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Art, Music and Summer Fun at the Chautauqua Institution

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By Jessie Schwartz

Chautauqua Institution is bustling with final preparations and getting ready to welcome over 100,000 visitors from around the world over its nine-week-long 2017 Summer Season, June 24-Aug. 27th.  What began over 140 years ago as a vacation learning place for Sunday School teachers has evolved into an incredibly unique and eclectic town centering around lectures and distinguished speakers on topics currently shaping and influencing our world.

Nine U.S. Presidents have spoken at Chautauqua— it is where FDR delivered his “I Hate War” speech in 1836, and President Clinton spent a week at the historic Athenaeum Hotel at Chautauqua in preparation for his debate with Bob Dole.  Notable recent speakers include Jane Goodall, Tom Brokaw, Kurt Vonnegut and Julie Andrews.

Chautauqua is a vibrant and rich summer community that is dedicated to arts, education, religion, and recreation & youth.  “Walk around and take it all in, this place is special, it touches your soul,” says Karen Williams, Director of Guest Experience.

Chautauqua encompasses both privately-owned homes and several buildings, accommodations and venues that are managed and overseen by the Institution’s Board of Directors.  “We are currently undergoing a $33 million renovation of the Athenaeum” notes Williams. Slated concert performers coming to Chautauqua’s open-air 4,000 seat Amphitheater include Sheryl Crow, Aretha Franklin, The Beach Boys and Chick Corea Elektric Band/Bela Fleck and the Flecktones.

Most people come for a week-long stay when visiting Chautauqua with each week centering around a general theme. Some of this year’s include “The Human Journey,” “Geopolitics Today and Global Peacemaking” and “Comedy and the Human Condition.”

There is something for everyone at Chautauqua and visitors are encouraged to have an open mind and passionate spirit of inquisition and exploration.

The Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra (CSO) and Chautauqua Opera Company, both founded in 1929, showcase and draw talent from around the globe.  According to Williams, “Chautauqua is ranked third in the world for its musical programming” and a much-sought experience for both seasoned and up and coming performers, directors, writers and producers alike.

In July, the opera L’Orfeo will make its U.S. stage premiere and Hydrogen Jukebox by Phillip Glass and Allen Ginsberg will be featured later in the month.

Visual Arts programs are also strong at Chautauqua and this year the Chautauqua Theatre Company will showcase Michael Frayn’s Noises Off, Dominique Morisseau’s Detroit ’67 and William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

Chautauqua’s Department of Religion coordinates daily sermons across 16 denominations that represent Abrahamic faiths, as well as others, to encourage mutual respect, understanding and a multi-faith community environment.  There are Christian, Jewish, Muslim and other major-faith scholars and practitioners featured at Chautauqua.

Chautauqua offers many options for kids of all ages.  Most participate in Children’s School (3-5 years old) and Group One (for students preparing to enter 1st grade in the fall) where developmentally enriching activities are available that encourage friend and relationship building that often lasts beyond the grounds of Chautauqua.  The Boys’ and Girls’ Club for children 7-15 years old offers nature studies, arts, kayaking, swimming and sailing and there are Youth Centers for older teens and young adults that provide an informal social gathering place.

Chautauqua has several shops, restaurants, a full Library that is open year-round and Post Office on the grounds.  There are three beaches in addition to the dramatic buildings and architecture throughout. Chautauqua is a walkable/bikeable community that is meant to be explored with narrow paved streets and amazing Victorian homes and Inns available for stays.  There is a bus and tram that run around the grounds daily.  Other accommodations include hotels, single and multi-family homes and condos; single-night stays are also available.  Details, pricing and more information are available at reservations.ciweb.org or by calling 716.357.6200.

Day visit/Gate Passes are available and include most activities offered at Chautauqua; single opera and theater ticket prices vary.  There are no gate fees charged on Sundays and Active Duty Military receive free passes as do those under 12 or over 90 years old.  Community Appreciation Nights are offered throughout the season with $20 Nights at the Amp performances scheduled.  The ticket office is available at 716.357.6250 or on the web at chqtickets.com and full information on all Chautauqua Institute has to offer is available at the Main Gate Welcome Center, staffed by Chautauqua County Visitors Bureau (716.357.4569) as well as a Customer Service and Information Desk (716.357.6263).

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