What makes a tradition? Institution historian and archivist Jon Schmitz to answer in Heritage Lecture

The Audience Raises Handkerchiefs For The Drooping Of The Lillies During The Old First Night Chautauqua Birthday Celebration, Tuesday, August 7, 2018, In The Amphitheater. BRIAN HAYES/DAILY FILE PHOTO

To Jon Schmitz, historian and archivist for Chautauqua Institution, a tradition cannot be spontaneous, it cannot be mandated, and it cannot be declared on a whim. 

“I don’t feel comfortable with the term ‘new traditions.’ I think that is trying to assume legitimacy that (a practice) hasn’t earned yet,” Schmitz said. “The key (to a tradition) is to be accepted by those practicing (it) as what should be done.”

Schmitz will further explore what constitutes a tradition at 3:30 p.m. EDT Friday, July 10, on CHQ Assembly in a lecture titled “Traditions of Chautauqua.” As part of the Heritage Lecture Series, Schmitz’s presentation will explore the archive’s most-inquired-about Institution traditions.

Notable traditions include Chautauqua Salutes, Recognition Day, and the Opening Three Taps of the Gavel. Schmitz said that this lecture topic was chosen to, in some way, continue acknowledging these traditions despite remote programming preventing them from being practiced in person. 

“I thought it would be a good idea to review some of the traditions to see what they are, how they came about, when did they start, (and) was there a reason for them,” Schmitz said.

Although the community cannot physically participate in some of these traditions, the Institution is working to keep them intact. Schmitz said he is aware of efforts to organize a virtual Recognition Day, an all-day annual celebration of Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle graduates. The Institution has worked to virtually maintain traditions by ushering in the 2020 season by premiering Three Taps on CHQ Assembly. 

(Our traditions) accumulate meaning over time for Chautauqua, and also for individual Chautauquans,” Schmitz said. “It’s a way of remembering the past. It’s also the way of bringing the past into the present, so that we can put things into the perspective of past, present, and future.”

In his opening Three Taps of the Gavel, Institution President Michael E. Hill formally launched the virtual season from the Amphitheater, where a traditional, in-person season would begin. In his Three Taps, Hill spoke about Chautauquan traditions as reflections of programming, values, and the Institution’s place in the world. 

“Tradition is important at Chautauqua. It’s the reason we’re here on this stage today. The same space which almost every assembly has been ushered in, and where we hold our principle worship service,” Hill said. “Our traditions are replete with important symbols that tell stories about our history and our present role in the world.”

For the Institution, Schmitz said that traditions allow the history to be passed down and kept alive through the years. Even as the Institution and its audience evolves, the history is still kept alive. 

“(Our traditions) accumulate meaning over time for Chautauqua, and also for individual Chautauquans,” Schmitz said. “It’s a way of remembering the past. It’s also the way of bringing the past into the present, so that we can put things into the perspective of past, present, and future.”

The Oliver Archives Heritage Lecture Series is made possible with a gift from Jeff Lutz and Cathy Nowosielski.

Weekly Conversation between Hill, Maxwell to cover updates on Chautauqua strategic plan

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Hill and Maxwell

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. 

Institution historian Schmitz to present “ChautauqWhat? A history of Chautauqua”


Chautauqua Institution historian and archivist Jon Schmitz will commence the 2020 Heritage Lecture Series at 3:30 p.m. EDT Friday, July 3, on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform with a presentation on the history of the Chautauqua movement.

In ChautauqWhat?: A historical overview of Chautauqua, Schmitz will share the 150-year history of the Chautauqua Movement and what makes the Institution unique. 

The movement began in 1874 with the establishment of the Chautauqua Lake Sunday School Assembly as an experiment in “vacation” learning that took place outside of school. It grew to the Chautauqua Institution that currently exists, fostering life-long learning, religion, art, and music. 

As the Institution grew, “Daughter Chautauquas” emerged across the country to replicate the western New York organization. At the peak of its popularity in 1915, an estimated 12,000 communities had hosted a Chautauqua. This practice died down in the following decades, but the Institution remained. 

Just as the Daughter Chautauquas brought programming into people’s communities across the country, the Institution is doing the same through its virtual 2020 season — a season that Schmitz called unprecedented.  

“(The pandemic) makes this the most exceptional season without question. There has never been a year before when the program was canceled,” Schmitz said. “It’s never been radically affected by wars, or pandemics or economic problems.”

When world events have interfered with programming in the past, it was small compared to the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the 2020 season. For example, Schmitz said in years past the opera schedule may have been abbreviated, or the season cut short by a week. But, in-person programming has never been outright canceled.

Schmitz said he hopes that this historic year will allow the audience and community to reflect on what the Institution is and stands for. 

“The significance of it is that it will cause people to think more seriously about what Chautauqua is, what it is to them, what they want from it, and what they expect to have from it,” Schmitz said. “At what point is Chautauqua no longer Chautauqua?”

The season will see further programming from the Oliver Archives Center about Chautauqua’s traditions and history, with two films from 1923. Schmitz is welcoming three guests to the platform for lectures this season: author and public speaker Rick Swegan, Chautauqua Institution Archives Assistant Emálee Krulish, and North Carolina State University Professor Emeritus Gary Moore. 

Schmitz prides himself on the work of the Heritage Lecture Series, welcoming speakers who are truly passionate about speaking at the Institution. The speakers are not offered stipends, so there is no incentive other than a desire to speak at the Institution. 

“That tends to bring very good speakers. Speakers in the Heritage Lecture Series really make an effort to work up their presentations. They take it very seriously that they’re speaking,” Schmitz said.

One main draw for speakers is the audience they will be speaking to. Schmitz said that the Institution hosts “one of the best audiences in the world.” 

“Chautauqua audiences are attentive. They are patient. They are really very sophisticated,” Schmitz said. “It’s so strange to talk when you’re speaking to a Chautauquan audience. You’re speaking to people who are professors from well-established universities to people who are entirely new to the subject.”

The Heritage Lecture Series will premiere a new presentation at 3:30 p.m. EDT every Friday this season on CHQ Assembly.

A Vessel, Carrying Lanterns, Weathering the Storm

For the first time in history, President Michael Hill gave his annual Three Taps of the Gavel address to an empty amphitheater Sunday, June 28. PHOTOS BY DAVE MUNCH/CHAUTAUQUA INSTITUTION

Editor’s note: These are the prepared remarks for Chautauqua Institution President
Michael E. Hill’s annual Three Taps of the Gavel address, delivered Sunday, June 28, 2020 in an empty Amphitheater as part of CHQ Assembly, prior to the beginning of the Service of Worship and Sermon.

“Good morning, and welcome home to Chautauqua.”


These are the words I have ordinarily used to open our assembly in the first four years I have been fortunate enough to serve as Chautauqua’s president. But this year is anything but ordinary. What you can’t see beyond me is an empty Amphitheater, which can seat up to 4,500 people. Our grounds in Western New York are traditionally populated with between 7,500 to 10,000 people on a day like this. My best estimates are that we have approximately 1,000 people on the grounds for the start of this season. From coast to coast, we are joined by people who are or have been locked in their homes or quarantining in far-off places due to COVID-19. And our nation is in week four of coast-to-coast protests for racial equality, and is facing anew questions about unhealed wounds that date back to our founding.

And yet, today, my “ordinary” greeting of “welcome home to Chautauqua” is still the right one, as we are welcoming you home to what our co-founder Bishop John Heyl Vincent called “the Chautauqua of ideas and inspirations, (which) is not dependent upon the literal and local Chautauqua.”

