Week Eight Letter From the President

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Dear Fellow Chautauquans,

Welcome to the eighth week of our 146th Assembly. We’ve just come off a week centering on the notion of grace in our world. I’m grateful to Krista Tippett and her “On Being” team for their week of outstanding work. As stark as our pivot may seem, I think moving from grace to this week’s theme of “Shifting Global Power” is more natural than may appear at first blush, as our shifting global power is perhaps in need of grace. I also don’t think we can fully understand the frame we’d like to see in our global systems without exploring notions of grace, justice, peace and civility … and so we dive into this week as we continue our season’s journey.

Power is shifting on the international stage. It always has been. During this week, we will focus on the geopolitical hot-spots of the moment, examining the new holders, and even the new definitions, of global power. Each day, we will explore one topic or definition of power, and identify the major players in that arena. And we will ask, how is power even defined, beyond money and military might? Is it natural resources, technology, education, diplomacy and aid, culture? As power shifts, so, too, do identities and values. Are there ways power ought to shift?

In our companion Interfaith Lecture Series, we focus on power through the idea of “soft power.” Power is often conflated with might, but increasingly faith traditions are promoting new paradigms for conflict transformation, understanding and collaboration through shared visions and ideals, restorative practices, relationship-building and rituals — all the components of soft power. This week, we will learn from those who are utilizing soft power for global peacemaking, reconciliation and quality of life. 

I have been fascinated by the notion of soft power since my days serving as president and CEO of Youth For Understanding. The entire notion of student exchange is that citizens can deeply influence the course of nations when they understand other cultures and systems, and use that knowledge to sway their respective societies. That’s one of the reasons that I love the topic this week, as our citizen group here at Chautauqua assembles to wrestle with this. 

Outside of a fascinating and important topic, we have some outstanding guides to help us this week. Chautauqua favorite Bill Moyers returns for a 2 p.m. lecture on Monday. We regret that he cannot join us for the entire week, as originally planned (doctor’s orders), but are still incredibly grateful that he will set the stage for these important conversations. Bill has been recognized as one of the unique voices of our time. His career in broadcast journalism has spanned five decades and earned him more than 36 Emmy Awards, nine Peabody Awards, six Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Awards, the National Humanities Medal from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the PEN USA Courageous Advocacy Award, the Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, and the Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts from the American Film Institute. He’s also just a lovely person and friend to us; I’m excited to have him back. 

This week, we award The Chautauqua Prize, honoring 2019 winner All the Names They Used for God: Stories and celebrating its author, Anjali Sachdeva. I have followed this book since it showed up on the Prize shortlist. If you haven’t read it yet, grab a copy at our bookstore. Anjali is going to be a significant voice in the literary arts in the coming years, and I’m elated to elevate this brilliant piece of literature.

And while all of our speakers are insightful, I’m so fascinated by Tarana J. Burke, the founder of the MeToo Movement. For more than 25 years, Tarana has worked at the intersection of racial justice, arts and culture and sexual violence. The MeToo Movement sparked a major sea of change in the equality movement, and her journey and story allows us to take a very different spin on shifting global power.

As I look at the list of this week’s arts offerings, I’m reminded that many of our programs in our Schools of Performing and Visual Arts have, or are about to, come to a close. Our students bring such incredible energy to our campus. I’m always sad to see them go, as it starts to signal a winding down of our season. I want to publicly thank them, and the faculty and staff of these programs, for an incredible year.

While for some this week marks the second-to-last week of our summer assembly, I know that for many it is the first week of your Chautauqua experience. We welcome those just joining us as we take our community conversation to the global stage. May it fill us with the knowledge to be better global citizens because of it.

-Michael E. Hill

Chautauqua’s 145 Birthday, Celebration & Reflection (Gallery)


Chautauquans of all ages turned out to throw the Institution a party in honor of its 145th birthday, all throughout the day on Tuesday — from family-friendly activities on Bestor Plaza to the traditional reflections of Old First Night in the Amphitheater. Old First Night is a time to celebrate and give back, and thanks to the collective birthday gift of the community, over $24,000 was raised Tuesday in support of the 2019 Chautauqua Fund, and every gift makes a difference. Lin Winters Jones, of White River Junction, Vermont, won the drawing for an electronics package — including a Kindle Fire HD 10 Tablet with charging doc and an Echo Show 5 — offered as the Old First Night giveaway.


Traditional Old First Night Run/Walk Takes 43rd Lap Around Grounds


Bright and early last Saturday morning at Sports Club, Chautauquans gathered for one of the Institution’s most cherished traditions: The Old First Night Run/Walk.

Since the event’s inception in 1977, hundreds of participants have flooded in from every corner of the United States to join in the fun. Now in its 43rd year, the OFN Run/Walk continues to grow, this year drawing 624 racers.

Participants were organized along the road before the start, and at the sound of a horn, Chautauquans sprinted, jogged and walked through the course. Some participated as solo runners and some brought partners, children, babies or even dogs along with them.

Finishing the 2.75-mile run in first place with a 15-minute and 4-second time was Adam Cook, and following in second was Alex Spiro, who are both Allegheny College cross country runners. After finishing and taking some time to hydrate and recuperate, Cook said this run wasn’t too much of a challenge for them.

“We’re high mileage runners, we’re used to 50-70-mile (weekly running), so this isn’t too bad,” Cook said. “This is shorter than our usual competitions, but I knew the hill was going to be hard, so I started off slow and climbed the hill to maintain my pace.”

Spiro said they anticipated the steep hill on the south end of the grounds, due to the training regimen they chose; to run the course on a loop before last Saturday’s race.

“In general, we knew all the surprises that were coming up,” Spiro said. “We knew where the highest elevation was and were able to plan accordingly, but coming back down the hill isn’t as easy. You need to let loose and open your stride more coming down the hill to keep from injuring yourself, and it’s just enough to give us some energy coming down to finish.”

Cook also said he is familiar with the course, since he has been coming to Chautauqua with his parents and grandparents for years.

This is something Deb Lyons, director of Sports Club said makes the OFN Run/Walk so popular year after year.

