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 will 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. 

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Frequently Asked Questions

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FAQ: Factors in Decision-making

What exactly has been canceled? Is Chautauqua Institution closed this summer? (Updated 5/2/20)

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.

Separately, the decision to cancel an on-grounds school experience for the hundreds of students who had planned to attend one of our festival schools this year was made in deep consultation with school faculty and taking into account the needs and desires of students, who were surveyed about their attendance. Chautauqua joins most festival schools in the United States in deciding to take this step in the interest of safety. Plans have been made to offer instruction online in most cases to students.

Why did the Board decide to cancel on-grounds programming two months before opening day? (Updated 5/2/20)

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.

What if “stay at home” orders are lifted in New York by late June? Can you change your mind? (Updated 5/2/20)

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.

Does Chautauqua Institution understand the implications of these decisions for the region, property owners and business owners on the grounds, and seasonal employees? (Updated 5/2/20)

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. We understand that not everyone will agree with that prioritization, but the Board took this stance after thoughtful consideration. Neither the Board nor the administration feels any joy in taking this step. We believe, however, that it is the one that best positions the Institution to continue to contribute to the local economy and the national conversation for years to come.

Did Chautauqua Institution apply for a loan under the Paycheck Protection Program established by the CARES Act? (Updated 5/15/20)

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. Despite expense reductions, endowment help and cash reserves, the Institution will still lose millions of dollars this year. Access to debt can help, but because our charter forbids the use of assets to collateralize debt, the collateral for traditional debt is future earnings, which are uncertain at best. That is why the PPP funds, which are potentially forgivable (and if not forgiven, offered at a very low interest rate), are so important. They allow us to not take the ultimate expense reduction path — layoffs and furloughs of year-round, full-time staff.

 

FAQ: Refunds

What if I already purchased a gate pass or concert ticket? (Updated 5/2/20)

We will be in touch via e-mail or by phone with anyone who has purchased gate passes, services, Athenaeum Hotel reservations, and/or single event tickets. If you have not heard from us, please complete the form at this link. Staff will help process full refunds for these purchases. If your circumstances allow, we will alternatively help process a donation of all or a portion of the purchase value back to the Institution or apply it to a future purchase.

I have a question about my refund or donation. (Updated 5/22/20)

Please visit chq.org/refunds.

What if I already purchased housing? (Updated 5/2/20)

The Athenaeum Hotel is taking the same approach to refunds, credits and donations as is the Chautauqua Ticket Office. If you are renting property from a private property owner, refunds will be dependent upon the terms of your lease. Many property owners who rent have adjusted their policies to be more flexible.

 

FAQ: On-Grounds Operations

Will there be anything open? If I decide to come to the grounds anyway, what will I be able to do there? (Updated 5/2/20)

The best answer we can give you right now is, “whatever can be done safely.” Under current New York state orders, there is very little that is open on the grounds currently. The trustees gave President Hill and his team parameters within which to decide whether and to what extent the grounds can “re-open” in the coming weeks and months, prioritizing the need to keep the health and safety of employees, residents and patrons at the forefront of all decisions. Opening food service facilities, recreational areas, and the like does not require the same level of preparation as program offerings. So, if current state orders are loosened and we are able to recruit and train staff, procure necessary equipment and take other measures toward safety, we hope to be able to offer an increasing amount of activity. Of course, this will all be based on conditions at any given time. As we have all learned by now, some level of flexibility and a willingness to constantly reassess will be necessary. President Hill will work in close collaboration with the Board of Trustees’ Executive Committee, who will provide oversight for all decisions in this regard. See below for an updated listing of Institution facilities, amenities and activities:


Status of Chautauqua Institution Facilities and Amenities (Updated 5/20/20)

Key:

Open, with restrictions

Closed, but in process of opening

Closed, but may reopen pending regulations and ability to staff and operate safely

Closed, with no plan to open for season at this time

 

