Factors in Decision-making

In-person programming delivered to an audience has been canceled. This means that the lectures, religious services, performances, classes, youth programs and other gatherings typically offered in the Amphitheater, Hall of Philosophy and other venues cannot be attended in person this year. Many of these programs will be offered online, providing an alternative to achieve the same or a similar level of learning, joy and exploration for Chautauqua patrons.

Staff normally starts planning for a new summer season around Labor Day following the previous one. A typical season involves hundreds of speakers, preachers, performers and other special guests for whom scheduling, travel, housing, contracting and other arrangements are made. We cannot quickly unwind the thousands of details around an operation this complex. What’s more, staff needs to know where to put their efforts. They need to focus exclusively on building the online experience now. Asking staff to continue planning for multiple possible scenarios meant sacrificing the quality of whichever one was ultimately chosen.

No, the decision to cancel in-person programming for live audiences is final. While current stay at home orders were certainly considered in the decision, they were not the sole consideration. The trustees had to examine the specific needs and nature of Chautauqua Institution. In making this decision, the trustees prioritized health and safety above all else; examined risk; reviewed financial implications for the Institution and the regional economy in which it plays a role; and took seriously the need for some clarity in the midst of an uncertain situation. Those other factors do not change as stay at home orders shift—particularly for our type of operation that brings people here from all over the nation and world and convenes gatherings of well more than 50 people multiple times each day.

Yes. The weight of those implications was palpable in the online room as trustees deliberated. As we have seen play out in the nation and the world, every big decision during this crisis requires choosing between imperfect options. The Board chose to prioritize the health and safety of Chautauqua Institution’s employees, patrons and neighbors over other needs.

The Institution did receive a PPP loan, which is helping us keep our commitment to maintain all of our year-round, full-time staff. The Institution thankfully came into this crisis financially strong. We have cut back heavily on expenses but are still facing a much larger loss in revenue for 2020. To mitigate that loss, we will utilize close to 90 percent of our cash reserves in 2020. The Chautauqua Foundation's fiduciaries have also worked with us to access the endowment to the extent they can legally and responsibly do so.

We are heartened by the many inquiries like this that we’ve received — Chautauquans truly do look out for one another, and we know how much you care about those who dedicate their summers to delivering your Chautauqua experience. Since many in our traditional seasonal workforce are our Chautauqua County neighbors, living in a region economically dependent on destination tourism, we took this question to Tory Irgang, executive director of the Chautauqua Region Community Foundation, who provided this response:


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