Chautauqua launches $98.2 million campaign
First published in the Winter Chautauquan, 2014

For three seasons now, curious Chautauquans have passed under prominent banners hung on the Colonnade and the Post Office Building.  Each banner displays a single word,  five in all: CIVIL, SUSTAINABLE, INNOVATIVE, INCLUSIVE, ENGAGED.


These are the watchwords that  underpin the Chautauqua Board of  Trustees’ strategic plan, adopted in  2010 and extending through 2018. The  effort to build the Institution’s capacity to fully embody these concepts is  already underway.  

This fall the trustees of the Institution and the directors of the Chautauqua Foundation collectively endorsed  the public phase of the Promise Campaign, a six-year fundraising initiative  with a goal of $98.2 million raised by  the end of 2016. These funds will be invested across the Institution’s programs, people and physical plant.

Already more than $58 million in  gifts has been raised since fundraising began in January of 2011, including gifts to the Chautauqua Fund.  Annual giving is an ongoing priority at CHQ, because those gifts go directly into the Institution’s operating budget and offset the gap between gate ticket revenues and the annual cost of operations.

But what does “the promise of  CHQ” really mean?

“Deepening the mix for CHQ’s programming was a big part of the board’s conversation as we developed the plan,” said campaign co-chair and former Institution board chair George Snyder. “Put simply, fulfilling the promise of CHQ means delivering an even better experience and inviting in more participants and program partners. To maintain our recent improvements and to strategically enhance the intellectual, spiritual, recreational and artistic experience of CHQ as we envision it will require additional resources. It also means continuing to get the word out about CHQ and what we offer.”

Promise Campaign co-chair and  Foundation board chair Steve Percy  agreed. “We are a national center for civil  dialogue, innovative teaching and arts  performances, and religious inclusion,” he said. “And we have demonstrated our commitment to both environmental and financial sustainability,  even through the rough waters of 2008  and beyond.”


The lead project of the Promise Campaign is the rehabilitation of the  Amphitheater—an ambitious project  designed to preserve the now-fragile centerpiece of CHQ and bring it up to current standards, while also creating a stage and back-of-the-house flexible  enough to accommodate another hundred years of use with technology as yet unimagined.

“The Amphitheater is, of course, thefocal point of CHQ’s civil dialogue. It’s where we practice what we preach,” said CHQ’s new boardchair Jim Pardo, “and the Amp clearly needs to be rehabilitated. Because it is the heart of this enterprise, I believe that everyone needs to participate in the effort. We need community-wide financial support at all levels for the project to be successful and for the facility to be properly endowed  to ensure that it can and will remain the center of the CHQ experience for generations to come.”

To date, some $15 million has beenraised toward the $33.5 million Amphitheater project.

“In terms of sustainability, the goals are financial, programmatic, and environmental,” Percy said. “We must hold on to our history of affordability, the intergenerational nature of the community, and the opportunities for young families to experience CHQ.”

Percy cites the demand for more diverse forms of youth programming, alternative popular entertainment, and inventive food services and short-term housing which are all part of the fabric of contemporary American culture.“We need to meet the expectations of a younger audience coming for shorter stays while maintaining what makes CHQ CHQ,” he said.

Holding gate ticket prices down without alternative revenues could require the Institution to defer maintenance on its historic facilities—a situation that threatened the Institution more than once in the last century. Endowment sufficient to maintain and sustain CHQ’s historic buildings and protect and preserve the fragile natural environment—trees, birds, fish, and thelake—is a critical need going forward and cannot possibly be managed with gate revenues.

“Sustainability also means preparing ourselves to recruit future artisticand program directors as a number of current leaders move closer to retirement,” Snyder said. “We need to be engaged in a very intentional process of succession planning.” In particular,he said, the promise of sustained excellence in CHQ’s schools of visual and performing arts is profoundly dependent on finding gifted individuals committed to the kind of 24/7 work CHQ demands during the season. The funding of the Emily and Richard Smucker Chair for Education, currently held by Sherra Babcock, wasthe first major gift associated with the Promise Campaign designated to sus-tain the quality of programmatic and artistic leadership.

Several other program enhancementsand innovations envisioned in the strategic plan have recently been funded. Gifts to launch the Chautauqua Prize,the Playwrights Commission, and the first and second year of the inter-arts collaboration have raised the profile of CHQ’s literary activities and increased awareness of the unusual constellation of performing arts disciplines in residence at the Institution. These investments in innovation pay long-term dividends in several ways, said Percy.“They lift the quality and diversity  of offerings for Chautauquans, give artists recognition on a larger stage, pro-vide CHQ greater visibility as an educational institution, and encourage additional collaboration and innovation across the grounds.”

“To me, innovation means continuing to deepen the engagement of audience and participants across all aspects of our programming on the grounds—including youth programs, the Department of Religion, the arts, and SpecialStudies,” Snyder said. “It also mean shaving the resources to seize new opportunities, such as the three-year examination of Health Care in America currently taking place during Week Nine, or the programs that extend into the off-season.”

Barb Mackey’s planned gift to the Department of Religion has also raised the bar for additional endowment gifts in the area of religious inclusion and interfaith dialogue, said Snyder. Recent grants for the New Clergy Program(from the Luce Foundation) and the creation of a new Clergy Leadership Program (funded by the Lilly Foundation) have bolstered CHQ’s capacity to attract and encourage a broader range of voices in CHQ’s conversations around matters spiritual.

“Inclusion also means being able to offer students a chance to study at CHQ without regard to their ability to pay,” Percy added. the Promise Campaign calls for $2 million in scholarships to allow the Institution to attract the most diverse and talented group of young artists possible. A complementary campaign goal of $5.5 million forthe renovation of Bellinger Hall will also help CHQ draw in the verybest students in the performing arts. “Bellinger is the last major renovation to CHQ’s arts complex, and it is a critical component  of this campaign,” Snyder said.

Chautauquans are, by definition, citizens who are widely engaged in the world. As an institution and resource to those who come here, CHQ also leads by example—demonstrating civil discourse, active listening, lifelong learning, stewardship of place, spiritual inclusivity, the transformative powerof the arts, and the life of the imagina-tion. The fifth word on the Colonnadebanners speaks to the board’s ambition to deliver the CHQ experience at the highest quality to an increasing number of people who will embrace the mission of the Institution: namely exploring the best in human values and the enrichment of life and carrying that message out into their own home communities.

“The greatest asset of CHQ is Chautauquans themselves,” Percy said. “Chautauquans are leaders in their fields, people who serve on corporate and nonprofit boards, volunteer in their home communities, think about public policy, analyze the world around them, read and easily discuss the issues of the day. Naturally, Chautauquans’ curiosities extend to the governance and management of the 140-year-old Institution where they invest considerable time and resources during some portion of the summer. We are counting on this community to get involved in these ambitious goals.”

George Snyder agreed. “The success of the Promise Campaign depends onthe engagement of all Chautauquans—newcomers and veterans. We are excited about building on the accomplishments of the last decade and moving forward in a way that makes all Chautauquans proud of this place and their association with it.”

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