AMERICAN CHRONICLES: THE CHAUTAUQUA INSTITUTION
Copyright: John C. Merino 2016
There is no question that the Chautauqua Institution is not only a gift to our county, but so too, deserves the world class reputation it has earned over more than a century as a seat for intellectual discourse and creative artistic presentations.
You’d be hard pressed to find any other center of learning like it, anywhere in the world.
…and the announcement earlier this week of the end of year retirement of its president, Tom Becker, should give us pause to reflect on his accomplishments and say to him as a community, “Thank you”.
I am troubled, however, by the planned demolition of the historic amphitheater in order to replace it with a modern version. I have followed the discussion for the past year, as presented in the media, as proponents of restoration have built….I believe….a strong case for retaining the existing theater and rehabbing it at a much less expensive price tag than the new plan calls for….A reported $42 million.
Here are my thoughts.
One thing that has always challenged me about the Institution is their limited interaction with Jamestown and the missed opportunities to develop “off-season” programming for a population of children largely economically disadvantaged.
Though over the years, they have solicited and received monies from the Jamestown based Foundation community (in the millions I might add) my personal experience some 12 years ago when I first came to our community to serve as CEO of the Gebbie Foundation, troubles me to this day.
I was invited to and attended a luncheon with their senior staff and a few board members. Being new to the position and only having a cursory knowledge of the Institutions value and import, it was suggested by my bosses that I accept the invitation, visit the Institution and ask a simple question.
That question was, “what can we do to have the Institution program more broadly in the Jamestown community, especially in the “off-season?”
The response I received was unanimous….as several persons attending the luncheon spoke to the same basic answer.
“To experience Chautauqua, one needed to be inside the walls of the Institution”
What troubles me about that idea is that “one” would think, that given their reputation and stature around the world, they would look at their local role in broader terms….feel some level of responsibility to help uplift and educate those children who might otherwise go a lifetime without hearing a concert, see a ballet or learning from the lecture series…all of which are unparalleled.
To give them credit, they have partnered with the Reg Lena, the Jackson Center, WRFA and many other local organizations for decades….yet, off season programming designed to nurture and expand the minds of Jamestown’s most vulnerable citizens (our children) has been relatively non-existent.
Is it their job to play a part in such an effort? I believe it is. After all, they are a part of our community, too.
If it was possible to raise some $42 million to replace the historic amphitheater from donors who believe that it is the correct step to take, then how tough would it be to create an “off-season” fund for specially designed programming benefitting the community’s children….in effect playing an important role in building new generations of local residents whose appreciation of the arts and letters presented there, guarantee future supporters…..and wouldn’t it help build better citizens in the long run?
Whenever legacies are discussed….regardless of the individual or organization being touted at the time, those who will stand out are not the ones who confine their efforts to a limited constituency, but rather reach out to those whose need for those gifts is obvious…and well outside a limited definition of who their beneficiaries are.
Experiencing Chautauqua should not be limited to what happens inside the walls of the Institution…especially for children who will never see a play, lecture, dance, concert or any other of the wonderful offerings presented there, unless nurtured to appreciate.
Because so much financial support has been awarded to them by Jamestown based foundations for decades, and in order to play a part in building a stronger local community, choose instead to rehabilitate and restore the existing historic amphitheater and take a few of the millions raised to teach our children during their school year (the institution’s off season).
Open the gates to Chautauqua’s valuable programming…let it out for our children to experience.
Legacy is built and sustained by the gifts that are given to those who otherwise will never know…and without the Chautauqua Institution reaching out in a generous way, many of our children will never know….and ultimately….care even less.
I’m John Merino and this is American Chronicles.
American Chronicles is a bi-weekly locally produced feature on WRFA written and produced by retired Gebbie Foundation CEO, John C. Merino. Currently, John is an Adjunct Professor of Micro-Economics, Organizational Management, and 20th Century World History at Mercyhurst University. American Chronicles airs twice monthly, Friday mornings at 7:15 and Friday Afternoons at 4:35. American Chronicles features original stories (partly fact and partly fiction), commentary on local, state , national, world conditions and more.
Find past episodes at www.wrfalp.com/tag/american-chronicles/