Tradition is important at Chautauqua. It’s the reason we’re here on this stage today, the same space from which almost every Assembly has been ushered in, and where we hold our principal worship services. Our traditions are replete with important symbols that tell stories about our history and our present role in the world and the yet untapped promise of our future. And symbols have been very much on my mind during this pandemic.

Today, from the opening three taps of a historic gavel, we usher in Chautauqua’s 147th Assembly. So much has happened in our world since the last time this gavel met the aged wood of this lectern, creating that haunting echo that portends the playing of the Largo on the great Massey Organ. This ritual of signifying the passage of time, the mourning of what must come to an end and the promise of something new emerging is a powerful metaphor for today.

And it is this “something new emerging” that makes me tremendously excited to gavel in this Assembly, perhaps one of the most important gatherings we have ever convened.

Tradition is important at Chautauqua. It’s the reason we’re here on this stage today, the same space from which almost every Assembly has been ushered in, and where we hold our principal worship services. Our traditions are replete with important symbols that tell stories about our history and our present role in the world and the yet untapped promise of our future. And symbols have been very much on my mind during this pandemic.

I have three items on top of my desk in the President’s Office at the Colonnade. One is a replica of a sign that sat atop the Resolute Desk in President John F. Kennedy’s White House. It reads “O, God, Thy sea is so great and my boat is so small.” The second is a stone square that former Chautauqua Vice President Marty Merkley gave me shortly after I began my tenure as the Institution’s 18th President. Inscribed in the rock is a quote from Franklin D. Roosevelt, who gave his famed “I Hate War” speech in this space. And the third is a 125-year-old rivet salvaged from a steel truss of the old Amphitheater, which was given to me when we opened up this revitalized Amphitheater at the start of my presidency in 2017. Each of these objects hold cues to the work that begins today and provides for us critical questions:

  • What kind of vessel can Chautauqua be in these times of raging waters?
  • Who are today’s prophetic voices that, like Roosevelt, serve as lanterns that light the way to the future we must create?
  • And what is going to hold us together during this time and beyond if we are not only going to come out the other side of this crazy moment in history but come out a society that is better because we weathered the storm and learned from it?

These are the central questions of our 147th Assembly, and this is the journey we begin today.

What kind of vessel can Chautauqua be?

Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote in Between the World and Me, “My mother and father were always pushing me away from secondhand answers — even the answers they themselves believed. I don’t know that I have ever found any satisfactory answers of my own. But every time I ask it, the question is refined. That is the best of what the old heads meant when they spoke of being ‘politically conscious’ — as much a series of actions as a state of being, a constant questioning, questioning as ritual, questioning as exploration rather than the search for certainty.”

Chautauqua is asking itself an important question: How do we best serve a nation hungry for meaning and answers to complex questions at a time that feels so chaotic? As now-emeritus Kent State University President Beverly Warren asked us at Chautauqua in 2018, how do we “use the wound” to do something that will make our tomorrow a better one?

Today, we officially launch CHQ Assembly, a multi-platform online digital collective that will allow us to share all nine theme weeks of this summer assembly season, our featured lecture speakers, our chaplains of the week, our interfaith speakers, performing arts events, an impressive set of online master and enrichment classes, and a space for Chautauqua Visual Arts that allows people to view exhibitions, explore artwork, and shop in our Gallery Store. And all of that is only hinting at the hundreds of young performing and visual artists who will be studying with us online.

But CHQ Assembly is not a response to COVID-19, and it’s not a one-time initiative meant to bridge us to the other side of this pandemic. While it is certainly helping us to convene this summer, its inspiration comes from our strategic plan, 150 Forward, which asks us to consider how Chautauqua might have an impact beyond our traditional grounds in Western New York and beyond the traditional calendar of our summer assembly season. That plan also asks us to consider how we might harness the power of our platform to do even greater good in the world.

With this launch, we intend to be a part of a year-round dialogue and to use the power of CHQ Assembly, in partnership with others, to amplify voices in a needed national dialogue. We also hope that it allows us, perhaps for the first time in a significant way, to expand the reach of Chautauqua’s programming to audiences that have been for far too long missing from the Chautauqua mix. We seek to realize greater socioeconomic reach, to increase racial diversity and to remove financial and geographic boundaries that have kept our audiences too homogenous for too long.

As a respondent said in one of our community surveys last year, “What stands out for me is a promise that is not yet realized, which is inclusivity and becoming a place that demonstrates the values it espouses.” Those values:

  • Passion for multigenerational and multidisciplinary engagement through the arts, education, recreation, and religion;
  • Belief in the dignity and contributions of all people;
  • Commitment to dialogue to achieve enhanced understanding that leads to positive action;
  • Respect for the serenity, tradition, safety, and ecology of Chautauqua’s historic Grounds and surroundings; and
  • Balance between Chautauqua’s heritage and the need to innovate.

… all come to rest in our new CHQ Assembly. We pledge today to provide a vessel for a more inclusive society to share what’s on its mind, to connect with one another and to remove the barriers that determine who gets to lead, or even be a part of, the conversation. It’s the opportunity to not only expand our programming reach, but more importantly to build a larger, more diverse community of fellow learners. When the community expands, the conversation changes, and the opportunity to learn grows. Chautauqua is the practice of humanity through forum, reflection and art, leading to thoughtful action, and this Assembly is inviting all — not some, but all — of the richness of humanity to play a part.

Who are today’s lanterns, lighting the way toward the future?

The murder of George Floyd on May 29 ignited worldwide protests against a racist and unjust system. Coming amidst the backdrop of a global pandemic, the world — and our country especially — has been flooded with renewed questions and calls for reform, for justice, for an end to some lives mattering while others seemingly do not. We enter this summer assembly, as Coates beckons us, needing “a constant questioning, questioning as ritual, questioning as exploration rather than the search for certainty.”

We need to explore:

  • Our global and local response to climate change;
  • Those unseen forces that are influencing the weaving and tearing of the fabric of our nation;
  • The way in which art informs and has the potential to save our democracy;
  • The ethical boundaries of our increasingly valuable and increasingly invasive technology;
  • What we still have to learn from the suffrage movement in our ongoing fights for equality as we mark the 100th anniversary of women being granted the right to vote in this nation;
  • How we rebuild our public education system and whether it can, as Horace Mann once noted, be “the great equalizer;”
  • How notions of “us” and “we” can break through tribalism and isolation to help us bridge our differences;
  • Whether the U.S. Constitution provides a pathway toward securing the “blessings of liberty” for us all and what may need to change to make that so; and
  • What will the world look like over the coming decades, and how we can work together to better prepare for the future.

If Roosevelt used Chautauqua’s platform to remind the nation that we should hate war, we have an obligation to use this platform to give voice to those of this time that can show us a way forward, and I’m grateful to Christiana Figueres, Rabbi David Wolpe, Anna Deavere Smith, Darren Walker, Valarie Kaur, Sir Ken Robinson, Martha Jones, Jon Meacham, Angélique Kidjo, and Rhiannon Giddens, among many others, for being today’s lanterns.

What’s going to hold us together?

Many have questioned how we hold society together when we can’t even be within six feet of one another. Certainly, as an organization, as we shifted toward using CHQ Assembly as our main form of convening this summer, we asked ourselves questions about how to engage authentically when we have historically used the in-person gathering as one of our main ingredients — some might even say it’s the secret sauce of Chautauqua.

So what does it mean that for many Chautauquans this summer they will engage without leaving their homes or home communities? What does it look like to explore these important questions from the confines of our living rooms or on a remote device far from this Amphitheater or any of the other dozens of public gathering spaces on these grounds in Western New York?


