: 2021 Culinary Week

The Thule Adult Swedish Folk Dance Team dances with music played by Svenska Spelman under the Culinary Week tent Tuesday in Miller Park. The Scandinavian Festival, usually held annually in nearby Jamestown but canceled for the past two years, was held as a one-day pop-up at Chautauqua both as a fundraiser for festival organizers and to showcase the cultural offerings of the Institution’s home region. KRISTEN TRIPLETT/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER


  • Patrons sample the offerings at the Scandinavian Festival at CHQ Pop-up Tuesday in Miller Park, marking the beginning of Chautauqua Institution’s Culinary Week 2021. KRISTEN TRIPLETT/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
  • Patrons sample the offerings at the Scandinavian Festival at CHQ Pop-up Tuesday in Miller Park, marking the beginning of Chautauqua Institution’s Culinary Week 2021. KRISTEN TRIPLETT/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
  • Patrons sample the offerings at the Scandinavian Festival at CHQ Pop-up Tuesday in Miller Park, marking the beginning of Chautauqua Institution’s Culinary Week 2021. KRISTEN TRIPLETT/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
  • Patrons sample the offerings at the Scandinavian Festival at CHQ Pop-up Tuesday in Miller Park, marking the beginning of Chautauqua Institution’s Culinary Week 2021. KRISTEN TRIPLETT/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
  • Patrons sample the offerings at the Scandinavian Festival at CHQ Pop-up Tuesday in Miller Park, marking the beginning of Chautauqua Institution’s Culinary Week 2021. KRISTEN TRIPLETT/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
  • The Thule Adult Swedish Folk Dance Team dances with music played by Svenska Spelman under the Culinary Week tent Tuesday in Miller Park. The Scandinavian Festival, usually held annually in nearby Jamestown but canceled for the past two years, was held as a one-day pop-up at Chautauqua both as a fundraiser for festival organizers and to showcase the cultural offerings of the Institution’s home region. KRISTEN TRIPLETT/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
  • The Italian Heritage Dancers perform along the brick walk in Miller Park. The Italian Festival — known in Italian as Festa di San Giacomo — was the second local festival that hasn’t operated in two years to be showcased as part of Chautauqua Institution’s Culinary Week 2022. DAVE MUNCH/PHOTO EDITOR
  • Italian sausages are charred on the grill during festival. DAVE MUNCH/PHOTO EDITOR
  • Sicily Stainbrook, 4, dances with her mother Kristina Stainbrook as her grandmother Grace Streed, left, looks on during the St. James Italian Festival at CHQ Pop-up Wednesday. DAVE MUNCH/PHOTO EDITOR

Final 2021 Letter from the President



President Michael E. Hill is joined on the front steps of the President’s Cottage by 5s from Children’s School’s Blue and Yellow Rooms.

Each week I have the privilege of writing a letter to the Chautauqua community exploring what we’ve just experienced and what’s to come as we progress through our Summer Assembly. As we close out each summer together, I have two opportunities to reflect with one: the closing Three Taps of the Gavel address and one last column. I’ll save most of my thoughts for Three Taps (no, not the eatery and gathering space you’ve come to enjoy — the speech)!  

Today, I want to share with you far wiser words than those I might pen. Each summer of my presidency, I have invited young people from Children’s School to the President’s Cottage to share their thoughts on the future of Chautauqua. I have one of their letters framed in my Washington, D.C. office — it takes up a seven-foot-tall pillar. These youngest Chautauquans annually deliver to me what I call the “Children’s 95 Theses.” In their words I see the hopes and dreams of not only today’s Chautauqua, but the Chautauqua of tomorrow.   

For my closing column to you, I share their words, which contain the passion, joy and longing for all we’ve experienced and all we hope to experience. I thank them for their annual reminder of the best in human values. I thank them for grounding me in my promise to be a servant leader for this sacred place. I see in their eyes all the reasons to push forward — even through a global pandemic — to make sure Chautauqua endures. 

Thank you for a great summer. I hope to see you in the Amp for Three Taps (or online if you cannot be with us). To quote these little ones: “We love Chautauqua! And don’t worry, we’re coming back next year … YOU BET!” 

Dear President Hill, 

Thank you for taking the time to meet with your 2021 Children’s School Advisory Board, made up of the 5-year-olds of the Blue and Yellow Rooms. We understand that you’ve had a lot going on in the past couple years and that life during a pandemic is still a bit crazy. With all that in mind, we thought we would carry on the tradition of offering a few revitalizing recommendations, as well as reminders of why this place is so special. We love Chautauqua and are so proud that we can help you make it even more wonderful! 