“This is a tradition, this race,” Lyons said. “You’ll find out this race has inspired people in so many different ways. Not only do some huge families have 20 people sign up every year, but generations of families do it. People have juggled this course last year, juggling it and running it. People keep coming because it is a tradition for them.”

Taking the prize for the oldest participant was Bud Horne at 94 years old, and a few boys and girls, only a few months old, tied for the youngest Chautauquans to finish the race. But no matter the time they received or their age, these Chautauquans continued the tradition of care and support during the OFN Run/Walk.

NOW Generation Hosts Sixth Annual Summerfest on Heels of Old First Night

From left, Violet and Adena Giroux, play ping pong during the NowGen Summer Fest on Saturday, August 3, 2019 in the Youth Activities Center.

Last Saturday morning, after the Old First Night Run/Walk, families and friends gathered at the Youth Activities Center for a fun-filled morning of games and activities.

The NOW Generation and advisory council volunteers hosted the sixth annual Summerfest, where Chautauquans were invited to bring their children or grandchildren and participate in family-friendly activities. After the Old First Night Run/Walk, people gathered inside of the YAC, where they could choose from pancakes, sausage, fruit and much more for breakfast. Kids were doing crafts and playing games and could be seen outside throwing frisbees and blowing bubbles.

“We try to capitalize on the Old First Night buzz and when everyone’s in town gathering after the race,” said Mhoire Murphy, NOW Generation advisory council member. “It’s fun to get everyone together.”

Murphy said the event is like a multigenerational reunion, where members are able to see their old counselors from Boys’ and Girls’ Club and old friends.

“(Summerfest) is our biggest family event, so even though we’re the NOW Gen, many of our events are open to everyone, which a lot of people don’t realize,” said Russell Bermel, advisory council chair of NOW Generation.

Throughout the season, NOW Generation volunteers host multiple family-friendly events, such as weekly volunteer-led playdates Tuesdays at Timothy’s and Wednesdays at the Water. For adults, there are weekly Pub Chats at 4 p.m. on Tuesdays in the Athenaeum Hotel Lobby Lounge.

“I think that those events are great because they give people a place to land in Chautauqua and connect with other people in NOW Generation,” said Carrie Zachry Oliver, NOW Generation council member. “For planning purposes, we offer to let people self-nominate to host things, which is cool, because it’s allowed for a variety of hosts this summer and it’s made each event a little bit different based on who’s hosting.”

Wes Delancey, 37, has been coming to Chautauqua for his entire life. He said that 22 of his family members came to the grounds this year, and Summerfest is one of his favorite events.

“I love Summerfest,” Delancey said. “After the race, it’s a good way to come over and see friends that you’ve grown up with. It’s a good way to keep everything going on a Saturday.”

Delancey worked at the YAC when he was younger, so he has many longtime friends and connections at Chautauqua. He said being able to come back and reunite with them is one of the best parts of the event.

“It’s a special place, there’s no question about it,” Delancey said. “You literally don’t see people for 365 days, then you come back and you feel like you saw them yesterday. That’s one of the nice things about the NOW Generation.”

For more information about the NOW Generation or to learn about ways to volunteer or get involved, visit the Facebook page ( or contact Megan Sorenson, staff liaison, at 716-357-6243 or to sign up for the e-newsletter.

Taikoza Brings Power of Japanese Taiko Drumming to Amp Stage (Gallery)


The sound of distant thunder from a passing summer storm blended with a different rumble Tuesday evening: The rolling rhythms of Japanese drum group Taikoza. The group took the Amphitheater stage Tuesday for the Family Entertainment Series performance following the annual Old First Night celebration. During the performance, Chautauquans were brought on stage to join in the music-making. Taiko, the Japanese word for drum, also refers to a traditional Japanese art from, encompassing music and dance performance. Drums took center stage in the performance, which also featured dancing and a Japanese bamboo flute, called a Shakuhachi.

County Executive George Borrello Discusses Upcoming State Senate Race and Future Hopes


County Executive George Borrello has served Chautauqua County since 2009, first as an eight-year county legislator, then as county executive from 2017 onward.

Now, Borrello is looking to make the move to state government, running — and winning the Republican primary — for New York’s District 57 seat, after Republican Catharine Young stepped down in February.

Borrello was born and raised in northern Chautauqua County and graduated from Fredonia High School in 1985; he went on to attend Purdue University. Borrello spent his years after college building his business, Top-Shelf Marketing, a nationally recognized hospitality industry supplier.

While it took some convincing to announce his candidacy, he said that if elected, he will happily bring his non-partisanship and effective governing to the state legislature.

How did you get your start in politics and local government?

I was involved in politics when I was in high school and college. Even when I was still in high school and before I was old enough to vote, I worked on (former Chautauqua County Executive) Jack Glenzer’s county executive campaign — that was the first campaign I’d really worked on.

Also in college, I was president of the College Republicans at Purdue, where I went, and I got involved in politics; I went to George H.W. Bush’s inauguration in Washington, D.C., when I was a senior in college.

After that, I went into business and I let the politics drop off for a really long time. Then I got back involved in 2005. So after graduating from college in 1989, I didn’t get back involved in politics activity until 2005. Then I ran in 2009 for the county legislature, which was my first time running for office.

I became a county legislator in 2010 when I took office, and I really got focused on trying to get away from the partisan politics, at the time, of our county legislature. … We started off by doing something they said was impossible, which was downsizing the legislature. We went from 25 (legislators) to 19 in my second year as a county legislator, and I was one of the people that led that charge.

That was fuel to my fire. … I was a legislator for eight years and decided in early 2017 that I was going to run for county executive.

What is a county executive?

Out of the 62 counties in New York State, I believe there are only 18 county executives, so it’s a small group of people.

To summarize it, you’re the chief executive officer of county government, and in most areas it’s an appointed position, but here in Chautauqua County it’s an elected position. Being that I had been a chief executive officer of my own business prior, I had a little bit of experience on the business side of things, but you’re in charge of the operations of government, first and foremost.

It’s a nearly $250-million, year-annual budget with about 1,165 employees and a constituency of 130,000 people — so it’s a pretty big operation. If you put that in business terms, it’s a very big operation.

