Cover image for Chautauqua : an American utopia
Title:
Chautauqua : an American utopia
Author:
Simpson, Jeffrey.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Harry N. Abrams in association with the Chautauqua Institution, 1999.
Physical Description:
128 pages : illustrations (some color), map ; 26 cm
Language:
English
ISBN:
9780810926080
Format :
Book

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Central Library LC6553.C5 S56 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
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Central Library LC6553.C5 S56 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Grosvenor Room-Buffalo Collection Non-Circ
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Central Library LC6553.C5 S56 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
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Angola Public Library LC6553.C5 S56 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
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Eden Library LC6553.C5 S56 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Local History
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Eggertsville-Snyder Library LC6553.C5 S56 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
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Grand Island Library LC6553.C5 S56 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
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Hamburg Library LC6553.C5 S56 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
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Marilla Free Library LC6553.C5 S56 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Local History
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Orchard Park Library LC6553.C5 S56 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Local History
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Anna M. Reinstein Library LC6553.C5 S56 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
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Williamsville Library LC6553.C5 S56 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
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Audubon Library LC6553.C5 S56 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
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Kenmore Library LC6553.C5 S56 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
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Summary

Summary

In this extensively illustrated volume, Simpson (author, and contributing editor to Architectural Digest) and photographer Solomon present text and photographs (both color and bandw) that pay tribute to the cultural heritage of the unique community that for 125 years has been shaped by a vision of education and opportunity. It celebrates Chautauqua as the home of the oldest summer arts festival in America, a National Historic Landmark, and a lakeside vacation retreat that combines music, art, drama, religion, stimulating discussion, history, and recreation. Annotation copyrighted by Book News, Inc., Portland, OR


