Tom Becker Leaves Three-Decade Legacy at Historic Center of Arts and Ideas

Chautauqua Institution President Tom Becker is announcing his retirement, effective at the end of this calendar year, 2016. Becker has served as the 17th President of Chautauqua Institution since November of 2003.


Tom has devoted nearly half of his life and 100 percent of his energy to Chautauqua Institution. He and his wife Jane have spent substantial time thinking this important decision through, and their decision is a joint one I respect,” said James A. Pardo Jr., chair of the Chautauqua Institution Board of Trustees. “His wonderfully solid and progressive work over three decades has stabilized the foundation on which the Institution stands so that it can move forward into the future. We cannot begin to express our gratitude to Tom for his vision, creativity and tireless dedication to Chautauqua Institution and its ideals.”


Pardo said the Board of Trustees would begin work immediately to launch a nationwide search for Becker’s successor, and will provide regular updates to Chautauquans as the process unfolds.

Tom Becker joined Chautauqua Institution in 1985 as Vice President of Development for the Institution, and Vice President of the Chautauqua Foundation. He later served as Executive Vice President for Development of Chautauqua Institution and as Chief Executive Officer of the Foundation. As CEO, Becker oversaw the growth of the Foundation into a professional fund-raising organization achieving over $100 million in support of the Institution and successfully guided campaigns to build and endow Elizabeth S. Lenna Hall and Bratton Theater.

As president, he steered the Institution through the financial crisis of the late 2000s and positioned it for long-term sustainability. Most recently, Becker successfully led the effort to raise $41.5 million in philanthropy for the renewal of the Chautauqua Amphitheater, a project scheduled for a grand opening at the start of the 2017 season. His presidency has seen the success of two capital campaigns including the current Promise Campaign, a six-year initiative raising $98.2 million to be invested across the Institution’s programs, people and physical plant.


Programmatic initiatives during Becker's tenure at CHQ include the five-year people-to-people exchange with the Soviet Union and the decades-long Abrahamic Initiative to promote dialogue among Christians, Muslims and Jews on critical topics. He has established partnerships with organizations such as Colonial Williamsburg, Sesame Workshop and National Geographic Society and collaborations with Ken Burns, Roger Rosenblatt and Sandra Day O’Connor. Under his leadership, the Institution has moved into the digital age, with a multi-channel approach that engages a broader population in the work of CHQ and in civil dialogue on the issues of our times. He has also been responsible for critical hires in key staff positions, most recently, the directors of CHQ's religion and arts departments.


“The breadth and depth of Tom’s innumerable contributions to the CHQ community is extraordinary,” Pardo said. “We look forward to celebrating Tom’s many accomplishments. We have a strong leadership team in place to carry the torch and we will be truly excited to see how Tom’s successor leads the Institution into the future.”


“It has been my honor and privilege to serve Chautauquans at this great institution. The work we do together today nurtures and embraces a learning-centered life, and we move forward together with hope and optimism,” Becker said. “I want to sincerely thank Chautauquans for their passion, energy and commitment to the Institution. It is my most ardent hope that they share their love of learning, intellectual stimulation and discourse, and love of Chautauqua Institution and all it stands for with future generations.”


Read Tom's letter to Chautauquans

The pre-eminent expression of lifelong learning in the United States, Chautauqua Institution comes alive each summer with a unique mix of fine and performing arts, lectures, interfaith worship and programs, and recreational activities. Over the course of nine weeks, more than 100,000 people visit CHQ and participate in programs, classes and community events for all ages — all within the beautiful setting of a historic lakeside village. Smithsonian magazine named CHQ the No. 1 “Best Small Town to Visit in 2014” in the cover story of its April 2014 issue.