We often say when you come to Chautauqua that its power is not in the convening here, but in what you choose to do when you return home. Do you take all you’ve learned here and make a conscious choice to make your own corner of the planet a better place?

Coretta Scott King reminds us that “the greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members.”

Given all that’s happening in the world, given the need for questions that demand exploration, not for certainty’s sake, but because we can and must come together, as we begin this new season, how can we take all we’re about to learn and devote our energies to do the work when our communities need it, need us, most?

This isn’t a “lost” summer, but a summer when we’re called to do more. The way we embrace fellow Chautauquans on the Plaza is how we should embrace those wherever we find ourselves this summer. This summer we don’t come to Chautauqua, but carry the spirit of Chautauqua throughout a world that needs it. And that spirit means opening ourselves up to learning, to declaring that “I have more work to do.” This summer must unite the name Chautauqua with the synonym of “active citizenry.” Because, when the world needs it most, we’re reminded that Chautauqua can, and must always be, far more than a place.

As I stare out into the Amphitheater today, there’s something powerful about knowing that while the benches may be empty, I look out into an amplified community, the heart of Chautauqua that gathers today to learn together, to worship together, and that makes a commitment to make the world a better place because of it.

That’s what those objects on my desk remind me of as we begin this assembly.

Yes, the sea is so great right now. But our charge is not to despair, but to be a vessel of hope.

Yes, the world sometimes feels as if it is at war. But we have modern-day prophets to serve as lanterns, showing us a way to a better tomorrow.

Yes, this tumultuous time has many feeling disjointed and insecure. But like that rivet that held our Amphitheater together, this Chautauqua ideal that was birthed almost 150 years ago was forged in harsh conditions. It has survived financial crises, societal upheaval, natural disasters and acts of terrorism. It can sustain the winds of a pandemic. We are anchored securely in our convictions to deploy the best in human values into the world.

When the rain has subsided, when the clouds roll away and reveal the sunrise of a new day, the daylight will show that Chautauquans never retreated, that Chautauqua never went away, not for even a minute. We found new ways when we were told the old ones were off-limits. We asked unrelenting questions, not always to reach answers, but to get closer to them. And we did that from all over the world, bringing the questions and a call to action to wherever we call home.

It is that exploration of humanity — with all its accomplishments and all its wounds – that commences at Chautauqua in this 147th Assembly. A pandemic could not keep us from that. Weeks of protests against injustice remind us we have too much important work left to do. So let’s get to it.

I tap the gavel three times …

Chautauqua 2020 has begun.

A ‘Welcome Home’ Message From Chautauqua’s President


Welcome home to Chautauqua! It’s a true joy to welcome you to the 147th Assembly, a season admittedly unlike any we have experienced before. 

Michael Hill

There is a cadence to a Chautauqua season that brings comfort, and I admit that writing my opening column to you for The Chautauquan Daily and CHQ Assembly Weekly is just one of many things breaking that cadence in 2020. I would normally be talking to you about how we’ve been preparing the grounds and how excited I am to see each of you as you join us for one — or many — of our nine weeks. As I looked back through these columns in my first three seasons, I also traditionally would acknowledge how sad I feel when you leave us to go back to your home communities. 

But this year, at least for our programming, you will join us on the new CHQ Assembly platform. I’m incredibly grateful to all my staff colleagues, our outside advisers and the many of you who contributed time, talent and treasure to allow us to continue the conversation amidst a global pandemic. A reading of Chautauqua history tells me that there has been nothing in our almost-150-year history that has kept us from gathering to explore the great conversations of the day, and this year is no different.  

We start our season this week with the exploration of climate change and the actions needed to curb the negative impacts to our planet. The Chautauqua Lecture Series will examine the latest science, but also ask questions about how we might prioritize our global and our local response. How we talk about climate change is rapidly shifting. But amid the ongoing political debates, how are we — and how should we be — responding? 

  • What does prioritizing a response to climate change mean, and how do we collectively determine the overall benefits and costs of such investments? 
  • How do we balance proactive work aimed at reversing climate change with strategies for adapting to the realities of its worst effects? 
  • We examine case studies of solutions being sought at a global and local scale, from the work of small U.S. towns to foreign countries, and from corporate investments to military strategies.  

We’ve assembled some of the world’s leading experts as your guides for this opening week. Bring an open mind and an appetite to learn, to be challenged and to challenge. 

In our companion Interfaith Lecture Series, we look at “Faith to Save the Earth.” Climate change is often called a scientific or political issue, but is there an imperative that comes from a position of faith? In this week, we explore what role various faith traditions play in response to the care of the earth and how those different world views might be harnessed to prioritize our global and local response. 

Many have asked me if we are going to change our nine-week exploration, given all that’s going on in the world. Pre-COVID-19, we were internally framing this summer’s assembly as a “citizen’s guide” to the upcoming election and beyond. As we look out across the nine weeks, we still feel that these topics are the right ones for us to contemplate as we collectively decide the future of our nation and our world. That’s not to say that you won’t see woven into the weeks discussions of the pandemic, or of the issues brought to the fore by the Black Lives Matter movement. The great thing about a Chautauqua summer is that topics don’t stay stagnant; they reflect what’s happening in the world, and I know these momentous times will be deeply reflected by our preachers, teachers, artists and speakers. 

There are so many exciting things happening through the new CHQ Assembly. I speak to that in my Three Taps address, and I hope you’ll consider a review of that as you start your journey with us. In addition to what you see online, what you can’t see is the scores of artists — those well into their careers and emerging student artists — who continue to study through the Chautauqua lens. I’m humbled by the entrepreneurial and “can-do” spirit of all who came together to present this 147th Assembly. And I’m deeply grateful to our Board of Trustees for their courage and investment that made this possible. 

One of the benefits of conducting this season through the CHQ Assembly portal is that distance need not be a deterrent to your participation. I hope you’ll join us all summer and share your thoughts about the experience. This is a “beta test” year for the CHQ Assembly, and your feedback will make it stronger and a more powerful tool for the future. 

Thank you for coming on the journey, and welcome home. 

CPOA eyes new communication platform, clarifies tax revenues

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The Chautauqua Property Owners Association will roll out a new interface and operating system to allow two-way communication between the CPOA and its members early next year.

The platform — dubbed the “CPOA Platform” — is expected to be unveiled in January 2020, and be fully functional by next season. The CPOA has been working with a third-party developer on the project for about five months; however, the concept has been in the works for over a year, according to CPOA Member-at-Large Paul Ritacco.

“We reviewed multiple, different types of platforms, and we’ve come up with one that we believe will truly meet the needs of the time, as we bring our membership into it, in terms of being able to communicate well, efficiently and timely with our membership,” Ritacco said. “This platform will allow us not only to communicate to them, but allow them to communicate back to us.”

The platform — which will be a mobile-friendly website — will allow users to access exclusive resources, including an updated property owner directory, message boards, newsletters and important internal links. The message boards will be narrowed to specific interests, like supporters of the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra or the School of Dance, or region-specific chats.

“We are trying to create an online community,” said CPOA Secretary Erica Higbie.

Higbie said the CPOA is in a stable financial situation to pursue the large-scale project. The association does not yet know if it will have to increase CPOA member dues, which are currently $20 annually.

“We’re trying to increase benefits to our members, and this is a platform that’s going to enable us to do that,” said Richard Parlato, chair of the CPOA subgroup, Property Owners Who Rent. “We think that the benefit package that we present eventually will offset any conversation around costs and cost increases.”

