Chautauqua Institution’s Virtual Summer
For 146 consecutive summers, nothing has stopped the Chautauqua Institution in western New York from opening its doors to welcome guests who come for discussions, concerts, lectures and other events.
“Not the Great Depression or Spanish flu or anything in-between,” said Chautauqua Institution President Michael Hill.
That longstanding tradition evolved this year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Chautauqua held out hope that they be able to open as usual, but given the severity of the pandemic, in particular in the state of New York, the decision was reached to not open the grounds to visitors, but rather present this summer’s events in a digital collective called “CHQ Assembly.”
Five digital platforms are available, including a video platform for all livestreamed and recorded programs. There are also platforms for online master classes and enrichment courses as well as poetry, visual arts and “Virtual Front Porch,” a platform for discussions.
All performances will be recorded or livestreamed remotely. A handful of performances will be staged in and broadcast from venues on Chautauqua’s grounds, but absolutely no live audiences are permitted to attend even though visiting Chautauqua is a tradition for many Northeast Ohioans.
While not having guests on the grounds makes for an unusual season, Hill said the decision to present events digitally does have a plus side.
“We know that some people can’t get here in the summer. We also know that others have other summer traditions or may not even be able afford to travel here or afford the day pass to come. We hope that in many ways the summer allows anyone that's been curious about Chautauqua to take a look. We also hope for those who can’t come that this is the beginning a life-long engagement with Chautauqua, because this is something that will continue well into the future of the institution,” Hill said.
While the Chautauqua Institution could have taken the summer off and waited to see what next year would bring, Hill didn’t want to break the long-standing tradition and he felt that this year’s programming was particularly important to present.
“We believe that the nine theme weeks that we have teed up and the conversations and the engagement from preachers and teachers and artists and thought leaders are really critical as we look at the next year where we've got an important national election. We've organized our summer content loosely under the theme of a ‘citizen's guide to the election.’ We thought issues like climate change and what's happening with technology and ethics and art and democracy and our own role on the world stage were important things to lift up and to enter into dialog with people as we look at not only the November elections, but well beyond and the future of the country in the world,” Hill said.