News & Announcements

Statement from President Michael E. Hill

Like everyone else, I have been watching the events of the past week with a mix of horror and pride: horror that we still live in a society that perpetuates systemic racism, hatred and cruelty, and pride that people who refuse to accept this are standing up and making their voices heard. At Chautauqua, we have been sharing the words of speakers who have given their lives to dismantling systemic racism as a way to shine a light on what we think we can all do to make a better society. This is the mission of Chautauqua: to put a spotlight on the issues most impacting society and to present leading voices who can help us all grapple with those issues and to find a path ahead. We believe that giving a platform to those leading major movements is core to our mission and the best way we can make an impact.

In recent days some have decried this approach as “tone deaf,” indicating that unless the Institution puts out an explicit statement that we are complicit. I’ve wrested with this, not because I have any confusion about where we stand, but mostly because I feel we have consistently, at least in my four years as President, drawn a bright line in the sand about our belief that any society that does not value the dignity of all people is a flawed society. Colleagues of mine who have given their entire life to the struggle to eradicate racism have counseled me that what I can do as a white man of privilege is “to do my work.” I have committed to that, as I can only control my own actions. I believe that’s what we each need to do.

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Learning from Chautauqua Voices on Race and Justice

Dear Chautauquans,

My heart aches for the hurt in our nation. The recent headlines remind me how much work we all need to do to heal divisions. My thoughts and prayers go out to all who are hurting during this scary time as old systemic wounds of racism are again laid bare, a reminder that they are unresolved and unattended to, all while we grapple with a virus that has leveled the world. It is at moments like these that I search for words to make sense of what is simply senseless. Words fail me right now, but they do not fail the voices we have presented at Chautauqua, prophetic voices of change, voices calling us to live more fully our creed of seeking the best in human values.

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From the President: Moving Our 2020 Assembly Online

May 2, 2020

Dear Chautauqua Family, 

I write today with a message I never conceived I would need to convey, but one that is necessary for the health, wellness and safety of our beloved community. Late yesterday our Board of Trustees decided unanimously and with moral clarity to suspend any in-person programs on our sacred Western New York grounds this summer. We will not be convening as we usually do, but rather in a new, online space, as a distributed but still tightly knit community of lifelong learners and lovers of the arts, education, interfaith and recreational programming. I invite you to read the news release at this link, and to view the above video, in which I provide a few remarks and then participate in a traditional Chautauqua Q-and-A session. Much more information will of course be shared in the coming days and weeks, but I wanted to gather with you as soon as possible after the board’s decision to hear your thoughts and to share some of my own. 

I share in the collective heartbreak and grief this decision is sure to evoke. I assure you — after weeks of careful and painstaking analysis by our amazing and dedicated staff and trustees, in consultation with governmental and other leaders and public health experts — that this is the right decision, to ensure the safety of our community, our region and our future. We are so grateful to all those within the Chautauqua community who have reached out in recent weeks to offer your counsel and expertise, or simply your heartfelt sentiments and well-wishes as we collectively confront a world-historic moment marked by uncertainty, grief and suffering.  

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Update on Constable Status for Chautauqua Police

Dear Chautauquans,

I am writing to provide an update on the status of our efforts to achieve Constable status for the officers of the Chautauqua Institution Police Department. This follows communications over the past couple months regarding a change in their “special deputy” status through the Chautauqua County Sheriff’s Office.

It's my pleasure to report that, at a meeting Monday night of the Town of Chautauqua Board, the Board voted to approve a new law establishing a town constabulary and authorized Supervisor Don Emhardt to sign our agreement making our police department personnel the Town of Chautauqua constables.

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Chautauqua Community Mourns Passing of Jared Jacobsen

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Dear Friends of Chautauqua Institution:

We learned yesterday of the tragic passing of our beloved Jared Jacobsen, Chautauqua’s organist and coordinator of worship and sacred music for nearly 25 years, and someone who proudly proclaimed himself a lifelong Chautauquan. Jared was involved in a car accident in Geneva, Ohio.