A few things we love about Chautauqua are …  

  • Being here with our families (especially the ones we haven’t seen!) 
  • The Bell Tower and bats
  • Riding the bus
  • Beaches and boats
  • Riding our bike
  • Playgrounds
  • Reuniting with old friends and making new ones
  • And of course … Children’s School!

Here are some ideas for potential improvements: 

  • More dirt so we can plant more flowers
  • Build a giant playground with a petting zoo
  • Add more trees so people can breathe better
  • Another bookstore with toys, too
  • Boating lessons for kids
  • More children’s books at the library
  • Fewer cars (so we can bike and play safely)
  • Throw Chautauqua an even BIGGER birthday party
  • Even more trees so we can have more books!
  • (Maybe we should make a tree zoo?)

We understand that these may be a bit beyond what you can do, but just in case, we’d like: 

  • To make all the bad people nice
  • Help the homeless
  • Donate toys to kids in the hospital
  • No more pandemics, please
  • Children’s School all year long!

It’s been a long year, and some of us didn’t have the chance to be here last year. While this made us sad, we are so grateful to be here with family and friends, all safe and happy. Let us know if there is anything we can do to help make your job a little easier. Thank you and your staff for all your hard work that allowed us to be here again.

We love Chautauqua! And don’t worry, we’re coming back next year … YOU BET!

Chimemasters celebrate 110th anniversary of iconic Miller Bell Tower



Courtesy of Chautauqua Institution Archives

The Miller Bell Tower, an iconic Chautauqua landmark, has delighted the community for 110 years, playing eclectic and beloved songs for a wide and enthusiastic audience.

One of this season’s chimemasters, Marjorie Kemper, recalls putting together a set of holiday carols to play on the bells one Sunday night this summer, after that evening’s Chautauqua Vespers celebrated Christmas in July. Her regular 10 p.m. performance was met with revelry by community members gathered outside. Kemper played “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” and people in the crowd were “singing at the top of their lungs,” she said.

Playing popular music and listener requests has been one of Kemper’s favorite aspects about ringing the bells this season. Chautauquans of all ages appreciate the artistry of performing music on the bells; many want to stand to the side and watch as they are played.

“A lot of people come in while I’m playing, and they’ll ask me to play something that they like, or they want me to play Happy Birthday for a friend,” Kemper said.

The bell tower — standing distinctively over the shores of the lake at 75 feet tall — was dedicated at the Old First Night ceremony on Aug. 1, 1911. Built in a campanile style reminiscent of medieval Italy, the tower was remarked upon by Bishop John H. Vincent in his dedication address as “the most prominent object on the horizon.”

The bells in the tower’s open arcade belfry were originally hand-played by levers attached to chains which would pull the clappers against the sides of the bells. The chimes are now operated by remote keyboard, with 12 white keys and only two black, one an F-sharp and one a B-flat.

“So you can only actually play in three keys, C, F and G,” Kemper said. “Maybe a minor key once in a while. But you can’t do anything with a lot of key changes within a song, because you just don’t have the bells.”

Kemper tries her best to accommodate requests as often as she can and satisfy the interests of curious Chautauquans, performing within the restrictions of having only 14 tones to work with. “You can’t play whole tunes on 14 bells,” Kemper said. But discovering what does work on the limited keys is, for her, one of the delights of playing the bells.

“I enjoy choosing things to play and finding out what really sounds good on the bells. It’s a kind of a challenge that I like,” Kemper said.

Since the first Chautauqua Assembly in 1874, bells have been rung on the grounds. Where Chautauquans first gathered on a grandstand near the lake, a single bell heralded the start of daily activities. A 10-bell set of chimes was later donated by early Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle class members and hung in the clock tower of the original Pier Building. These bells were first rung in a program on Aug. 2, 1885. The same program played that year is reprised annually on Bryant Day.

When the pier proved too unstable a location for the bells, shaking the structure as they rang, the current bell tower was constructed, in honor of Lewis Miller. Later added to the belfry were three bells of different tones donated by Miller’s family, and one large bell dedicated in honor of American poet William Cullen Bryant, for whom Bryant Day is named.