Institution Facilities/Amenities

Athenaeum Hotel
Smith Memorial Library
Chautauqua Post Office
Chautauqua Bookstore (online orders available)
Colonnade
Main Gate Welcome Center
Plaza Market
Afterwords Café
Heirloom Restaurant
Brick Walk Cafe and Coffee Gazebo
Gallery Café
Visual Arts Galleries
Pier Building
Shaw Laundry

Recreation Facilities/Activities

Chautauqua Health & Fitness at Turner Community Center
Chautauqua Health & Fitness at Heinz Beach
Institution Docks
Institution Beaches
Institution Playgrounds
Institution Parks/Greenspaces
Chautauqua Golf Club
Chautauqua Tennis Center
 Coyle Tennis Courts (Club campus)
Turney Sailing Center
Chautauqua Sports Club

 


Will I still be charged to come on the grounds? (Updated 5/2/20)

There will be no charge to come through the gates this summer. However, screening procedures that comply with relevant guidance and directives will be in place throughout the summer, including potential limits on what types of activities people may enter the grounds to pursue. The specifics of those protocols will change as the situation does.

What does the Institution mean when it asks us to quarantine if coming to the grounds from other areas? (Updated 5/18/20)

Self-quarantining is not an order by the government or an Institution regulation. Rather, it is part of a larger request the Institution and the Chautauqua County Department of Health and Human Services is making of those returning to Chautauqua County from other regions of the state and nation. We ask that you take steps to keep each other and our neighbors in the region as safe as possible as interstate and intrastate tourism begins to pick up in Chautauqua County.

We are all required to be aware of and abide by New York state and Chautauqua County laws and regulations while we are on the grounds. That is true every summer. Currently, the New York State on PAUSE order requires staying in your home except for certain essential activities such as essential work, grocery shopping and exercising, as well as the wearing of face masks in places where social distancing is difficult, like stores. We do not know when those orders will be lifted in our region but will update this page as amendments are made.

When Chautauqua Institution requests that you “quarantine” upon arrival to the area, we do so in response to a request by Chautauqua County that people travelling from other areas keep CDC guidance in mind, which suggests that if there is a chance you have been exposed and do not know it, self-quarantining for 14 days is recommended. Specifically, the CDC notes that “[s]omeone in self-quarantine stays separated from others, and they limit movement outside of their home or current place. A person may have been exposed to the virus without knowing it (for example, when traveling or out in the community), or they could have the virus without feeling symptoms. Quarantine helps limit further spread of COVID-19.” In making this request, the Institution is asking that you consider how the virus works and do all you can to limit possible moments of physical interaction with the new web of neighbors into which you are coming. To aid in that effort, the Afterwords Café is offering take-out and delivery service of their prepared foods as well as grocery delivery. Other take-out and delivery services around Chautauqua County are available here.

5/18/20 UPDATE: Since posting this FAQ, we have received many requests for more specificity around this issue, especially in light of remarks made by Chautauqua County Executive PJ Wendel regarding the guidance put out by the county. Please click here to review the guidance on Traveling to Chautauqua County.

Will security, safety, emergency and medical services on the grounds be limited this summer? (Updated 5/18/20)

Residents and guests should experience no substantial change in these critical areas as compared to a normal summer assembly season, with primary coverage provided by the Chautauqua Police Department (a constabulary designated by the Town of Chautauqua) and the Chautauqua Volunteer Fire Department. We are working with Westfield Memorial Hospital officials to determine their ability to staff the Chautauqua Primary Care Clinic.

Will the Chautauqua Police or security personnel enforce social distancing and mask-wearing? (Updated 5/18/20)

As with nearly all communities, we are primarily relying on residents and guests to act with respect for their neighbors’ health, safety and comfort in abiding by current laws and guidelines regarding social distancing and face-covering in public. If you are not willing to conduct yourself in a way that will put your fellow community members at ease, we ask that you not visit the grounds. The Chautauqua Police can be contacted at 716-357-6225 in the case of a public nuisance or safety hazard.