While we await formal word of Jared’s wishes, we know our community is grieving this unspeakable loss. Many have described Jared and the music he masterfully created with the iconic Massey Memorial Organ at the Chautauqua Amphitheater as the “heart and soul” of Chautauqua. This sentiment speaks not only to Jared’s talent, but of his ever-presence during our summer assembly season, his untiring love for music, and his generous willingness to share his passions with Chautauquans across generations. His music ushered in each day, heralded the noontime and afternoon hours, and closed each Sunday evening of the summer assembly, keeping the time of a timeless community.

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Three Taps of the Gavel Address: ‘Camp Meeting Commences’

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Chautauqua Institution President Michael E. Hill addressed Chautauquans gathered for the season's final Sacred Song Service with the traditional Three Taps of the Gavel Address to close the 2019 Chautauqua Assembly on Sunday. His remarks as prepared for delivery, with light edits, are provided below. (Photo by Dave Munch, Chautauqua Institution multimedia producer)


“What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.”
—T.S. Eliot

Our organist and coordinator of worship and sacred music, Jared Jacobsen, has dubbed this evening “Camp Meeting is Over” and The Chautauquan Daily headline reminded me that my job tonight is to declare that this is so. This final Sacred Song Service each summer season lends itself well to this narrative. The day’s sun has slipped beneath the horizon, hints of autumn can be felt in the air, and our beloved Amphitheater is far too empty. The Saturday crowds have left the grounds and a new group has not come to take up residence on “change over day.” And the likelihood that a gentle bark from one of our furry puppy Chautauquans will puncture the proceedings is far less than it was just a few nights ago.

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President Michael E. Hill Opens 146th Chautauqua Assembly with ‘Three Taps’ Address

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Following an introduction to Chautauqua Institution’s new strategic plan, 150 Forward, President Michael E. Hill on Sunday morning tapped a historic gavel three times to officially open the Institution’s 146th Assembly. Hill’s “Three Taps” address, marking the traditional and formal start to a Chautauqua season, was titled “Walking the Tightrope Between History and Innovation,” and gave Chautauqua community members gathered a synopsis of the recently approved strategic plan, including a strong rebuke of hatred and bigotry. The remarks preceded the Institution’s popular Sunday worship service, which this particular morning featured a historic twist — for the first time at Chautauqua, the sermon was delivered by a rabbi chaplain in residence, Rabbi Sharon Brous, senior and founding rabbi of IKAR in Los Angeles.

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Seasons Greetings from Chautauqua, 2018

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Dear Chautauquans,

Many of you know that as President I am incredibly fortunate to work from an office that overlooks Bestor Plaza. This is a grand vantage point in any season, and especially as night falls late in the year, when the Winter Village lights paint our picturesque town square in the colors of the season. I’m reminded of the first stanza of “Day is Dying in the West,” a staple of our summertime Sacred Song Services: 

Day is dying in the west,
Heav’n is touching earth with rest,
Wait and worship while the night
Sets her evening lamps alight
    Through all the sky.


Today is the winter solstice here in the northern hemisphere, and as we approach the longest night of the year, it’s comforting to celebrate and appreciate anew that which brings light to our lives.

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A Message of Thanksgiving from Chautauqua

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Like many of you, I look forward tomorrow to gathering around a table with loved ones — for me at the President’s Cottage at Chautauqua — to share and partake in a most cherished tradition. At many Thanksgiving gatherings it is customary to begin the meal with a brief prayer or blessing, to “say grace,” as we put it at my table. It is a simple act, but one that is so profound: an expression of thanks for a nourishing meal, for those who prepared and share in it, and any number of the countless blessings in our lives.

I’ve been thinking a lot about grace lately, and not just in the Thanksgiving context. It’s the reason we have a whole week devoted to it in 2019. The description for that theme begins: “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.”