Interim Chimemasters Marjorie Kemper and Willie La Favor stand outside the Miller Bell Tower Friday, Aug. 27, 2021. DAVE MUNCH/PHOTO EDITOR

Both Kemper and fellow Chautauquan Willie La Favor — a minister of music in Rochester, New York — have been substituting this season for chimemaster Carolyn Benton. Kemper had played the bells before, about 25 years ago, under former chimemaster Tom Wierbowski, and agreed to play again this summer, picking pieces from hymnals, from special requests, or just to fit “whatever the weather is.”

Kemper also enjoys coordinating bell repertoire with the Department of Religion. A hymn may be played during the morning worship service, or a preacher may mention or quote a song in their sermon that can be homaged soon after during one of three daily chime performances. Kemper said she relishes finding “hymns that fit in with what the weekly preacher is talking about.” 

Relating to Week Eight’s focus on the human brain and soul, she heard the hymn “Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise” referenced by the Rev. Lynn Casteel Harper in her Aug. 15 sermon “The Gift of Wisdom.” The Motet Choir sang the hymn and Kemper was able to play it several times after. The bell tower has a repository of music Kemper will pull from, “and if I have (the tune) down there I’ll use it the next time I (perform). I’ll write the name down so I remember.”

Chautauquans regularly visit the bell tower during performances and remark to Kemper how wonderful it is to have the bells played again, as an integral part of the Chautauqua experience.

“People come in and a lot of them say, ‘Oh, it’s so wonderful to have the bells played again,’ ” Kemper said. “And somebody will say, ‘Would you play “Finlandia?” Because I’d like to wake up to that tomorrow morning.’” Kemper is happy to oblige a request such as that any time.

Alumni Association of CLSC raises record-breaking amount at auction

CLSC 00843d


“I am not a writer. I am a reader,” said Amber Sipior prior to coming to Chautauqua and taking a writing class on a scholarship from the Alumni Association of the CLSC. 

This year, the Alumni Association of the CLSC held their auction on Sunday, Aug. 1 in the Hall of Philosophy due to colossal thunderstorms. This year’s auction committee members were: Pat McDonald, Carol Benroth, Carol Collins, Debra Dinnocenzo, Caroline Young, Josette Rolley and Caroline Bissel. Together they worked to raise a record-breaking $12,000 for the Alumni Association of the CLSC scholarship fund. 

Last year, the auction moved to an online format, which made the process more difficult for the organizers. Despite all the extra steps, the auction managed to raise $3,000. According to committee members McDonald and Benroth, this year was more successful, partially due to the auction being back in person and because there was “more personal interaction within the committee,” Benroth said.

According to McDonald, the funds raised from the auction sponsor high school students, teachers and librarians from outside of Chautauqua to come to the grounds and take literary arts classes. She views it as a kind of outreach program and as a way to make the surrounding communities feel more welcome on the grounds. 

As a part of the scholarship, the teacher or librarian receives a parking and gate pass, has the cost of their classes fully covered, has their Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle membership paid for and receives a $100 gift card to the Chautauqua Bookstore to cover the cost of materials they might need for the class. The Alumni Association is also taking steps to make it so that the classes that the teachers take will count toward their continuing education.

According to McDonald, the money raised will fully fund the program this year and allow it to expand next year, something that the Alumni Association has been wanting to do. They want to work up to having 16 participants each year, and McDonald feels that they can fund a program of that size “into perpetuity.”

Both Benroth and McDonald view this program as a continuation of Chautauqua’s original purpose of educating Sunday School teachers. It has evolved to be more far-reaching, but the idea of helping to educate educators and create a culture of learning continues. 

“It made a huge impact on people … who didn’t have access to libraries and didn’t really have access to books in those days,” McDonald said. “So I see it as an important thing to continue, but try to make it fit for modern life. Now, we can have Zoom groups; you could have a (CLSC) circle that you weren’t even in the same town and you could get together.”

Benroth would like to thank the people who made donations to the auction. What it takes to have a successful auction, she said, is “having lovely things that people want to bid on.” Both women felt that people were especially generous this year. One of the items that stood out to them was a wooden, hand-carved, tri-fold screen that ended up going to the Athenaeum Hotel. 

Even though the auction this year took a lot of hard work and flexibility to pull off, both women agree that the payoff was worth it. One of the teachers, Betsy Rowe-Baehr, who went through the program called being at Chautauqua and taking classes “transformative.” It is hearing things like that from scholarship recipients, McDonald said, that really makes doing the auction a “heartwarming” experience. 

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