The third-party developer employed by the CPOA adheres to the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation, which protects citizens’ data and privacy, meaning the CPOA Platform will be highly secure, according to Ritacco.

Ultimately, the purpose of the new platform is to consolidate information and provide ease of access to its users. Ritacco said that, aside from being dues-paying CPOA members, users will only need an email address to access the site.

“Technology today is being designed to be easier, so we’re trying to capitalize on that,” he said. “We’re trying to keep it very simple.”

The CPOA recently clarified tax revenue streams, as well, following confusion at a Porch Chat on Aug. 7. Chautauqua Institution does not receive any tax revenue from property owners’ county and town taxes, according to data from the Town of Chautauqua.

“A number of property owners are under the mistaken belief that the Institution is the recipient of a lot of real estate taxes, and thus do not understand why the gate passes are so expensive,” said CPOA President Paul Perry.

Based on a property assessed at $300,000, home owners pay $6,196.27 in annual taxes — $0 of that goes to the Institution.

“As you can see from the distribution of the real estate taxes paid, the Institution receives none of those taxes,” Perry said.

However, some of that $6,196.27 does go to Institution subsidiaries: about 0.68% per $1,000 assessed value goes to the Chautauqua Fire District; about 1.27% per $1,000 assessed value goes to Chautauqua Utility District, which supplies water, sewer and lighting to the Institution. About $300 — based on a $300,000 property — goes to the Town of Chautauqua.

The largest tax — 9.31%, or $2,793 — is distributed to local schools. Medicaid makes up about 4.2%, and the county tax accounts for nearly 3.60%. The community college received 0.62%. These numbers are based on the tax rates as of February 2019.

Jennifer Stitely Joins Staff as Director of Gift Planning

Jenny Stitely shown Tuesday July 30, 2019 in the Development Offices of the Collanade serves Chautauqua as the newly created position of the Director of Gift Planning. SARAH YENESEL/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

New development staff member Jennifer “Jenny” Stitely arrived at the Institution just two days before the 2019 summer season started, but that didn’t stop her from making major strides in her position.

Stitely serves as the director of gift planning, succeeding Dusty Nelson, who retired in May of this year. She has always known about Chautauqua but had never physically visited the grounds before June.

“I had known about Chautauqua from my college days,” Stitely said. “I was not unfamiliar with Chautauqua, I had just never been on the campus before.”

When Stitely first arrived, she said that it felt just like coming home. She was happy to be back in the arts environment. As a voice major in college, Stitely said she enjoyed the opera program and that the art form was important to her. She also loves attending the symphonies and lectures.

“It’s unbelievable, … the caliber of people who are coming in to present and and the level of intellectual discourse from the people who attend programs,” Stitely said. “This is just such a unique community of intellectuals, of people who want to make a difference, who are having hard conversations, who are tackling tough issues, and I love that. I love this whole idea of having a civil discussion about the things that are most pressing. It’s been amazing.”

Stitely has 18 years of experience in fundraising. She has served in a variety of capacities within the field and always had the intention of working in planned giving. Stitely first started out in health care fundraising, working for community hospitals. She most recently served as the divisional director of planned giving for the Salvation Army, and held that position for about four-and-a-half years until she saw the vacancy at the Foundation.

“When I saw this position become available — and having always had a passion for art, history, language, education in general — it was too good to pass up,” Stitely said. “Seeing that I could have the best of both worlds — I would be here for the summer to experience the season, then I would be back home the rest of the year — it was a perfect fit.”

Stitely lives in Westminster, Maryland, with her husband, Tim, and their four children. During the balance of the year, Stitely will work from Chautauqua’s Washington, D.C., office. She said that this position appealed to her because of the setting, as well as her love for planned giving and the role that it plays in fundraising.

“I got into this particular aspect of fundraising because I think it’s an opportunity for people to really tell their story and to share with future generations who they are and what is important to them,” she said. “If I can be a part of helping to write that story, that’s a huge reward.”

As far as her position, Stitely is excited to take Chautauqua to the next level through philanthropic programs and planned giving. She hopes to explore the new strategic plan and continue to lay a foundation that will help the Institution flourish.

“I’m looking forward to growing the planned giving program,” Stitely said. “I think the work that’s been done before now has been great and has laid a solid foundation. As we consider what the future holds for Chautauqua, it’s great that planned gifts can be a part of that whole concept of transformational philanthropy.”

Stitely said that she is thrilled to be serving in this position. Chautauqua’s intellectual environment inspires her and makes her even more excited for what’s to come.

“It’s been an incredible experience,” Stitely said. “You have so much talent collected in this little spot in Western New York, it’s really so unique. You just have to see it, there’s no way to describe it without being here.”

Incoming Board Chair Candy Maxwell Talks Hopes for Tenure and Strategic Plan Work

Candy Maxwell, shown Monday, Aug. 19, 2019, is the incoming chair of the Chautauqua Institution Board of Trustees. DAVE MUNCH/PHOTO EDITOR

Chautauqua Institution is opening a new chapter led by new faces, new initiatives and new plans. Helping to spearhead this new direction is incoming Board of Trustees Chair Candy Maxwell, who, in October of 2018, completed eight years of service on the board. 

Maxwell is a strategic adviser by trade, with more than 30 years of experience in business, leadership, governance, policy and strategy. Most recently, Maxwell served on the Strategic Planning Working Group, a 13-member committee who worked for 18 months to formulate the 150 Forward strategic plan.

Maxwell’s tenure marks the first female board chair in the Institution’s nearly 150-year history. Her term begins Oct. 1, when she’ll take over for outgoing, term-limited Chair Jim Pardo.

How did you discover Chautauqua Institution?

My husband and I started coming here in 2001, actually. He introduced me to the Institution — he actually worked here while he was in college. So we started coming here, and like many people, we came first for a week and then two weeks, and just kept on building up over time.

I just almost instantly grew to love the place for everything it has to offer. It’s really become a red thread that has been part of our life since that time. It was a place that, for me, gave me all the opportunity for lifelong learning, but also a place where I could really relax and unwind, reflect on and examine how I wanted to show up in the world.

It’s been a very important part of both of our lives for a number of years.

What’s your elevator pitch to people who have never been to Chautauqua?

Chautauqua is a unique place that brings together important conversations around essential issues of our day, but explores them in a way that engages all learning and experiences of the four pillars, taking a look at it through thought, leadership and debate and discussion through the arts, through recreation and even religious studies.

It’s a multidimensional, multifaceted way of thinking about the world, experiencing the world and, at the same time, a place in which you can connect with family and friends in a very meaningful way — just the environment itself lends itself to that kind of an experience. You slow down and can be with the people that really matter to you.

What does being board chair mean to you, and how would you describe your role?

I’m incredibly honored to be serving in this role. I, just last year, completed eight years of service on the board of trustees and have an enormous amount of respect for the work that we do and the importance that we play in the overall functioning of the organization and the strategy of the organization.

Coming in as board chair, for me, being able to continue much of that work and to do so in an expanded leadership position in a time that’s very important for the Institution, is deeply meaningful. We have a robust, dynamic strategic plan that is really future-looking and that really examines the role of the Institution as we move forward. I was fortunate enough to have a role in that work that led up to the final strategic plan.

I think as board chair, I think of there being two major responsibilities: to establish and to support an effective and well-working relationship with President Michael E. Hill and to make sure that there is that communication and partnership with the board and with senior leadership within the organization. I think also it’s to ensure that we exercise good governance with respect to our oversight function and that we fully leverage the talents — the extreme talents — around the board table with respect to the trustees, and that we really use all of that in a unique way of guiding the Institution forward, overseeing the strategy and strategy implementation and making sure that in the president, we have great leadership that’s going to bring the organization to that point where we see success as we’ve outlined in the plan.