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Prayers for Pittsburgh, from Chautauqua

Chautauquan Daily photo by Ruby Wallau

Dear Chautauquans,

We were all shocked and horrified by the shootings at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh this past Saturday. A faith community, a city and a nation mourn and grieve and, as a community, all at Chautauqua stand with them and you in prayer and togetherness. To our Jewish brothers and sisters and our Pittsburgh neighbors: May you feel the warm, global embrace of your Chautauqua family as together we seek out a path for healing. And as we remember the lives lost and begin to heal from this unthinkable tragedy, all too common in these troubled times, let us renew our collective commitment to sowing more love, kindness and compassion in our neighborhoods and world.

May the names of those who have lost their lives be long remembered …

Shalom,
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Michael E. Hill
President

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Community Update on Chautauqua Lake Conservation Efforts

Dear Chautauqua Institution Property Owners and Other Interested Citizens:

Thank you for your continued attention to and concern for the health of Chautauqua Lake, which is fundamental to the livelihood of Chautauqua Institution, our community and our neighbors all around the lake shore. I write today to share the latest developments in our efforts to ensure responsible conservation of the lake.

At a hearing on Oct. 25 in Erie County, State Supreme Court Justice Donna M. Siwek asked attorneys for Chautauqua Institution, the Town of Ellery and Chautauqua Lake Partnership to encourage their clients to pursue mediation as a potential means of resolving the litigation regarding the Chautauqua Lake Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS). Justice Siwek suggested the mediation involve representatives of the named parties, their counsel and mutually agreed upon legal and technical consultants to attempt to work through the disagreements on the content and sufficiency of the SEIS. Attorneys for Chautauqua Institution immediately indicated willingness to participate in mediation.

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The Nonprofit Crystal Ball: What Does the Future Hold?

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Chautauqua Institution President Michael E. Hill addressed the annual Nonprofit Networking Day conference hosted on Oct. 17, 2018, by the Cattaraugus Community Foundation at St. Bonaventure University's Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts. His remarks as prepared for delivery, with light edits, are provided below.

Good morning. It’s a pleasure to be with you for this gathering of some of the most important leaders in our region. The nonprofit sector is not only an important economic and social driver in communities across our nation, but I believe this sector also represents the heart and soul of our communities.

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President Michael E. Hill Delivers Annual Closing Three Taps of the Gavel Address

Photo by Dave Munch

Chautauqua Institution President Michael E. Hill addressed Chautauquans gathered for the season's final Sacred Song Service with the traditional Three Taps of the Gavel to close the 2018 Chautauqua Assembly. His remarks as prepared for delivery, with light edits, are provided below.

Tonight we share an evening surrounding a Pilgrim’s Hymn. As pilgrims, immigrants all to this sacred place, please pray with me:

Eternal Friend,
grant me an ease
to breathe deeply of this moment,
this light,
this miracle of now.

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President Michael E. Hill Delivers the President’s Address to the Bestor Society

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Chautauqua Institution President Michael E. Hill addressed a gathering of the Bestor Society on Aug. 5, 2018. The President's Address is traditionally the highest-profile speech the Chautauqua president delivers during the Chautauqua season. His remarks as prepared for delivery, with light edits, are provided below.

My heartfelt thanks to each of you for spending your Sunday afternoon here and for representing some of Chautauqua’s truest friends.

It is an honor to gather with you in this magical environment with this picturesque view of our beloved lake behind us, in the shelter of this tent to shade us from the sun, and serenaded by the exquisite sounds of a chamber ensemble that exemplifies the promise of Chautauqua and of the future of artists and artistry.

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President Michael E. Hill Delivers Remarks at the 10th Anniversary Rededication of the Everett Jewish Life Center at Chautauqua

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Chautauqua Institution President Michael E. Hill addressed a gathering of Chautauquans on July 31, 2018, at the rededication and 10th anniversary celebration of the Everett Jewish Life Center at Chautauqua. His remarks as prepared for delivery, with light edits, are provided below.