At the same time, the role of being the elected leader of the county in many ways involves making sure that we are focused on important things like economic development and the challenges that we face in a very diversified way. I deal with everything from how to combat the opioid crisis, to how to ensure we’re delivering services people need, to how do you keep Chautauqua Lake clean and usable.

On top of the regular, daily business of being the county executive and operating a very large operation, it’s also (up to) the leadership to address those issues, both long-term and short-term.

What is the county executive’s relationship to state government?

County government, in many ways, is an arm of state government, in the sense that we are the local taxing authority. (It is) so much of what we are really carrying out, the state mandates — anything from drivers’ licenses … to delivering the myriad of social services that are delivered through county government.

So the relationship to state government is sort of being at the bottom end of what state government forces upon local governments and the citizens.

What made you want to run for New York State Senate?

Initially, I said no. I enjoy being the county executive. I think we’re getting things accomplished, and I like how county government functions; we are an effective government that really does things in a pretty non-political way, so I like being where I am.

But then after having a lot more conversations with a lot of people, it became very apparent that without having a strong representative in the state Senate, so many of the initiatives and progress that we’re making here locally would be in jeopardy.

For me, the drive to want to be our next state senator came from ensuring that the progress that we’ve made, and the initiatives that we’ve started, get the strong advocacy in Albany that they need to continue.

What do you hope to accomplish if elected?

I hope that I could bring some of the common-sense way we do business here in Chautauqua County to Albany, because it’s certainly a very dysfunctional government operation in so many ways; it’s hyper-partisan.

We used to have that here once upon a time; when I first became a legislator, it was more about one side of the aisle trying to conspire against the other side of the aisle to get their agenda forward, and it wasn’t about serving the people. That’s kind of what we have in Albany now — we have a government that’s more focused on politics than people.

So I’m hoping that this perspective, on how to serve the people and work in the best interest of the people before politics, is something I hope I can bring to the operation of our state legislature.

New York State contains the nation’s largest metropolitan area and rural Upstate New York. How do you plan on bringing issues facing the rural areas to the legislature’s forefront?

There are people out there that say we need to separate New York City from the rest of the state, and I understand that sentiment and I appreciate that sentiment, but I don’t think that’s practical to think that way, at least in the short-term.

So we have to play the cards we’ve been dealt, and right now it’s you having to work with this Goliath, which is New York City. Not only is it a huge driver of policy in Albany, it is so diametrically opposed, most of the time, to the needs and desires and values of Upstate New York.

I also believe that we are part of a larger group of people up here in Upstate New York. When you really whittle it down, it’s not just Upstate vs. downstate, it’s about the values people hold, and I think so much of what you see going on in Albany right now is driven by a relatively small group of extreme people in Manhattan. Those values and those agendas and priorities don’t jive, even barely outside of Manhattan.

It’s happening because, I believe, there’s been a tremendous amount of intimidation that goes on. So for me, this is about holding other state legislators responsible for their actions that don’t support the values of their constituents.

How, if elected, would you help advocate for Chautauqua Institution’s initiatives?

I’ve been very fortunate to be involved in discussions on Chautauqua’s master plan and been able to give my input. I’ve worked very closely with President Michael E. Hill — I truly appreciate our friendship and partnership. I believe I’ve already been able to bring some local perspective to that initiative.

Also, even right now, we had a meeting recently where we involved the State Department of Transportation folks. We brought them in to talk with them about the master plan and some initial steps that work in concert with some of their plans. Doing that as county executive and bringing in my economic development team is good for everybody — it’s good for the Institution, it’s good for the local economy and it’s just good for our quality of life.

So I think being in a role of state senator will give me a larger influence in that. For me to know that there is a will from the board of trustees and the people of Chautauqua Institution to become more a part of the local community is very encouraging for me. Being able to step into this as state senator and facilitate more of those productive meetings and conversations and being able to move that process forward, I think, is something that would be very beneficial. 

What are the largest challenges facing rural New York currently?

There’s a lot, but I think the main one is the loss of population that’s occurring throughout rural America. Go back a couple of generations — people wanted to leave the cities and move to the country and the suburbs and that happened for two, three generations. Now the opposite is happening: People are moving back to the cities.

There’s hope though, because now, with technology, people don’t have to show up at an office every day for work; more and more people are telecommuting. That’s an opportunity for us in rural areas; you can have the wonderful, active lifestyle of being able to live in a rural setting and still have a job and be connected to a high-tech job, for example.

It is important for us to develop a workforce for the jobs that are here. Right now we have lots of open positions here in Chautauqua County, and we need to start training or retraining those people that are displaced workers to be able to work in the jobs that are open, but also to show our kids that going into applied sciences, health care and skilled trades is a lucrative life.

If we can solve the workforce problem here, then it will not only fill the positions that are open and keep those businesses here and healthy and profitable, it will also help us attract new business. … If we can overcome the workforce issue, it will allow us to attract people despite the fact that we live in a highly burdened state when it comes to taxes and regulations.

What gets you out of bed in the morning?

Every day I wake up excited about going out and working with the people —  not just people in county government. The motivation to make our area better gets me out of bed every day.

Chautauqua to Celebrate Old First Night with Traditions & Festivities on 145 Birthday



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/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Since its founding, Chautauqua has celebrated its birthday on the first Tuesday of August, now known as Old First Night.

“The day is about celebrating the founding of Chautauqua and the fact that 145 years later, we are flourishing as an Institution,” said Geof Follansbee, vice president of development and CEO of the Chautauqua Foundation. “Just like at any birthday party, we want people to have a good time, and thus a series of activities that go along with the mood of the day.”

This “birthday party” will include a full day of fun activities and even a theme — superheroes.

“The theme this year is a really fun one, superheroes, which goes along with the movie night showing of ‘Incredibles 2,’ ” said Christine Doolittle, Chautauqua Foundation’s administrative project manager. “It made for some really fun activities like superhero face painting and making your own superhero shield. We’re excited to have our super-Chautauquans test out their strength and speed on an obstacle bounce house, too.”

The family-friendly festivities will take place from noon to 2 p.m. today on Bestor Plaza. In addition to the bounce house, face painting and make-your-own superhero shield, the plaza will host yard games, a photo station and paper lanterns for sale, to light up porches for the evening’s Old First Night celebration.