How have you been involved with the strategic plan prior to your appointment to board chair, and how will you be involved with it during your tenure?

I was involved in a group that was put together by current Chair Jim Pardo to work in great detail on the strategic plan itself, so a lot of that was taking everything that we heard from the community last year from the forums and using that, as well as our own assessment of the environment and the unique attributions of Chautauqua, to come up with a strategic plan. So I was on the working group that was heavily involved with that and finally brought the plan to the board for approval back in May.

As I look forward, one of the things I’ve been doing this summer is chairing a working group that looks at the way in which we’re going to implement the strategic plan, specifically acting as advisers to the president’s team. Particularly, we’re working with Chief of Staff and Vice President of Strategic Initiatives Shannon Rozner, who will be closely involved in the implementation of the strategic plan to make sure that there will be appropriate mechanisms and overall approach in the way we’re going to identify strategic initiatives, evaluate them in their context of the plan and monitor and oversee their implementation.

That’s been a major effort of my own, as well as this group, during this summer. Our work will continue into the fall with respect to the way in which the board should oversee that implementation. Again, this is not to look at specific initiatives — it’s really to make sure that an infrastructure and an approach is in place in the organization that will yield effective initiatives as we move forward.

In the fall and into my first year, the implementation itself is obviously one of the highest priorities; and in that context, we’re really looking at how initiatives are going to be coming to the board for consideration, how we’re going to make decisions around those initiatives in terms of prioritization and sequencing and funding, and then how we’re going to actually monitor them and maintain oversight of them on an ongoing basis. That will be a major effort as we get into the fall and into early next year.

In addition to that, one of the areas that I’ve been focused on quite a bit is making sure that we have effective infrastructure and effective governance around the addition of the development function within the Institution. Specifically, we have a development council, which is, I think, a very important group on the board — it’s made up of trustees, as well as Foundation directors; and then myself and Tim Renjilian, (incoming chair of the Foundation board of directors), who I very much look forward to working with, will also be part of that group.

I foresee a lot of effort going into this first year of really working through the steps that are necessary to establish good governance, good oversight of the development function and also the fact that it’s such an important objective within our overall plan. I see that as really being a major area of emphasis in this first year as well.

What are your hopes and goals for your first year?

I think, for me, what’s important is that we have a board that fully leverages the talents of the board members, that people are able to contribute in ways that are meaningful for them, but also really important and essential for the Institution. That includes empowering committees to do the work of the board, establishing good relationships between the board and the staff and establishing good mechanisms for overseeing the work of the Institution and practicing our role as trustees in that. That includes what we need to see as a board to believe we’re practicing good oversight. How do we function as committees, how do we preserve and build upon the successes we’ve had in the past several years and the financial stability we’ve been able to achieve?

That means that the board as a whole, and then each individual trustee, is going to need to be attentive to those dynamics, particularly as we move into the implementation phase of the strategic plan. That’s really my hope — that we are able to build on, what I think is, a highly effective board and continue to strengthen our contribution to the Institution through our oversight and governance.

How do you hope to see the Institution evolve over your tenure?

It really is reflected in the strategic plan; I really do hope that we can continue to improve upon the summer assembly experience — through the guest experience, through the programming, through the offering of our other pillars — to be the best we can be and, of course, to look at ways we can share the experiences of Chautauqua as a convener out in the broader world. I think if we can become known, in no uncertain terms, as that convener, as that party that can bring together diverse views and have a conversation, … I will consider us to have made increasing significant mark in the nation.

I think that at the same time, I would love to see increased diversity in terms of intergenerational diversity, as well as racial, ethnic and other types of diversity — that’s such an important element of who we are and something that’s obviously very important for us. As we move forward,  I think (we need) to be able to reflect upon on the sustainability of this place, the ability to be able to find our support — not only from our own revenue from the summer assembly season — through increased philanthropy of all sorts, as well as other earned revenue sources that we have only begun to pursue and to look at. My hopes are really not different from those outlined in the strategic plan. I think we have a very aggressive set of goals by 2024, and so we have a lot of work to do and we need to get to work in order to make that a reality.

What does being the first woman board chair mean to you?

I really appreciate and honor this role I’m playing as the first woman chair of the (board of trustees) and I have also been so grateful for the excitement that’s been expressed by the community in terms of my election. The support I’ve received already, before I’ve come into this role, has oftentimes been overwhelming for me, in a very positive way. I take this role as the first woman very seriously and also feel that I am prepared to take on this work. I celebrate with the community. I think this is a really important development, and of course, I fully intend to live up to those expectations.

What gets you out of bed in the morning?

I think for me — obviously, like many people —  making a difference, but in a way that I can experience it largely through other people and through place and through working with and through others. I really enjoy that — that’s one of the things I really enjoy about coming into this position, is that the work that is to be done, is to be done through the expertise of others. For me, it’s about a constant zeal for learning and also a desire that I have to do that in community, through and in partnership with other people.

As far as this new role that I have, the ability to engage and to create and to dream and to make things happen with and through others is really what motivates me.

Jamestown Wegmans Food Markets Funds Beach Boys Concert


Wegmans Food Markets’ Jamestown location opened 24 years ago. Every year since its opening, the Jamestown Wegmans has supported annual concerts at Chautauqua Institution, including recent performances by artists such as Sheryl Crow and Alison Krauss. This year, Wegmans is sponsoring the Beach Boys concert at 8:15 p.m. Wednesday, August 21 in the Amphitheater.

“We want to make community investments where we have stores,” said Ryan Salvo, manager of the Jamestown Wegmans. “We’ve had a long-standing relationship with the Institution, and recognize the importance of having a place where people from around the world can gather, learn and be entertained by some of the most respected people of their craft.”

Many loyal Wegmans customers are fellow Chautauquans, and that has inspired the store to continuously support the Institution.

“We have so many loyal customers from Chautauqua that support our store every day, so this is a great way for us to say ‘thanks’ and give back,” Salvo said.

The Beach Boys, a Chautauqua favorite, will be returning to the Institution for an evening of summer fun. The iconic band has created a torrent of hit singles and has sold tens of millions of albums. Their music has influenced countless artists and has made a major impact in the world of popular music. They’ve launched a series of chart-topping songs including: “Surfer Girl,” “Fun, Fun, Fun,” “I Get Around,” “California Girls,” “Help Me Rhonda,” “Good Vibrations,” “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” and more.

For more information on sponsorship opportunities at Chautauqua, contact Tina Downey, director of the Chautauqua Fund, at 716-357-6406 or

Institution Administrators Wrap Up Talks of Strategic Plan; Look Toward Implementation


As the season winds down, Institution administrators are wrapping up the 150 Forward strategic plan weekly information and listening sessions.

The 150 Forward strategic plan is a series of four key objectives and cross-cutting imperatives to “position Chautauqua as a stronger, more sustainable institution,” according to Laura Currie, chair of the Strategic Planning Working Group. Currie, along with Institution President Michael E. Hill and board Chair Jim Pardo, led the eighth Strategic Plan Information Session on Thursday afternoon in the Hall of Christ.

“Strategic planning has morphed … into a new type, which is much more visionary, much more (big picture) and has the opportunity for periodic reassessment and tweaks, as you go along through the passage of time,” Pardo said.

The four key objectives hit at the Institution’s areas of opportunity: optimize the summer season; expand Chautauqua’s year-round convening authority; diversify revenue and drive a comprehensive; science-based solution to Chautauqua Lake’s declining health.