It’s a joy to be here with this esteemed group of speakers and all of you. A very special thank you today to Rich and the board of the Everett Jewish Life Center, to my friend and predecessor Tom Becker, and with an abundance of gratitude to Edith Everett and your family for bestowing on the Institution this incredible gift, which has nourished our community for the past decade and stood as a symbol of welcome.

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The Long Game of Chautauqua Lake Conservation

The following was submitted as an op-ed to Chautauqua-area media outlets on June 1, 2018.

The herbicide permits granted to the Town of Ellery and other lake municipalities recently by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) to control weed growth in selected areas of Chautauqua Lake, and the process leading to the issuing of the permits, have raised significant concern among many regional citizens, including Chautauqua Institution and many of the 1,190 private property owners on the Institution grounds. Our concerns center on the general ecology and sustainability of the lake, including our dependence on it for drinking water, recreation and, more broadly, regional economic development. 

The Institution’s leadership team has closely followed and formally responded to the herbicide application process, including the Town of Ellery's application for Lead Agency Status and the related Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS). In order to do so in the most responsible way possible, we hired outside scientific experts and legal counsel to advise and support our engagement in this process. Our goal has been to become informed about the perspectives of the various Chautauqua Lake organizations and municipalities, to stay up to date on the NYSDEC’s own research and investments in lake care and management, and to advocate for a collaborative, scientifically supported long-term approach to lake care and management.

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Elevating Civil and Interfaith Dialogue in Communities: Finding Common Ground in an Age of Discord

Chautauqua Institution President Michael E. Hill addressed a gathering of Chautauquans on April 17, 2018, at South Franklin Circle in Chagrin Falls, Ohio. His remarks as prepared for delivery, with light edits, are provided below.

I bring you greetings from a Chautauqua Institution community that is preparing to remove its porch wraps and launch the Institution’s 145th season on June 23. As we busily complete a few remaining lecture and entertainment bookings, we are also in the process of inviting our community members to help us frame the next strategic plan for Chautauqua.

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As We Look Ahead, a Collective Wisdom and Hope

Portraits of all 18 Chautauqua Institution presidents is now on display in the hallway leading to current president Michael E. Hill's office in the Colonnade.

There is a new addition to the hallway leading to my office door in the Colonnade, a tribute to all the men — and I look forward to the day we will say “men and women”! — who have been fortunate enough to serve as president of the Institution. As many of you know, I am fond of referring to myself as the 18th president of Chautauqua as a reminder that 17 others came before me, but there is something about this tribute wall to I find particularly moving. As I glance into the faces of my 17 predecessors, I see both a wisdom gleaned from being formed by our beloved Chautauqua and those who populate it year after year, and also an earnestness, an expression of hope on each face of what is to come for the person who is lucky enough to sit in that unique chair.

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Season's Greetings from Chautauqua, 2017

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I've been thinking a lot in recent months about neighbors. Having good, thoughtful neighbors is, I believe, an underappreciated joy in modern life — we're all fortunate in the Chautauqua community to have so many wonderful ones. Neighbors are usually not our family and, for myriad reasons, don't always become our friends, but they are important relationships that require work to establish and maintain a mutual sense of respect and dignity. Our communities are made better when we approach strangers as new neighbors, not as the Other.

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A Message of Thanksgiving from Chautauqua

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As we enter a season filled with family, friends, fellowship and reflection, I wanted to take a moment to thank you. This is an extraordinary time for Chautauqua Institution. In the past year, Chautauqua has experienced monumental change and achievement — we've successfully closed a nine-figure capital campaign, delivered the most ambitious building project in our modern history, and realized promising growth in long-term attendance. Also in that span, it was my great honor and privilege to begin work as your 18th president. Now we embark upon a bold new shared vision to raise Chautauqua's prominence in our national conversation. None of this would be possible without extraordinary generosity and outsized investment of so many members of our community.

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