Will docks be in use and available? (Updated 5/15/20)

As permitted by the state, we plan to allow docks to go in this summer. That said, all decisions are subject to change should safety or regulatory concerns warrant.

5/15 UPDATE: The Institution will install, open and monitor its public docks this summer. Regular fees apply.

Chautauqua Institution offers rental slip, ramp and buoy mooring in an assigned space. Patrons who moor vessels at an Institution or private dock are required to purchase and display a current registration sticker.

Slip or ramp assignments for Institution-owned docks are subject to a registration fee and a mooring fee and are billed separately on receipt.

    • Mooring Renewals: Must have been purchased before March 16 to have reserved the prior season assignment.
    • Mooring Reassignment: Requests made by March 16 will be notified of reassignment in late May.
    • New Mooring: Assigned only through the Central Dock Office. Starting June 1, contact the office at docks@chq.org or 716-357-6245.

Will the Athenaeum Hotel be in operation? (Updated 5/18/20)

The Athenaeum Hotel has not yet determined its plans for the summer season. Hotels are considered among New York State’s essential services, and we do hope to be able to serve overnight guests, but are now in the process of determining the operational plan to do so safely. At this time we have not determined the extent to which we will be able to offer food and drink service or to permit guests and residents to access the hotel porch.

When will the fitness center reopen? (Updated 5/18/20)

We do not know at this time and are following regulations put forth by New York State. The fitness center likely falls under the recreational amenities that would be permitted to reopen in the fourth phase of New York Forward, the staged plan to reopen the state. With at least two weeks between implementation of each phase, it is likely the fitness center will be closed until at least mid-July.

Are private businesses permitted to operate on the grounds this summer? (Updated 5/11/20)

As allowed by the state and following safety and health orders, on-grounds businesses are permitted to operate at the discretion of owners/operators.

Will property owners not planning to be in residence be refunded their garbage collection fee? (Updated 5/11/20)

Whether a family is here or not, we will continue to charge for garbage removal and other services that maintain and ensure the security of the grounds.

Will there be activities for young people on the grounds this summer? (Updated 5/11/20)

While recreational venues such as playgrounds and tennis courts may open at some point this summer, all formal programming for youth will take place online this summer. We will not open the YAC, Club or Children’s School.

Why aren’t more gates open? (Updated 5/11/20)

The Chautauqua grounds are being staffed by the minimum essential personnel. Institution facilities, assets and public areas are not occupied or being monitored at the normal level of operations. We have closed all but the Main Gate in an effort to responsibly provide more security to protect Institution property, and that of our community members, during these current circumstances.

Will construction be allowed on the grounds this summer? What about other typical summer-specific policies? (Updated 5/11/20)

Currently, New York state executive orders do not allow for construction without a waiver provided by the state. Until such blanket permission is received, construction without a waiver should not be taking place. Property owners who disregard this executive order are subject to significant fines and penalties by the state. Once a decision from the state has been made that allows us to understand what is permissible, we will provide further guidance. That is likely not to occur until June. Over the next several weeks, we will be reviewing Institution regulations, including those related to construction, to determine if any temporary exceptions will be made for the 2020 summer season. Factors we will consider are congestion/density on the grounds, noise level, and essential work guidance in place at the time. We will issue a notification after these decisions have been made. In the meantime, please continue to follow the current Chautauqua Institution regulations; local, state and federal laws; and Executive Orders that may affect construction operations.

Will parking limits be enforced this summer? (Updated 5/11/20)

Similarly, a final decision on parking is slated for June. Factors we will consider include congestion/density on the grounds, accessibility, the needs of essential and emergency services personnel, and bicycle, scooter and pedestrian activity.

Do I have to remove my protective porch/house covering this summer? (Updated 5/18/20)

Yes. Regulation 5.14.14 of the Architectural and Land Use Regulations states that “winter curtains” or other protective barriers must be removed by the beginning of the summer assembly season. This regulation will remain in place this summer.