Underscoring these objectives are cross-cutting imperatives: strategic partnerships; mobilization of technology; talent and labor solutions and IDEA.

Shannon Rozner, chief of staff and vice president of strategic initiatives, and Parker Suddeth, a consultant hired by the Institution, have spearheaded the weekly IDEA  — inclusion, diversity, equity and accessibility — Listening Sessions this season.

Per the input of Chautauquans, Rozner and Suddeth further defined IDEA at the meeting last Monday afternoon in the Hall of Christ: “Accessibility is being invited to the table; diversity is having a seat at the table; inclusion is having a voice; and equity is having your voice heard at the table,” Suddeth said.

At the listening session — where Rozner posed questions designed to facilitate discussion — Chautauquans honed in on elitism and suggested the Institution host a mentorship or orientation program for newcomers. 

Currently, Rozner is working with a strategic plan implementation group and the board of trustees to set metrics for 2024 — the Institution’s 150th birthday — and to define trustees and community members’ roles in enacting the plan. Additionally, Rozner said the Institution is actively planning to hire full-time IDEA personnel to build on the work from this season.

The next IDEA Listening Session will be at 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, August 20 in the Hall of Christ; the next Strategic Plan Information Session will be at 3:30 p.m. Thursday in the Hall of Christ. The final Master Plan Information Session will be at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, August 21 in the Hall of Christ. Additionally, Chautauquans can voice concerns, leave comments or ask questions about the plan through the online forum at

Retired Surgeon Sidney Holec and Volunteers Lead Weekly ‘Stop the Bleed’ Courses at Chautauqua Fire Hall



Saving a life is as simple as A.B.C. — alert 911, identify bleeding and apply compression — according to retired general surgeon Sidney Holec.

At 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, August 20 as he has every Tuesday this season, in the Chautauqua Fire Hall, Holec — along with Chautauqua Institution volunteer firefighters and emergency medical technicians — leads “Stop the Bleed,” a national awareness and education campaign, training bystanders to help in bleeding emergencies.

Stop the Bleed is a 2015 initiative of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the American College of Surgeons. As of 2017, over 30,000 people nationwide have taken the course; more than 125 Chautauquans have taken Holec’s course so far this season, he said.

“Dying from a stoppable bleed is a common cause of death,” Holec said. “If you’re on the scene, you can stop the bleeding and stop (someone) from going into shock. There’s a point after losing so much blood, even if (they) make it to the hospital, you can’t bring them back.”

This training is extremely timely as the United States is experiencing a pandemic of mass shootings, Holec said. In just the last month, more than 30 people were killed in mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio; dozens more were injured.

In the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado, Holec said several people died from stoppable bleeds; scores of lives were saved using compression during the 2017 Las Vegas shooting when a gunman opened fire on a crowd of concert-goers, killing 59 people and wounding over 500. 

“It’s sad that we’re at this point,” Holec said.

Compression requires applying intense pressure to cut off blood circulation to a wound. Holec’s class teaches two techniques: packing a wound and using a tourniquet. A tourniquet is fastened 2 to 3 inches above a wound — avoiding joints — and tightened and twisted until the bleeding ceases.

The same effect of a tourniquet can be replicated with a number of common household objects, according to Chautauqua Volunteer Fire Department Chief Jessie Briggs, including a shoelace, the band of a bra, a belt, lanyard or shirt. The objective is just to wrap it tight enough around the injured limb to reduce or cut off circulation.

“If they’re not screaming and yelling because it hurts, it’s not tight enough,” he said.

If it’s a deep wound or gash, Holec said to pack it down to the artery against the bone with gauze, coated in a clotting agent, or any available material, and apply direct pressure.

According to the American College of Surgeons, hemorrhage is the most common cause of preventable deaths in trauma and accounts for approximately 40% of trauma-related deaths worldwide.

“We’re all potentially exposed to major trauma,” Holec said. “And not everybody can be saved — they may have lost so much blood that even if you get a tourniquet on, it’s not enough. But at least they have a chance.”

At Final Meeting of Season, POWR Discusses ARB Guidelines, ALU Regulations


Property Owners Who Rent — a subgroup of the Chautauqua Property Owners Association — held its final meeting of the season Wednesday afternoon to discuss Architectural and Land Use Regulations.

The meeting — held in the Presbyterian House Chapel — was led by Vice President of Campus Planning and Operations John Shedd, who currently doubles as the Architectural and Land Use regulation administrator.

“(ALU) regulations are about trying to protect your property value and the community, as well as protecting the National Historic Landmark (designation),” Shedd said. “With that comes responsibility on the part of the property owners and on the part of the Institution. You — the property owners — are stewards of your property.”

All construction to buildings on the grounds must be reviewed and certified by the Operations Office, however, if projects require a variance from allowable limitations they must go before the Architectural Review Board — a board of trustees committee. Roof, mechanical and structural work is reviewed by the Town of Chautauqua code enforcement officer.

To have a project approved, a certificate application must be completed and returned to the Operations Office with appropriate documents. Then, the project can either be reviewed by an administrator or, if it falls outside of ALU regulations and requires a variance, it is sent to the ARB, which meets five times a year and holds meetings open to the public.

The 2013 revised regulations outline a number of zoning guidelines, which vary between the five districts designated by the ALU booklet. Such guidelines include: the ratio of impermeable to permeable surfaces on a given property; maximum building heights; square footage ratios; acceptable building materials and tree removal practices. Specifics are outlined in the booklet, which is available online or in print at the Operations Office in the Colonnade.

Currently, Shedd’s office is working to update the 2013 regulations, he said. The updated version will not be an extensive overhaul of the existing regulations, but rather an edit; a timeline for when the regulations would be updated and available to the public is to be determined.

Shedd said the Institution is trying to incentivize historical preservation of homes by making ALU and ARB bureaucracy “easier and quicker.”

“We understand the need for modern convenience, we understand the need for low maintenance projects at your house,” he said. “We encourage you as the property owners to do as much as you can to maintain your historic property. … That also improves your property value, so if you are maintaining it within the guidelines of historic preservation, that is probably to your advantage.”

Additionally, POWR Chair Richard Parlato announced the themes for next season’s POWR meetings: the CPOA’s new communication platform; security, rules and regulations; and the 150 Forward strategic plan and how it may affect property owners who rent.

Week 9 Letter from the President

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Dear Fellow Chautauquans,

Welcome to the ninth and final week of our 146th Assembly. I cannot believe that we’ve come to our final days of the season, but we are going out in style, to be certain. This week, we welcome one of Chautauqua’s most beloved artists, thought leaders and friends, as we explore “Race and Culture in America with Wynton Marsalis and Jazz at Lincoln Center.”

The intersection of race and culture creates a unique vibrancy to American democracy, often channeling and challenging the ugly effects of racism, bigotry and inequality, past and present. In this week, we examine the different ways that race and culture shape and enrich our society, and how being responsible consumers of culture, regardless of our different backgrounds and tastes, matters to who we are as citizens and as an American community. We open and close the week with renowned trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, who explores race and culture as a testing ground for the principles of American democracy. 

In addition to Wynton providing context and wise words for the week, we are so very fortunate to be able to experience his artistry and that of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra in various performances. He has always been one of my very favorite jazz artists, and I cannot think of anyone better to help us round out our summer assembly season. 

In our companion Interfaith Lecture Series, we explore “Race, Religion and Culture.” It has been observed that racism is one of the most disturbing of historical cultural phenomena — speciously scientific, privileging some and denying value to segments of the world’s populations. This week we will explore how racism became enculturated, and will look for ethical realities, understanding and cultural healing. 