Excerpts

Excerpts

Chapter One Utopia by the Lake Looking back in 1885, Dr. Vincent would state that there had been "a hunger of mind abroad in the land." He--John Heyl Vincent, a minister in the Methodist Episcopal Church--was writing in western New York on a cottage porch that was sheathed in striped tenting. This confection of a dwelling stood in a lakeshore row of Victorian summer cottages bedecked with wooden gingerbread; a roofed open-air amphitheater, looking like the biggest revival tent ever, was set into the hillside nearby; and a grand clapboard hotel sprawled majestically along the shore. The picture-book small town was Chautauqua; and Dr. Vincent was describing what the community meant beneath its dress of summer festivity to a country hurtling into an industrial and technological future from a war-torn past. Chautauqua would satisfy a widespread yearning for cultural life. It was the center of a nationally renowned educational movement that Vincent, with an Akron, Ohio, inventor named Lewis Miller, had founded in 1874. It would give moral and intellectual guidance to Americans for years to come.     Today The Chautauqua Institution, as the community is officially called, is a collection of about twelve hundred Victorian cottages, contemporary houses, condominiums, hotels--big and small--shops, and public meeting halls, covering 225 acres along the shore of Chautauqua Lake in the westernmost part of New York State. Ten thousand years ago, glaciers gouged out the state's Finger Lakes. Chautauqua Lake is one of them, though, near Lake Erie, it is a hundred miles west of the others. The community's townlike campus is called the Grounds, and during the winter there are about four hundred people there, but for nine weeks in the summer the population swells to nearly eight thousand at any one time. Over the course of the summer, nearly 150,000 people come from all over the United States, Canada, and Europe to attend symphony and chamber-music concerts; lectures and sermons; opera, theater, and ballet performances; jazz and rock concerts and cabaret; and summer school. Through those weeks, known as the Season, there is an admission charge to enter the Grounds, but anyone can buy a ticket for almost any fragment of time--a half day, an evening, a week, or the whole nine weeks. Once visitors have entered the Grounds, they are free to attend most of the programs, which take place either in the five-thousand-seat, roofed open-air Amphitheater or in one of the open pavilions dotted among the groves and cottages. Car access is strictly limited during the Season, so for that period Chautauqua becomes a community on foot.     And community it is--both in the physical sense of a place in which people share their lives and in the general sense of representing shared interests and values. Chautauqua draws on the deep American tradition of the town as a planned community built by people with a common philosophy who want to live out and perpetuate their ideals. Starting with Puritan governor John Winthrop, who wrote in 1630 that he wanted the Massachusetts Bay Colony to be "a city set upon a hill to shed a light unto the world," there has been a sense in America that a community should improve the spiritual and mental life of its inhabitants as well as house them. Groups as diverse as the nineteenth-century Utopian communities, the hippie communes of the 1960s, and the new Disney-sponsored city Celebration have attempted to set an example with their shared lives. At times this attitude has seemed to inform the whole of American society and our relations with the world beyond our shores.     Chautauqua, founded with the specific purpose of adult education, has been a beacon of American culture and values for well over a century. "Chautauqua is part of the American imagination," said Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David McCullough, giving the first Chautauqua Lecture, in 1993. "It belongs with Concord, Massachusetts, or Hannibal, Missouri, or Springfield, Illinois, as one of these places that help define who we are and what we believe in. It has its own mythic force."     Nine American presidents have spent time at Chautauqua; opera singers, bandleaders, revivalists, aviators, and diplomats have sung, performed, and orated there. Theodore Roosevelt called it "typically American, in that it is typical of America at its best"; George Gershwin wrote his Concerto in F at Chautauqua; Amelia Earhart landed her plane on the community's golf course; FDR made his "I Hate War" speech there; and President Clinton practiced for the debates of his 1996 presidential campaign at Chautauqua. In 1986 an early move in the Soviet Union's glasnost effort involved 250 Chautauquans going with American entertainers and State Department speakers to the Soviet Union to hold "a chautauqua." A similar contingent of Soviets was entertained on the Grounds at Chautauqua the next year, leading to two more conferences. Through it all, individuals and families learning, participating, and improving themselves--and then passing it on--has been what Chautauqua was about. "Now the doctrine which Chautauqua teaches is this," wrote Dr. Vincent in 1885: "that every man has a right to be all that he can be."     Physically, Chautauqua has the appearance of a tightly knit small city behind a fence. Because the original lots were designed for tents or cottages, the center of town, with streets forming a rough grid cut through by leafy ravines, tends to be at two-thirds scale--in fact, the streetscapes almost give the feeling of a movie set. The closeness of the old cottages to each other and to the narrow streets, with the imposing Amphitheater and smaller pillared pavilions scattered among them, makes Chautauqua seem urban in miniature. People staying at Chautauqua live in public spaces--porches, the town green, the Amphitheater--as much as they live in their homes. This situation is classically urban, in the tradition of cities such as Paris and Florence where people tend to spend much of their time in open squares, cafés, and concert halls. Every domestic architectural style used in America between 1875 and World War II can be seen at Chautauqua, along with such public styles as the turn-of-the-nineteenth-century City Beautiful movement, which prescribed formal outdoor spaces and neoclassical buildings. At Chautauqua this is represented by formal allées of trees and neoclassical meeting halls based on Greek and Roman temples.     The quality of being urban in miniature points up a playful element in the Chautauqua atmosphere that is as essential as the seriousness of its program and its ideals. It was the inspiration of the founders, who began the Institution as a two-week educational program for Sunday School teachers, to situate their gathering in a pastoral setting that would involve relaxation as well as instruction. On one level, Chautauqua has always been a summer resort. Today there are two eighteen-hole golf courses (the earlier one was designed between 1913 and 1924, partly by famed golf-course architect Donald Ross), a day camp for children, tennis courts, three beaches, and docks for more than five hundred boats.     