Starting at 12:15 p.m., August 6, on Bestor Plaza, the Chautauqua Community Band, lead by Jason Weintraub, will play its Annual Old First Night Concert.

To kick off the evening celebration, Thursday Morning Brass will perform at 6:15 p.m. tonight in the Amphitheater.

At 6:45 p.m. in the Amp, a variety of departments and organizations will come together for the Old First Night ceremonies. The Department of Religion will hold Vespers, the Boys’ and Girls’ Club will give an Air band performance, the Children’s School will sing school songs and will present their donation to the Chautauqua Fund.

Along with the ceremonies, there is an “exciting” new giveaway this season.

“I’m excited for families to learn of the electronics package giveaway as part of our evening celebration,” said Tina Downey, director of the Chautauqua Fund.“All participants who pledge their support or make a charitable gift on this evening are automatically entered to win a Kindle Fire HD 10 Tablet, charging dock and an Echo Show 5 compact smart display with Alexa.”

At 7:30 p.m. in the Amp, Taikoza, a rhythmic Japanese drum group, will perform as part of the Family Entertainment Series. Taikoza will also make an appearance earlier in the day at the family-friendly celebration on the plaza.

Rounding out the festivities at 9 p.m., all Chautauquans are invited to enjoy free birthday cake — for reference, there will be a map on the back of the Old First Night program to locate which denominational houses will be serving birthday cake, along with the Chautauqua Women’s Club. A screening of the movie, “Incredibles 2,” follows on the plaza, or Smith Wilkes Hall in the event of rain.

Old First Night holds a special place in many Chautauquans’ hearts, including those of the people who make the celebration possible.

For Doolittle, the best part of OFN is seeing guests of all ages celebrate Chautauqua.

“You really feel just how special this place is to everyone here, and it creates a real sense of belonging and kinship,” Doolittle said.

Downey appreciates the family ties.

“My favorite part of the evening is bearing witness to the nostalgia that anchors so many families to this experience, and to know that I’m a small part of creating the joy this provides so many,” Downey said. “This year, my daughter is performing on stage with the Group 2 Boys’ and Girls’ Air Band for the first time and I’m #mamaproud.”

As for Follansbee, his favorite part is a beloved memory. Follansbee grew up attending Old First Night celebrations with his dad, who led the ushers and collected donations in his signature wicker laundry basket.

“My dad became quite notorious for his collection techniques,” he said.

His dad has since passed, but the tradition lives on — Follansbee will be at this year’s activities with that same wicker basket.

“In terms of just our family’s love affair with Chautauqua, that sort of captures it for me,” he said. “All I am doing is receiving the gifts of so many Chautauquans at the birthday party, that are saying, ‘We too, care about this Institution, we want to support it, we want to give a gift to it to ensure that it continues to be a part of that person’s life.’ For me, that’s the best part of Old First Night.”

‘Only at Chautauqua’: Final Community Band Concert of the Season to Celebrate Old First Night

Jason Weintraub conducts the Chautauqua Community Band in their Old First Night Concert Tuesday, August 7, 2018 on Bestor Plaza. RILEY ROBINSON/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

The Chautauqua Community Band will take over Bestor Plaza today for its last hurrah of the season: the traditional Old First Night concert.

The annual concert will take place at 12:15 p.m. Tuesday, August 6, rain or shine — but in the event of rain, the band will perform in the Amphitheater. The volunteer musicians will play classics by the likes of Francis Scott Key and John Philip Sousa, as well as hit show tunes, like a medley from Oklahoma!

Conductor Jason Weintraub has led the CCB from its very beginning, when he founded the tradition after Independence Day almost 30 years ago. He said the 60 to 80 musicians who play in each concert are there for the same reason: to celebrate their community.

“It’s not professionals performing for the community, it’s community members performing for the community,” Weintraub said.

Weintraub, a CSO musician, has been a Chautauquan for almost 50 years. He said the CCB’s two annual concerts, Independence Day and Old First Night, are community favorites for two reasons.

“First, it’s band music that everybody enjoys listening to, very familiar music,” Weintraub said. “Second, they get to see their friends and neighbors performing.”

The CCB’s concerts are unique in that they draw performers from on and off the Chautauqua grounds. Chautauqua residents, Chautauqua employees, Music School Festival Orchestra students, CSO musicians and residents of the surrounding communities alike can play in the band.

One of those musicians is Brian Kushmaul. Kushmaul is a 25-year CSO percussionist and — for the first time — a drum soloist with the CCB. He said the drum solo was a long time coming.

“I’ve watched (the CCB) for years, and Jason is a friend of mine,” Kushmaul said. “We had an idea three years ago: ‘Wouldn’t it be fun to have a drum solo for the Community Band?’ So we’ve been talking about it for years, and this year we decided we’d finally make it happen.”

That solo is New York composer Larry Neeck’s “Concerto for Drum Set and Band.” Kushmaul said this simple concerto was chosen for the band’s — and the audience’s — enjoyment.

“We wanted something that was fun to listen to and easy to put together,” Kushmaul said. “Hopefully the band will have fun playing it, and hopefully the audience will have a lot of fun listening to it.”

Alongside the concerto, the program includes several pieces that Weintraub said will fit well in Chautauqua’s birthday celebration — including two pieces by American composer Sousa, who performed several concerts with the CSO in his lifetime. It also, of course, includes “Happy Birthday.”

Whether the CCB plays on Old First Night or Independence Day, Weintraub said, its tradition of community involvement and enthusiasm is uniquely Chautauquan.

“I’ve had a lot of people say it’s their favorite thing,” Weintraub said. “Because only at Chautauqua do you find something like this — that represents Chautauqua like this.”

Week 6 Strategic Plan Sessions Focus on Programs & Accessibility

  • Chautauqua residents listen at the Strategic Plan Information Session led by Institution President Michael E. Hill, board of trustees Chair James A. Pardo, Jr. and strategic planning working group Chair Laura Currie, Thursday, June 27, 2019, in Hall of Christ. VISHAKHA GUPTA/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Chautauqua Institution administrators and attendees placed particular emphasis on accessibility, a branch of IDEA — inclusion, diversity, equity and accessibility —  as a near-term priority at Week Six’s strategic plan sessions.

