I can’t believe how quickly this summer has flown by. I hope this season’s offerings have rejuvenated your mind, body and soul. I received many emails and had many informal conversations with Chautauquans this past week affirming my thoughts and process to a land acknowledgment process as outlined in last week’s column. Many offered helpful suggestions based on their own professional experience. However, I received one email from a Chautauquan who stated that the column solidified her “opinion that you don’t have enough to do.” This feedback made me reflect that some might not have a full sense of the work that I have done and the path ahead for the Institution’s work on Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accessibility (IDEA).
If Chautauquans are interested in learning more about the strategic direction outlining the Institution’s IDEA goals, I would encourage you to read the IDEA Strategic Plan, available at idea.chq.org. The same website also offers an annual update, published this spring, on progress made so far. While these documents provide information on both the big picture strategies and more strategic goal accomplishments, it is not lost on me that the impact of this work is not always readily visible. The measure of success can be multifold: seen in patron satisfaction data (including anecdotal evidence and verbal feedback), increase in diverse patrons visiting the grounds and impact on business goals, to name a few.
Some of you have stopped me on the street to mention their observations of IDEA success. One Chautauquan mentioned that she was sitting on her porch and noticed not one, but two, families of color walk down the street within a 45-minute period. She claimed excitedly, “This has never happened before, so whatever you are doing, it is working and please keep doing it.” Many others have affirmed the increase of patrons of color in their own observations, as well. We will, of course, measure these numbers more objectively as we implement newer technologies to understand patron demographics, engagement and retention over time. The other significant area of success has been our work to make the grounds and our programs more accessible for Chautauquans with disabilities. Programs like the new mobility scooter rental program not only provide a more reliable and higher-quality patron experience, it also significantly impacts our business bottom line by allowing us to use that income to help with future accessibility upgrades. If you are still unsure about if or why IDEA work is needed at the Institution, I encourage you to speak with diverse patrons, students and staff whose experience has been impacted by the IDEA work that the Institution has accomplished.
In the coming months, my focus will be to create a targeted marketing campaign to invite new, diverse patrons to our grounds. This growth in our patron base is essential to the short- and long-term success of the Institution. An experienced marketing agency is helping us with these efforts. The marketing materials will be filmed and captured this coming week. In the fall, we will better define our marketing strategies. In the winter, we will launch targeted marketing campaigns to new, diverse patrons when we go “on sale” for our sesquicentennial 2024 season. Additionally, I will focus on designing and delivering a multitude of staff trainings to better prepare our staff to serve an increasingly diverse patron base. Lastly, I will work with my colleagues to prioritize and accomplish accessibility upgrades to our facilities, technologies and programs.
Last, but not least, I will reiterate my request for your partnership in this work in two concrete ways: First, I know that the most tried and tested path to inviting and retaining new Chautauquans is when existing Chautauquans serve as that invitational bridge. Your active and intentional support to identify new patrons, and especially diverse patrons and families, would be an invaluable gift. If you are having a hard time determining who might be a good fit, may I suggest that you think of our four pillars and determine who in your spheres of contact might appreciate the arts, religion, education and recreation? Secondly, the list of IDEA goals is long, and especially so for our accessibility goals. I invite you to consider making a gift to IDEA to help us accelerate these efforts by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org.
On a personal note, I want to thank all of you who have affirmed my position and presence on the grounds, and to those who have offered constructive feedback. For those of you departing for your other homes, I hope that we will be able to stay in touch over the off-season. I will count the days when we are able to gather again in celebration of Chautauqua’s 150th birthday.
With warmth and gratitude,
Senior Vice President
Chief Inclusion, Diversity, Equity & Accessibility Officer