Chautauqua's history, to give a précis, falls into four periods. From its founding in 1874 to about 1925, Chautauqua functioned as a national podium. Because of its reading club--the first in America--the prominence of its speakers, and the extraordinary matching of its goals and programs to the preoccupations of mainstream America of the time, the name was a household word from the Allegheny Mountains to the Rockies and beyond. In the 1920s--all at once--the automobile, the movies, and the radio removed Chautauqua's podium function, and the Institution moved into its second phase. Arthur Bestor, Chautauqua's president from 1915 to his death in 1944, was a brilliant program strategist, and his solution to the Institution's diminished national effect was to expand Chautauqua's program internally, thus creating the nation's first arts festival. During the Depression, Chautauqua had financial troubles, like the rest of the nation; and after being saved from receivership in 1936, the Institution entered its third period--thirty-five years of dormancy. Thousands of people still flocked to the grounds each summer; the program continued, as varied as ever; and platform speakers still debated the issues of world hunger and atomic weaponry. But the public buildings decayed, with Band-Aid repairs holding them together from year to year, and any program component that had to be replaced tended to be seen to with less expense.     Starting in 1970 with the election of Richard Miller, a Milwaukee lawyer and great-grandson of Chautauqua cofounder Lewis Miller, as chairman of the board of trustees, the financial--and ultimately the programmatic --needs of the Institution were addressed. The renaissance of Chautauqua--its fourth period--began.     A younger constituency--some of them the children and grandchildren of longtime Chautauquans, others newly aware of the Institution--inherited or bought and renovated old cottages, while the community expanded as cottages and condominiums were built in late-twentieth-century style in the north and south ends of the Grounds.     Strengthened by a new direction, more money, and a younger constituency, in the 1970s and '80s Chautauqua began to engage the world again and be recognized as a national forum. Its status was symbolized by the exchanges with the Soviet Union from 1985 to 1989. In the 1990s, speakers have included Sandra Day O'Connor, David McCullough, and presidential biographer Michael Beschloss, as well as Bill Clinton, Bob Dole, and Jack Kemp. Platform themes such as "World Competitiveness of U.S. Education and Industry," "The Promise and Threat of Biotechnology," and "American Music: Its Origins and Identity" indicate that Chautauqua is fully engaged in the topics of the day. Some of the issues the Institution wrestles with in its relations to the world outside the fence, however, are whether to try to enlarge the constituency by increasing facilities on the Grounds and setting up programs off-Season in different sites around the country; how to compete with or enter the media explosion in the arts or whether to capitalize on the unique retreat aspect of the Grounds; and how to achieve racial diversity in an Institution whose constituency is almost wholly white.     In the vigorous renaissance of Chautauqua's present lies the strength of its past. The Chautauqua Challenge, adopted as a statement of purpose by the board of trustees in 1976, says, in part, that Chautauqua is "to be a center for the identification and development of the best in human values ... to be a resource for the enriched understanding of the opportunities and obligations of community, family, and personal life by fostering the sharing of varied cultural, educational, religious and recreational experience." From John Vincent's statement that "every man has a right to be all that he can be" to the Chautauqua Challenge, we shall look in more detail at how this unique and uniquely American place came to represent culture, continuity, and community on the lakeshore.     But first we need some context.     There were various strains in nineteenth-century American culture that Chautauqua drew on, but there was also a significant shift in how Americans earned their living and where they lived that helped the Institution to succeed. In 1874 the population of the United States was approximately 44 million people. Eighty-five percent of the population lived east of the Mississippi River. The 25 million people north of the Mason-Dixon line and the Ohio River were feeling the loosening of the iron bands of grief that gripped many families who had lost sons, husbands, and brothers in the devastating Civil War, which had ended nine years earlier. But prompting the healing in both North and South was a swelling growth of industry, which between 1860 and 1900 would make the United States one of the great manufacturing nations of the world and turn a largely rural society into a largely urban one. In 1860 only 20 percent of the population lived in cities, but by 1900 that number had almost doubled. This meant that there was a dramatic change in daily life for many Americans. On the farm there had been no fixed hours, although the labor was almost unceasing, and there was limited access to other people, new ideas, and any entertainment. ("They must make their own fun," people used to say, driving past a godforsaken farmstead or crossroads hamlet.) In the city, on the other hand, there were defined hours of work and the stimulation of many new ideas, many new people, and many venues for entertainment, from pool halls to lecture halls.     The new leisure and the new possibilities of filling it, though attractive, were also a little frightening. In the country, you knew who you were--you lived on the Magruder place or the Anderson farm or in the Daubenspeck house--but in the city you were just one of a faceless multitude. Rural American life offered the sense of being an individual within a community. The American tradition of self-sufficiency and the pursuit of happiness promised by the Declaration of Independence were supported, if not handsomely fulfilled, by earning your own living on your own land. But who could feel like an individual in the rush-hour crowd at the corner of Broadway and 23rd Street?     Into this newly found leisure time and the search for a community that would enhance, rather than annihilate, the feeling of being an individual American came--as though tailor-made by God, Congress, and the Founding Fathers--Chautauqua. Copyright © 1999 Chautauqua Institution. All rights reserved.

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