The 150 Forward strategic plan is a series of four key objectives — optimizing the summer season, broadening Chautauqua’s convening authority, improving Chautauqua Lake’s health and diversifying revenue — underscored by cross-cutting imperatives, of which IDEA is one.

At the sixth IDEA Listening Session on Tuesday, concerns were raised about physical accessibility, including lack of Americans with Disabilities Act-designated seating across the grounds; insufficient accommodations for those with visual impairments; brick walkways and bathrooms being  inaccessible for wheelchairs and walkers.

At the session — led by Chief of Staff and Vice President of Strategic Initiatives Shannon Rozner and Parker Suddeth, a consultant hired by the Institution — Chautauquans also pinpointed monetary inaccessibility, including gate pass rates and food price inflations.

The master plan, a tangent of the strategic plan, is a “menu of ideas” to develop under-utilized areas of the Institution, according to John Shedd, vice president of campus planning and operations; the plan is not concrete, and the board of trustees has yet to approve any plans.

The master plan addresses efforts to make Chautauqua more physically accessible, and easily maneuverable, by erecting more housing units and parking spaces and extending walking paths.

Potential updates would make the area along Route 394 pedestrian-friendly by creating mixed-use retail space, sidewalks and bike lanes, in addition to building “winterized” hotels and conference centers behind the Chautauqua Golf Club or by Turner Community Center. On North Campus, a Bestor Plaza-esque quad by the schools of fine and performing arts was suggested and would include commercial food and beverage.

“Those types of elements start to address, again, the strategic plan by bringing in a wider demographic to Chautauqua and making it more interesting here for people of different age groups and different likes,” Shedd said. 

When asked by an attendee at the Master Plan Information Session on Wednesday what the most likely and tangible changes to the grounds would be, President Michael E. Hill said the board of trustees would likely approve plans to relocate the maintenance shed on Route 394 to a more discreet location.

At the week’s final meeting — the Strategic Plan Information Session on Thursday — Hill dispelled a few rumors: the Institution is not extending the season to 13 weeks in the near future, nor emulating TED Talks on the grounds.

“(TED Talks are) somewhat counterculture to our mission,” Hill said. “We don’t believe that answers come in 15-minute chunks.”

The next IDEA Listening Session will be 3:30 p.m. today, August 5, in the Hall of Christ; the next Strategic Plan Information Session will be at 3:30 p.m. Thursday in the Hall of Christ. Chautauquans can voice concerns, leave comments or ask questions about the strategic plan through the online forum at

Chautauqua to Gather for Old First Night Festivities and Honor Institution in Birthday Celebration

Chautauquans celebrate Old First Night with family activities and a Chautauqua Community Band concert Tuesday, August 7, 2018 on Bestor Plaza. BRIAN HAYES/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Celebrating Chautauqua’s birthday, Old First Night is a time to honor traditions, welcome new ones and appreciate the philanthropic support that keeps the Institution at its best. In gratitude, the Chautauqua Foundation invites the community to its annual celebration.

The festivities will take place from noon to 2 p.m. Tuesday, August 6 on Bestor Plaza, providing Chautauquans with the opportunity to prepare for Old First Night by engaging in family-friendly activities, while also having the chance to make their birthday gift to Chautauqua.

“This is a wonderful opportunity for the community to gather together and celebrate Chautauqua’s birthday with games and activities for the kiddos, and to honor each of our family’s experiences on these grounds with a gift to further Chautauqua’s programs and the incredible joy they provide us each summer,” said Tina Downey, director of the Chautauqua Fund.

Chautauqua Fund volunteers will be accepting donations for the annual fund throughout the celebration, and the Community Band will perform at 12:15 p.m. Gifts of all sizes help to ensure a vital and successful future for the Institution, and volunteers and foundation staff will be on hand to discuss the importance of philanthropy at the Institution and the impact it makes on the overall Chautauqua experience.

This year, the afternoon birthday celebration is based on an “Incredibles” superhero theme, teeing up the movie, “The Incredibles 2,” which will be screened at 9:30 p.m. on Bestor Plaza. The movie will follow the Old First Night ceremonies at 6:45 p.m. in the Amphitheater, and the Family Entertainment Series performance by “Taikoza” at 7:30 p.m., all on Tuesday. Families and children are invited to partake in the afternoon activities to kick things off, including an obstacle course, bounce house where Chautauquans can test their superhero strength and speed, a craft table with materials to make your own shield, superhero face painting, yard games and a photo op station. There will also be paper lanterns for sale for those who want to light up their porches leading up to the evening celebration of Old First Night.

“Chautauqua’s birthday is a prime occasion to celebrate the relationships that have built this community and that unite us in our search for meaning, shared purpose and greater understanding,” Downey said. “We welcome gifts to honor friends and loved ones, and those who have invited us to be a part of this experience along the way.”

During the celebration, families and individuals are encouraged to bring a picnic lunch and enjoy a performance by the Chautauqua Community Band at 12:15 p.m. Herb Keyser will also be selling his famous lemon tarts with all proceeds benefiting the Chautauqua Fund. At movie night, to cap off the full day of birthday fun, the Foundation will provide free popcorn, luminaries and glow-in-the-dark bracelets.

For more information about the role of philanthropy at Chautauqua, or this family-friendly celebration of Chautauqua’s birthday, please contact the Foundation Office at 716-357-6465 or

Week Seven Letter From the President

Michael Hill
President Michael Hill

Dear fellow Chautauquans,

Welcome to the seventh week of our 146th Assembly. I have been waiting for this week for more than a year. The broader concept of grace has been on my mind for some time now, and to explore the week with one of my favorite journalists and storytellers, the incomparable Krista Tippett, is a true joy.

This week, we look at “Grace: A Celebration of Extraordinary Gifts.” Be it emotional, physical or spiritual, grace takes many forms. It exists in the way we treat one another, the way in which we move through the world and the way in which we use our gifts, our grace, to lift up others. Grace, as defined by religious terms, is the means by which we receive an unearned gift, one we’re not worthy of. Beyond religion, what does grace look like in the secular world? When is grace difficult? In talking across differences? In compromise? In the face of adversity? We’ll look at the moments in which grace is most needed. How can we go out into the world, actively moving with more grace throughout our own lives? 