Is on-grounds ash tree removal moving forward? (Updated 5/18/20)

The removal program for ash trees will be more limited in scope than what we communicated in January, and will proceed on a case-by-case basis. Owners of property adjacent to an Institution-owned tree slated for removal will be provided advance notice.

 

FAQ: Online Assembly Details

Tell me more about the online experience you are planning. (Updated 5/2/20)

We plan to bring you amazing lectures, performances, homilies, master and enrichment classes and conversations on a variety of online platforms accessible to anyone from almost anywhere. The details of what can be technically and contractually offered online are still a work in progress. We will begin to update the calendar of events online immediately, and we will share detailed information about the offerings in June.

What is the cost of your 2020 online programming? (Updated 5/11/20)

Most of our online programs this season will be offered free of charge, and we hope our existing Chautauqua audience will use the opportunity to share widely with friends, colleagues and family. Some programs will carry a fee; those will generally be ones that our patrons would have expected to pay extra for in a usual season — Special Studies/enrichment classes, for instance.

Which Chautauqua programs will be included in the online assembly? (Updated 5/18/20)

Our goal is to re-create the 2020 calendar of events as completely as possible in the online space, with a focus on individual speakers, preachers and artists or small ensemble performances, given social distancing requirements that seem likely to be in place this summer. We are keeping the same previously announced 2020 week themes, with programs generally structured in the traditional Chautauqua formats and timeslots, and are working with our confirmed slate of 2020 lecturers, chaplains and artists to confirm their participation via remote video feed from their location at the time of the event. While we don’t anticipate all will be able to join us in our online assembly, we are receiving warm responses in these initial discussions. We are committed to delivering the most high-quality and engaging Chautauqua experience possible in the online space.

What is the status of the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra? (Updated 5/21/20)

Despite the open question as to whether musicians will be on the grounds this summer, we do know for sure that the Amphitheater will not host audiences this summer. That decision does not necessarily preclude the orchestra from performing without an audience and being recorded or livestreamed for inclusion in the online assembly (a possible topic of conversation). The orchestra has asked the Institution to announce whether musicians will be required at all on the grounds this summer. Following the lead of other arts organizations, the Institution has suggested (and already engaged in) an open dialogue with the musicians to discuss possible contours of the 2020 season and the compensation associated with the season, figuring that it will be most fruitful to reach a decision with the musicians’ input. We hope that the outcome will be a path forward that provides clarity and accounts for the health and welfare of everyone, the unforeseeable landscape of what will and won’t be permitted under evolving legal mandates, a continued revenue stream for the musicians regardless of how the season shapes up, and a commitment to ensure that the Institution rebounds from the financial chaos created by these unprecedented times. For other evening or popular entertainment, our general approach has been to work with the artists to make exciting plans for live programming in front of audiences in 2021 rather than continuing to exist in a state of uncertainty wondering how quickly and smoothly regulations will change to a point where 2020 on-grounds performances, even without audiences, could occur.

Most content streamed this spring has been through Facebook. Will there be other options? (Updated 5/11/20)

Yes, there will be a number of options for viewing official Chautauqua summer programming, including on your smart TV, your desktop or laptop, or even your phone. Much of our pre-season programming will continue to be streamed only through Facebook, but know that you do not need an account, or to be logged in, to view.

Can I contribute a program to Chautauqua’s online assembly? (Updated 5/11/20)

We are currently only working with previously confirmed speakers, artists and presenters to finalize details for their participation online, and our plans do not call for adding new program participants at this time. That said, as always, we invite suggestions for future programs through our online portal, and submissions of 2021 course proposals (applications available soon).

FAQ: 2021 Planning

When will you release the 2021 themes? (Updated 5/11/20)

We know you are eager to plan your 2021 Chautauqua experience, so we have expedited the 2021 theme planning process and expect to release them by June 1, a few weeks earlier than usual.

What are the dates for the 2021 season? (Updated 5/11/20)

The 2021 Summer Assembly is scheduled to begin on Saturday, June 26, 2021, and conclude on Sunday, Aug. 29, 2021.