Through a unique mix of professional and pre-professional programs, Chautauqua celebrates, encourages and studies the fine and performing arts in a community where artists and audiences live together as one.
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Self-improvement through lifelong learning was at the heart of the impulse that motivated Americans and founded Chautauqua in 1874. That tradition continues today through a variety of programs aimed at the exploration and exchange of ideas in an atmosphere that encourages civil discourse.
The morning lecture series is Chautauqua’s signature program, welcoming distinguished scientists, authors, educators and other experts in fields such as arts and humanities, foreign affairs and religion, to engage with Chautauqua audiences on matters that shape our world.
The Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle (CLSC), the oldest continuous book club in America, introduced learning by correspondence and has enrolled over a half-million readers.
Today, CLSC books address critical and ethical issues of the day through a variety of genres, with an author presenting a different book each week of the summer season.
The Chautauqua Writers’ Center brings focus to writing as an art form with nationally recognized authors in residence offering workshops, readings and lectures, as well as an annual preseason Writers’ Festival, to writers at all levels of development.
Each season, Chautauqua Institution Archives also presents its Heritage Lecture Series, which combines the research of Archives staff with notable historians and Chautauqua scholars in order to explore the rich history of Chautauqua and its effect on American culture.
Chautauqua provides a wide variety of services of worship and programs that express the Institution's Christian heritage as well as its interfaith commitment. The Institution, originally the Chautauqua Lake Sunday School Assembly, was founded as an educational experiment in out-of-school, vacation learning for Sunday School teachers. While founders Lewis Miller and John Heyl Vincent were Methodists, other Protestant denominations participated from the first year onward, and today Chautauqua continues to be ecumenical — as well as interfaith — in spirit and practice.
Located on the shores of beautiful Chautauqua Lake in southwestern New York, Chautauqua offers a variety of recreational opportunities that further enrich the mind, body and spirit and bring together families and the larger community.
Chautauqua’s programs for youth present a diversity of activity, in settings varied and historic. From pre-school to day camp, from sports instruction to informal youth centers, from enrichment classes to entertainment, and from reading to experiences in the arts, these programs offer opportunities to explore the Chautauqua experience. At the same time, youth are encouraged to grow in independence, make choices, take responsibility and celebrate family time, all in the safe and supportive community that is Chautauqua.
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The Chautauqua Amphitheater — the “Amp” — functions as our community’s most important place for assembly around arts, culture, and worship. Over its 140-year history, most of the Amp’s parts — except for the Massey Memorial Organ and its house — have been built up, torn down, repaired, replaced, and remodeled. What we see today is the result of decades of changes, and Chautauqua Institution intends to renew the Amp to meet the community’s needs for the next 100 years.
Plans for a renewed Amp are the subject of much discussion and even debate. To put these plans and the dialogue into perspective, it is important to remember the reasons for an Amp renewal project:
Safety and accessibility
As with most structures of a certain age, it is important to secure the Amp as a safe place for assembly. Wholesale repairs and reconstruction are required to address some significant safety issues which affect audiences and artists alike.
The Amp in its current configuration also presents major barriers to accessibility, especially for differently abled persons and those with physical limitations.
Respect for audiences
Current and future audiences deserve an Amp that provides the best Chautauqua-class experience. Providing such an experience demands significant attention to customer comfort, access, and sightlines. Chautauquans deserve to experience not only the best contemporary art and culture, but also art and culture that is innovative and futuristic — all of which require an Amp with substantially modernized and upgraded facilities. Chautauqua audiences also deserve an experience which honors the Amp’s traditional feel (e.g. openness to nature, neutrality and large-scale simplicity).
Respect for artists and presenters
In order to attract Chautauqua-class artists and presenters, the Amp must be a facility that evidences respect for them and the work they do. The current Amp’s backstage is woefully inadequate and even unsafe for artists and presenters and production crews. Chautauqua’s artistic leadership is unanimous in its desire for improved performance space and technology in order to deliver the best possible art in both individual and collaborative forms.
Stability for Chautauqua is dependent upon its ability to provide an evolving array of programs that meet the needs and desires of current and future audiences. As the centerpiece of that evolving array of programs, the Amp must be structurally and technologically sustainable for the next 100 years. Past efforts to adapt the Amp have largely been very short-term and cobbled together, and it is important to renew the Amp in a way that is long-term and comprehensive.
Financial sustainability requires that we increase seating and standing capacity both in an absolute sense but also by not compromising existing seating during inter-arts performances or when it rains.
Commitment to history and historic adaptation.
The Amp represents the unchanging constancy of Chautauqua’s purpose and place. It has for generations been the expression of a purpose of assembly for worship, art, culture, and intellectual stimulation. It is also a place — a location — where for 136 years national and international leaders have held forth, where world-class artists have performed, and where generations of Chautauquans have been entertained, sustained and challenged.
As we examine its history and the means to preserve it, we take note of the long tradition of its historic adaptation. The Amp’s structure has been modified, repaired and replaced as nature has taken its toll, and as Chautauqua’s programming has evolved — thus resulting in its historic adaptation to the times and circumstances — much like other historic buildings on the Chautauqua grounds.
That being said, we should also take note of the Amp’s truly historic components. While there are relatively few components of the current Amp that are truly historic — and even less that is original — Chautauqua Institution is committed to preserving important constituent parts such as the Massey Memorial Organ and its 1907 house. Likewise, the Institution is committed to the re-use and adaptation of historic materials in the renewed Amp.