The mission of Chautauqua Institution is to explore the best in human values. I think this week is simply a perfect fit for that mission statement, and I couldn’t be happier that Krista will be our guide for the conversation each morning. Almost a year ago, as this week’s theme was percolating in our heads, I attended a major commemoration of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. Krista was there interviewing Derek Black, a former heir apparent of the white nationalist movement, and Matthew Stevenson, one of the only Orthodox Jews on their shared college campus. When Derek’s family history and ideology were revealed, Matthew invited him to a Shabbat dinner. It would transform them both forever — you really must check out this story — and it clicked for me that Krista was the perfect one to bring stories of grace to our morning platform. I’m deeply excited to have her here (in case you couldn’t tell!).

In our companion Interfaith Lecture Series, we’ll look at the same theme. There are many ways of defining or explaining the idea of grace. Grace is thought to be something we receive, something we give, something we are and something we do. This week, we will hear stories from four traditions — Judaism, Christianity, Islam and Humanism — exploring how each tradition perceives, interprets and lives grace.

And if that isn’t enough grace for you, we’ve invited the Gracefully project to spend the week with us podcasting, capturing stories and engaging with our community. Gracefully is the brainchild of Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post dance critic Sarah Kaufman and a dear friend of mine, Brian Wesolowski, who serves as a senior officer at the Center for Democracy and Technology. Gracefully explores the very notion of grace and uncovers where it is embodied in our everyday life, both online and off. The project is looking at ways that thoughtful design, technology and personal choices can promote community and enhance civil engagement. Its ultimate goal is to humanize technology and empower everyone to live more gracefully in the digital age. Sarah is also the author of The Art of Grace: On Moving Well Through Life. Stay tuned for ways you can engage with the group.

One more personal note this week. Sarah Ruhl joins us as our featured Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle author with her book Letters from Max: A Book of Friendship. I first met Sarah when I worked at Arena Stage in Washington, D.C., when we were staging her incredible theatrical work Passion Play. It remains one of the most riveting pieces of theater I’ve ever seen in my life. Sarah is an incredible playwright, author and a MacArthur Genius Award-winner. I’m so thrilled to welcome her to Chautauqua. 

You may have sensed by now that I’m beyond excited about this week. While our mission calls us to tackle some really difficult topics, it also calls us to celebrate the enrichment of life. What a blessing to move from comedy last week, to a week devoted to grace. I invite us all to spend these coming days exploring the topic of grace in its many manifestations, recognizing fully that spending a week at Chautauqua may be the purest manifestation of the word. Welcome to Week Seven.

Michael E. Hill

Debbie Meyers Joins Development Staff as Assistant Vice President for Advancement Operations

Debbie Meyers, shown Wednesday, July 17, 2019, serves Chautauqua as the Assistant Vice President for Advancement Operations. DAVE MUNCH/PHOTO EDITOR

The development office has welcomed new staff member Debbie Meyers to Chautauqua. Meyers serves as the assistant vice president for advancement operations. In a newly created position for the development team, Meyers believes she is ready to flourish in this role and help enhance the Chautauqua experience.

“When I interviewed, I went through each of the four pillars, one at a time, and explained why I thought I would be a good candidate,” Meyers said.

Chautauqua is organized around its four pillars: education, arts, religion and recreation. Being able to relate to the four pillars was a key determinant for Meyers when applying for her position. She also has over 30 years of experience in higher education and development, enjoys nature, was in a dance company and was an active usher at her church.

“All those things made me excited about wanting to come here, but also, beyond that, I believe in this Institution’s mission,” Meyers said. “I can’t say strongly enough how important it is for people to keep learning.”

Before accepting her job at the Institution, she was senior director of stewardship and donor relations at the University of Maryland, College Park.

“It’s challenging, yet it’s familiar,” Meyers said of her new role. “It’s a challenge to me professionally and personally to come up with a different way to look at things. One of the reasons Geof (Follansbee, vice president of development) said he wanted me here is to see if there’s another way things might work better and differently, based on experiences that I’ve had outside this universe.”

As a year-round employee, Meyers started work in June, just a couple of weeks prior to the beginning of the 2019 season. She lives in Mayville, with her husband, Paul (her high school drum major). They have four grown children and are experiencing life in Chautauqua as new “empty-nesters.”

Though she has held multiple positions in the development field, she is particularly pleased with her role at the Institution because of her freedom to be creative and implement new ideas.

“I’ve never been able to run the whole show; I’ve always been the one in the middle who came up with the good ideas and sometimes I’d get to do them, sometimes I wouldn’t,” Meyers said. “Now I get to be the creator. I get to come up with these new things or enhance the existing things.”

One of Meyers’ favorite characteristics about Chautauqua is the close-knit community. She said she enjoys the way Chautauquans take the time to learn more about one another after just meeting for the first time.

“Everybody knows everybody, and they’re so welcoming,” Meyers said. “It’s different from being in a large city, and the whole community vibe is completely different from anything I’ve ever experienced.”

Meyers said things like being able to hear the symphony by just walking past the Amphitheater, and the unlimited access to art on the grounds, are what make Chautauqua so great.

“The convenience and access to all those artistic experiences,” Meyers said, “there’s art everywhere.”

Meyers said being at Chautauqua leaves her with a magical feeling.

“I’m afraid I’m going to wake up one day and find out that it’s all been a dream,” Meyers said. “It’s just been magical, really magical.”

Deborah Sunya Moore to Discuss Ongoing Year-Round Chautauqua Arts Initiatives at CWC


Year-round, there’s an exchange of local, child-centered, arts-based energy and creativity entering and exiting Chautauqua Institution’s gates, transforming them into gateways of learning and extraordinary opportunity. 

Brightly costumed girls and boys from the Chautauqua Regional Youth Ballet — some so tiny one could not help but grin along with them — performed athletically and gracefully on the Amphitheater stage in mid-June.