And in addition to these thought-provoking journeys, we bring back, for the third year in a row, our Chautauqua Food Festival. This year we’ve added more vendors than ever, including the ever-popular return of food trucks on Bestor Plaza; our own on-grounds restaurants sharing and highlighting their cuisine; and libations of all kinds. In so many ways, it’s a week-long block party, and all of our neighbors are invited. 

Some other special things to watch out for this week (as if everything above wasn’t already a full plate): 

I’m so grateful to welcome back to Chautauqua the Rt. Rev. Eugene Taylor Sutton, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland. I was fortunate enough to work with this prayerful man for several years when I served the National Cathedral; he served at that time as Canon Pastor and director of its Center for Prayer and Pilgrimage.

My mom and brother are excited for two of our last popular entertainment concerts, with The Beach Boys on Wednesday, and Pat Benatar, Neil Giraldo and Melissa Etheridge on Saturday. Come hear some “Good Vibrations” at the Amphitheater with us!

We have had an incredible season in our Chautauqua Literary Arts program. Our director of literary arts, Atom Atkinson, has a gift for highlighting talent, right before the writer wins a major award or prize. This year they went one further, selecting Joy Harjo as a Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle author right before she was named United States Poet Laureate, the first Native American to be so honored and acknowledged. You won’t want to miss her presentation on Thursday, as she features in her poems the joys and struggles of the everyday played against the grinding politics of being human.

And lastly, our closing Sacred Song Service on Sunday, this year under the theme of “Camp Meeting is Over,” gives me a special chance to close the Assembly with one of my very favorite traditions: Three Taps of the Gavel. Please join one last time this season as a community to share in this special ritual of farewell. 

Now, enough about farewells. We have a packed week ahead of us. And in keeping with our food festival, let’s agree to “eat, drink and be merry!”

Contributors to Miller Edison Cottage, Garden Recognized for Philanthropy


On Tuesday, July 30, community members were invited to the Miller Edison Cottage and Garden in appreciation of their generous philanthropic efforts to preserve and restore the historic cottage and surrounding environs.

The cottage, built in 1875, is named after Lewis Miller, co-founder of Chautauqua Institution. His daughter, Mina Miller, was married to Thomas Edison. Edison, along with the extended Miller family and numerous dignitaries, frequently visited the cottage.

Mina Miller Edison hired Ellen Biddle Shipman, a pioneer landscape architect of the 1920s, to design the cottage’s garden. Shipman designed gardens for prominent families such as the Rockefellers, Vanderbilts and the Astors, along with public landscape projects, such as the Sarah P. Duke Garden at Duke University. She also designed a “Moonlight Garden” for the Edisons’ winter home and for Henry Ford’s house in Fort Myers, Florida.

When Mina died in 1947, the cottage went to the family’s estate and was deeded to Nancy Miller Arnn in 1951. It was made a National Historic Landmark in 1966, and has had many visitors. In 2015, thanks to the philanthropy of Tom Hagen, the cottage was purchased by the Chautauqua Foundation from Ted and Kim Arnn, the children of Nancy Miller Arnn. In the time since, several community members have generously stepped up to support the ongoing care and maintenance of the cottage, as well as an extensive restoration of the garden, a major spring and summer 2019 project for Chautauqua’s gardens and landscape crews.

These contributors were thanked at the July reception with a warm welcome from Geof Follansbee, CEO of the Foundation and vice president of development.

“I want to thank all of you because it’s because of you that we are here and that this garden is in the process of coming to full life,” Follansbee said.

He then read a note from Betsy Burgeson, supervisor of gardens and landscapes, who was unable to attend the event.

“Words cannot express the gratitude I have for all the support you have given to this once-in-a-lifetime project,” Burgeson wrote. “What an opportunity your generous donations have provided to me, the gardens crew, but above all else, Chautauqua Institution.”

Follansbee introduced some of the upcoming plans for the garden, such as planting lady slippers and fringed orchids. He also presented a book that is located inside of the cottage that recognizes all of the donors who have contributed to these projects. Follansbee closed by thanking Hagen for his generous gift and welcomed Marta McDowell, garden historian, to speak.

“I’d like to tell you all that you are here for a birth, and it’s the birth of a garden; and I’ll tell you a little story that someone told me,” McDowell said. “Any garden takes three years to really show itself. Year one, it sleeps. Year two, it creeps. And year three, it leaps.”

She said to keep that in mind because the community is going to see extraordinary things happening in the garden in the coming months and years. McDowell was asked to say a few words about the original designer of the garden, so she gave a brief history of Shipman.

Ted Arnn, lifelong Chautauquan, former owner of the Miller Edison Cottage and great-grandson of Lewis Miller, was among those in attendance. He said he thinks the new improvements are fantastic and that Chautauqua will appreciate everything that the cottage and gardens bring to the grounds.

“They really did a beautiful job, (Burgeson) and her crew, and they had the original plans to work from and they really did try to follow that quite accurately, so it’s really going to be nice,” Arnn said. “I think that between the history and the appreciation of the gardens and the environment in general, I think it’ll be very useful to have this.”

Angela James, president of the Bird, Tree & Garden Club, provided remarks after McDowell and noted that BTG offered public tours of the garden each week this summer.

“If Marta walked us through the early years, I’m going to fast-forward us to the 21st century,” James said. “After the generous gift from Tom Hagen to the Foundation, as well as the gifts from all of you, the documents from the Miller Edison household and the archives started to get thoroughly reviewed, and what emerged was the discovery of the original plot map.”

She then explained how experts in Shipman design were hired to review the plans and make recommendations. The recommended plant list meets modern requirements, which take into account restrictions around invasive species and what’s on the New York State “do not plant” list.

“That’s the expertise and incredible work ethic that Betsy (Burgeson) brought to the actual plan,” James said. “The final plant list was agreed upon, the budget, the hardscape and implementation plan was funded and thanks to your generosity, you made it happen.”

James offered her thanks to Burgeson for all of her work on the garden.

“This garden is healthy, it’s wisely planted and well cared for,” James said. “We can’t say enough about Betsy and her crew and the fact that this unique garden completely diversified Chautauqua’s offerings, so thank you.”

Follansbee closed the event by offering a special note of thanks to the volunteer committee that served as advocates for the project and were instrumental in the fundraising efforts over the past couple of years.

“In conclusion, I would just like to raise a glass and raise a toast in appreciation and gratitude for the wonderful future that’s ahead over the next several years as this garden grows and after it’s done ‘creeping,’ ” Follansbee said, “I know it will bring great pleasure to all of Chautauqua for all the years to come.”

edison-cottage to learn more about these projects, or to make a gift or pledge of support. Please contact
foundation@ or 716-357-6243 with questions.

Preparing for Retirement, Al Akin Reflects on Time as Institution’s Chief of Police


Some years ago, Al Akin boarded Willie Nelson’s tour bus at Chautauqua Institution to chat.

“Not too many police officers get a chance to get on my tour bus there, Mr. Al,” Nelson told Akin.

But Akin, now 66, is no average police officer, and spent time talking with the guitar-wielding legend; during Nelson’s stay, Akin even tracked him down at the Chautauqua Golf Club about 20 minutes before he was supposed to perform on the Amphitheater stage.

As the Institution’s chief of police for 41 years, Akin has served through at least 10 major renovations to the Amphitheater complex, five Institution presidents’ administrations, countless performances and lectures, policy changes and challenges. Akin is set to retire this fall, and the Institution will transition current Director of Campus Security and Safety and former Chautauqua County Sheriff Joe Gerace into the chief role.   