With eyes wide open and hands in pockets, area students on Visual Arts Gallery Field Trips toured the Melvin Johnson Sculpture Garden and Fowler-Kellogg and Strohl Art Centers before the summer season opened. They finished by rolling up their sleeves for a hands-on, exhibit-related arts project.

The kids who took part — for the first time ever at Chautauqua — in “Link Up: The Orchestra Sings,” played the recorder with the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra and sang in an Amphitheater concert in late June that culminated a music education program provided by Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute. How cool is that?

These are just three performing and visual arts opportunities offered on the grounds during the month of June for local children that Deborah Sunya Moore oversees as Chautauqua Institution’s vice president of performing and visual arts. There are also arts education experiences offered off the grounds in June, as well as throughout the school year.

At 9:15 a.m. Thursday at the Chautauqua Women’s Club, Moore — who introduces many of the evening performances on the Amphitheater stage — will talk “All About Chautauqua Arts.”

In addition to the programs mentioned above, she’ll discuss Chautauqua Opera Company’s Opera Invasions in local schools, the Young Playwrights Project and the “Sing Me a Story” and “I Can Drum” school residencies for students with and without disabilities.

“The arts is the department that’s year-round, all the time,” Moore said. “Our school residencies begin in September. … We’re going non-stop. We’re already tired, but inspired, in June from all the field trips.”

For teachers in Chautauqua Lake Central School and Jamestown Public Schools, there are the Kennedy Center Partners in Education professional development workshops in arts integration. Moore is a national workshop leader for the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

“Arts education year-round is the most important thing for outside the grounds,” Moore said. “(We’re) gaining the trust of the schools and teachers around. It’s how we want to grow, (as a) resource for where we are locally, in addition to being part of the national conversation.”

A year ago, Chautauqua hired Suzanne Fassett Wright as its first-ever director of arts education.

“I think … the focus (of my talk) will be the inside story, the evolution of the arts over my six years here,” Moore said. “The story, or the philosophy, behind the evolution of the arts program, including the search (for) five directors — the five major searches that have made our arts what it is today … along with the evolution to diversifying the dance program.”

The searches were for leadership in the Chautauqua Opera Company, Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra, School of Music’s Piano Program, Chautauqua Theater Company, and Visual Arts at Chautauqua Institution.

“I’m proud of … setting the vision for the arts through all the evolutions of departments and leadership,” Moore said. “I’m really proud of the artistic leadership I’ve been able to bring here — building on the legacy before us. For me, that’s Marty (Merkley). Growing artist excellence while growing programs.”

With over 600 employees in the arts, and several programs for which Moore is personally responsible — including but not limited to the popular, family and Sunday afternoon entertainment series in the Amp, three production crews, and transportation for performers — there are no typical days. Instead, there are “daily needs” that one would never expect.

Moore said she has grown the performing and visual arts program enough so that it’s aligned with the Institution’s new strategic plan. She’ll talk about how the arts are aligned with it.

“I don’t feel done by any means, but it’s an ongoing process,” Moore said. “It’s never done.”

Chautauqua Community Honors Jessica Trapasso with Pavilion Dedication

Members of the Trapasso and Hermance families join Chautauqua Institution President Michael E. Hill in a ribbon cutting Friday, July 26, 2019 during a dedication ceremony for the Jessica Trapasso Memorial Pavilion at Children’s School. DAVE MUNCH/PHOTO EDITOR

With a gathering of family, friends and Children’s School colleagues, the Jessica Trapasso Pavilion officially opened last Friday with a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

With the financial support of the Hermance Family Foundation — represented at the ceremony by Kris Hermance and her daughter, Emily Spahr — a new pavilion was built and dedicated to Jessica Trapasso, a beloved member of the Chautauqua community, who passed away in 2015.

Wife to Kit Trapasso, director of Children’s School, as well as mother to Christopher and Anne Trapasso, Jessica loved Chautauqua and believed in the power of its community.

The pavilion dedication was attended by Hermance and Spahr, the Trapasso family, as well as friends and guests, including Institution President Michael E. Hill and Matt Ewalt, vice president and Emily and Richard Smucker Chair for Education.

The ceremony began with remarks from Geof Follansbee, CEO and vice president of development for the Chautauqua Foundation.

“It is a great testament to what occurs in this place,” Follansbee said. “I’m happy to be able to say that I’m a product of Children’s School.”

As guests settled in for the ceremony, Ewalt took the stage to discuss the importance of the pavilion and Children’s School.

“For almost a hundred years, Children’s School has been a child’s first experience (at Chautauqua); it really pioneered the concept of nursery school education,” Ewalt said. “This school immerses the youngest of Chautauquans in an environment that encourages exploration, play and connecting with nature; fosters a sense of community and it fills the morning with music, drama, arts, reading and special activities built around the weekly theme.”

Ewalt recognized the generosity of the Hermance Family Foundation and the level of influence Children’s School has on so many Chautauquans.

“In other words, for many, Chautauqua begins here in this space,” Ewalt said. “Thanks to the incredible generosity of the Hermances, under this roof, the Jessica Trapasso Pavilion provides the youngest Chautauquans a stage to perform, a classroom from which to learn, a laboratory for understanding nature and a safe space for which to build friendships.”

Hill then shared his love for Children’s School and the importance of the programs it provides for Chautauqua. He thanked Kit Trapasso for his continuation of Jessica’s love and dedication to the Chautauqua community.

Kit Trapasso took the podium and offered his thanks to the community.

“On days like today, I wish I had more words to say thank you,” Trapasso said. “To say that I’m grateful to you doesn’t seem to scratch the surface of my feelings this afternoon. My heart is so full as I look at this incredible space and to see the people that mean so much to me and my family, who meant so much to my wife. My family and I will never forget this day, this act of generosity and devotion, to provide this space where art and fellowship can be cultivated.”

Following his father, Christopher Trapasso thanked the Hermance family and those in attendance before the cutting of the ribbon. The Trapassos, Hermance, Spahr and Hill took scissors from the podium and began the countdown to the ceremonial ribbon cutting.

As bits of ribbon fell to the floor, the pavilion officially opened for Children’s School.

IDEA Listening Session Focuses on Youth Perspective

Institution President Michael E. Hill, board of trustees Chair James A. Pardo Jr. and strategic planning working group Chair Laura Currie, lead the first Strategic Plan Information Session of the season Thursday, June 27, 2019, in Hall of Christ. VISHAKHA GUPTA/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

At the fifth IDEA — inclusion, diversity, equity and accessibility — Listening Session, Chautauqua Institution administrators heard from a new perspective: young people.

The session, held last Tuesday afternoon in the Hall of Christ, was attended by a vocal group of students from Arizona State University’s Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics, who were in the first 48 hours of their week-long Chautauqua experience.

Several of the students alluded to discrimination or lack of inclusivity, specifically in Chautauqua’s programming. They pointed to the lack of religious diversity and underrepresentation of non-Christian faiths, as well as a lack of diversity among Institution employees and intergenerational dialogue.

Additionally, Chautauquans suggested mentorship programs, scholarships for college students or young families, better remote working conditions for young professionals and adding better signage on the grounds.

IDEA is one of the 150 Forward strategic plan’s four cross-cutting imperatives — themes that underscore the plan’s vision and four key objectives: optimizing the summer season, broadening Chautauqua’s convening authority outside the season, improving the health of Chautauqua Lake and growing and diversifying revenue.

“We say we curate the great conversations of the day,” President Michael E. Hill said at last week’s Strategic Plan Information Session. “I say, if we’re being truly honest with one another, we’re having a wonderful conversation for a homogenous group of people. … We are not fully doing our mission.”

At the weekly strategic plan session, held Thursday in the Hall of Christ, Hill, along with Board of Trustees Chair Jim Pardo and Strategic Planning Working Group Chair Laura Currie, honed in on the Institution’s financial sustainability.

Chautauqua, unlike most business models, has one, nine-week business quarter per year, Hill said; in those nine weeks, the Institution earns nearly all of its yearly revenue. Based on current financial ebb and flow, even maxing out ticket sales isn’t enough to make up for the natural rise of expenses surpassing the Institution’s revenue.

In part, to counterbalance this eclipse, the administration is considering strategic partnerships — another of the plan’s four cross-cutting imperatives — with corporations or organizations during and outside the summer season.

“You’re used to a business plan that has stated goals, has measurable metrics, has timelines for execution, assigns responsibilities and runs fairly short; three to five years,” Pardo said. “That is not what this strategic plan looks like and … that’s not what strategic plan looks like in the modern world.”

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

Week Six Letter From the President

Michael Hill
President Michael Hill

Welcome to the sixth week of our 146th Assembly. Writing these greetings to you each week gets harder and harder. Half the time I want to celebrate what we’ve just experienced in the prior week, and yet there is so much more ahead to celebrate. So please indulge me as I do a little of both.

Starting Thursday night, we launched our first-ever three-day Opera Festival. I am often in awe of Chautauqua Opera Company General and Artistic Director Steven Osgood, and this weekend is just one more example. To pull off three operas back-to-back, in facilities that have other uses and using crew and staff that have other duties, is simply remarkable. To do so with such grace and talent is sublime. It has been an honor to welcome the many who have traveled to Chautauqua just for this. I’m so proud of Chautauqua Opera Company and Steve. Bravo!

One of my favorite events all season is when 5-year-olds from our Children’s School march to the President’s Cottage to present me with their ideas of what might make a better Chautauqua. It’s a tradition we started when I first arrived, and there simply is no better way to feel good about the world than to visit with these little ones. Here are some highlights from this year’s list of ideas:

A few things (they) love about Chautauqua are:

-Sunny days and shining water

-Riding our bikes


-And, of course, … Children’s School!

Here are some ideas for potential improvements:


-A house that looks like a donut and sells donuts

-Give more hugs to everyone

-A spaceship to travel around Chautauqua in

-Plant more trees so we have more oxygen

It has been a little hot this summer, so here are a few specific lake suggestions:

-Find diamonds in the water and turn them into fish

-Submarine in the lake

-Roller coaster in the lake

-A giant, pizza-eating shark that lives in the lake

This is just a sampling. I’m keeping the rest for our top-secret research and development files, but I thank this wonderful group of young people for their love of Chautauqua.

Now on to this week, where we explore “What’s Funny?” with the National Comedy Center. We’re excited to partner with our neighbors and friends at the National Comedy Center for the second time — this week, they celebrate the one-year anniversary of the opening of their incredible facility and experience in Jamestown. We hope you’ve come to learn and laugh with us, as we embark upon a week exploring how comedy changes us and, in turn, society. Comedy can do more than hold up a mirror to our world; it can, in fact, change it. We’ll look at the potential of comedy — particularly political comedy — to change minds and influence decision-making. Among the topics to explore are: What does your sense of humor reveal about you? How can we be challenged by things we don’t find funny? We’ll look at the challenging intersection of free speech, political correctness and humor, and what we can learn from that uncomfortable space.

In our companion Interfaith Lecture Series, we ask “What’s So Funny About Religion?” Even religion can have its less serious side, and during this week we will look for a lighter, smiling way to lift one’s heart and mind in the human enterprise that tends to take life and its meaning and purpose very seriously. Building upon our 2018 week on “The Spirituality of Play,” we will use words to play and to discover that seeing the humorous side of religion is a delightful way of joyfully leading the human to the divine. Be prepared to smile.

I have to say, I’m so excited to personally share the stage this week with actor, producer and director Frank Oz, who, one fan has posited, might be responsible for generating more joy than anyone on Earth. His film and TV credits are many, legendary and continuing — I first fell in love with his work on the Muppets. What a dream for a kid and a kid at heart.

His artistry has had a lasting impact on millions, including me — what a profound legacy.

For those who have been with us the whole season, Week Six is the perfect moment to “lighten up” and laugh in our shared journey. For those just joining us, we’re excited that you’re bringing your own sense of humor to our shared community. For those who can just pop in and out, we know you’ll laugh extra hard to make up for it.

I’m so grateful to have this community to share the laughter. As Milton Berle famously said, “Laughter is an instant vacation!” … or Week Six at Chautauqua!

-Michael E. Hill

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