“You prepare for the worst, and hope for and present yourself the best,” Akin said. “That’s what this whole job’s about: preparing for the unknown, preparing for the worst, and hoping for the best.”

The Akin family has lived in the Western New York region since as early as 1806, when Matthew Prendergast and his wife, Abigail Akin, moved from Pittstown, New York, to the west side of Chautauqua Lake. Around 1890, Al Akin’s great-grandfather moved to Chautauqua, making the county the family’s longtime home. Now, the Institution is a kind of home as well; Al Akin’s former wife, Tena Dills, serves as the Institution’s benefits specialist, and their son, Adam Akin, serves as the Chautauqua Volunteer Fire Department’s fire chief.    

Describing Chautauqua as a “place all its own,” Akin reflected on his more than four decades of service to the Institution and growing up near Chautauqua Lake — a lake he hopes to see more of in retirement.   

Akin worked for the navigation unit of the Chautauqua County Sheriff’s Office in the 1970s, during his summers between college semesters. Upon his 1978 graduation from Alfred University and completion of coursework at the Chautauqua County Sheriff’s Academy, Akin was hired as Chautauqua Institution’s chief of police that year. During his career, Akin said the nature of police work, and security work in general, has “changed dramatically.”

“I remember the old guard, the generation before me, wearing breeches and knee-high police boots, but nobody was carrying an assault weapon, or wearing bulletproof vests or SWAT gear,” Akin said. “I look at it as a sad statement of a society where we’re having to react to that type of thing.”

More frequent and intense violence, Akin said, “is a strong signal that social values have really gone south,” citing the El Paso, Texas, mass shooting on Aug. 3; the Dayton, Ohio, shooting on Aug. 4; and Chicago shootings in the last month.

Akin himself as been instrumental in “saving so many people and properties” at Chautauqua, according to John Shedd, the Institution’s vice president of campus planning and operations. Shedd, who has worked with Akin in varying capacities since 2011, said Akin is often one of the first officers to respond to calls on the grounds in cases of fires and other emergencies.

Akin’s national service includes traveling to New York City in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, to assist in search and rescue efforts. This fall, he’s been invited to place a wreathe on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on Oct. 20. And in all situations — whether local emergencies, national crises or talking with Chautauquans on benches and brick walks — communities are at the core.

“Community service is what the job is all about — always has been,” Akin said. “Community service and community responsibility is the basis for everything. You can’t demand respect from people unless you show respect, too.”

To best serve the Chautauqua community, Akin said he has fought for updated medical equipment over the years, including defibrillators in police cars in the 1980s, a medical car transformed from then-Institution President Daniel Bratton’s former vehicle and snow tires for police vehicles. Akin said he is proud of the Institution’s increased dedication to providing emergency medical assistance on the grounds, as well as the teams of people he has worked with.

Gerace, who started as Chautauqua’s director of campus security and safety in January, described working with Akin as a “blessing.” Gerace has known Akin since his own beginnings in law enforcement, the two men attending Chautauqua County Sheriff’s Academy at the same time in 1978.

Starting out as a summer security officer at the Institution around the time Akin was hired as chief of police, Gerace was then hired by the Chautauqua County Sheriff’s Office in 1979, after graduating from the Sheriff’s Academy; he served as county sheriff from 1995 until 2018.

As Gerace prepares to head the Institution’s police, he said he has been doing “a tremendous amount of listening, learning and asking questions,” working closely with Akin, police officers and Chautauquans.   

“Al has been so gracious, and he is a wealth of knowledge,” Gerace said. “He has an unbelievable memory for people and things and places, so it’s been a great relationship as I’m learning and fitting into the new position.”

With Akin’s particular dedication to decreasing the turnover rate of seasonal security employees, Gerace said Akin has been able to foster a more long-term culture of employment among Chautauqua’s police officers by attracting highly qualified candidates and retaining them from season to season.

In his time as sheriff, Gerace said he often joked with Akin: “Thanks for training these people, because we’re going to hire them away from you.”

Akin has worked closely with Shedd and consultants hired by the Institution to work through recommendations for Chautauqua’s security master plan; in those efforts, Shedd said, Akin has been especially helpful in bringing a Chautauquan’s perspective to the conversation. And Akin’s service is about more than his uniform and law enforcement experience — Akin “embodies Chautauqua.”   

“Al has been an incredible contributor to this community in more ways than just being a police officer,” Shedd said. “He loves people, and is just a warm human being; but he could probably take you down in a second if he had to.”

As far as the police chief’s role as a servant of and leader in the Chautauqua community, Gerace said “you have to be a heck of an ambassador,” and Akin has been “a perfect fit.”

Though he tries to fit in a round of golf at the Chautauqua Golf Club every so often, Akin said he’s never had a true summer vacation in 40 years. He looks forward to that seasonal break.

“I’ve still got to find something fun to do,” Akin said.

Administrators Review Arms of Strategic Plan at Last Week’s Info Meeting


At the seventh Strategic Plan Information Meeting on Thursday, August 8, Chautauqua Institution administrators fleshed out 150 Forward, a series of objectives and cross-cutting imperatives aimed at launching the Institution into its sesquicentennial and forward another 150 years.

The meeting — at 3:30 p.m. in the Hall of Christ — was led by Institution President Michael E. Hill, board of trustees Chair Jim Pardo and Strategic Planning Working Group Chair Laura Currie.

“This plan is not a plan of our committee, nor of just the board or the administration,” Currie said. “It’s the plan of all of Chautauqua. We really listened … and took your feedback.”

Currie’s 13-member committee led an 18-month data-mining initiative that was condensed into a 160-page executive summary of opportunities and challenges facing the Institution.

Such challenges include increasing competition for leisure time; changes in guest expectations and vacation preferences; low brand recognition; declining health of Chautauqua Lake; affordability; lack of diversity; and talent recruitment and retention.

“ ‘Chautauqua quaint’ isn’t quaint to everyone,” Currie said.

To address these impending challenges, the working group identified opportunities to pursue and synthesized those into four key objectives: optimize the summer season on the grounds; expand Chautauqua’s year-round convening authority; grow and diversify revenue; and drive a comprehensive, science-based solution to the lake’s declining health.

“You should not read into this that we are going to stop caring for our grounds — we will not be doing that,” Hill said, referencing efforts to improve the lake’s condition and its correlation to the Institution’s financial sustainability. “It’s the acknowledgment that a lot of what is attractive to many people is our location next to Chautauqua Lake.”   

At the strategic plan meeting, Chautauquans raised concerns about ticket and housing affordability, the need for more arts outreach to area schools and the need for more global conversations. Chautauquans also suggested the Institution extend the nine-week season and forge partnerships with national organizations like NPR.

These objectives reaffirm the Institution’s vision to “create an informed, engaged and renewed public that fosters and actively contributes to a more civil society, nationally and within the various communities represented by its individual constituents and partners,” according to Currie.

Accentuating this vision are four cross-cutting imperatives: strategic partnerships; mobilization of technology; labor and talent solutions; and IDEA — inclusion, diversity, equity and accessibility.

Chief of Staff and Vice President of Strategic Initiatives Shannon Rozner and Parker Suddeth, a consultant hired by the Institution, lead weekly IDEA Listening Sessions, which consist of open-ended questions designed to facilitate conversation.

The next IDEA Listening Session will be 3:30 p.m. today, August 12 in the Hall of Christ; the next Strategic Plan Information Session will be 3:30 p.m. Thursday, August 15 in the Hall of Christ. Additionally, Chautauquans can voice concerns, leave comments or ask questions about the plan through the online forum at

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