Such a Great Place - Random Reasonings

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Such a Great Place

I love being at the Chautauqua Institute at Chautauqua, New York.

A few years ago my husband and I heard Arthur C. Brooks – past president of the American Enterprise Institute, social scientist, and noted author – speak to a packed audience at the amphitheatre there on the topic of “Finding Success, Happiness, and Purpose in the Second Half of Life.”

We were so enthralled with his message that we bought DVDs of the event to give to friends and family.

We also heard a fabulous performance by The Piano Guys. We went to a lecture by Jessica Bruder author of the book Nomadland, Surviving America in the 21st Century on which the movie Nomadland was based.

And there was a fascinating presentation by Stanford University professor Jeremy Bailenson about the studies and findings at Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab.

Chautauqua is a beautiful, peaceful place where ideas are freely exchanged and different cultures and points-of-view are assimilated with ease.

Which is why I was shocked and appalled at the hateful attack on author Salman Rushdie when he was on stage at the amphitheatre on August 12.

Of all the places something like that could happen, I never thought it would be at Chautauqua. Novelists, journalists, and writers have always been mainstays of the Chautauqua experience.

The Chautauqua Institute was founded in 1878 as a non-profit education center and summer resort. The grounds are full of Victorian splendor from the private homes to the many guest houses, B&B’s, and vacation rentals to the historic Athenaeum Hotel, built in Second Empire style in 1881 and thought to be the largest wooden building in the Eastern U.S.

The first programs were a teaching camp for Sunday School teachers. Programs eventually expanded to include arts, education, and music in addition to religion. Today they include social, political, scientific, current events, and humanitarian topics plus children’s and recreational activities. Each week has a different theme.

Presidents from Ulysses S. Grant to Bill Clinton have visited here. Social pioneers such as Susan B. Anthony and Booker T. Washington have been here. Musicians of all genres from Ella Fitzgerald to Sheryl Crow to John Phillip Sousa and the Beach Boys have played here.

There is comedy, with opportunities to laugh at ourselves through presentations from comedians like Jay Leno, Bill Engvall, Jeff Foxworthy and Jim Gaffigan.

I wish there were more Chautauqua types of places where people could take a break from the routines of life to gather and share intellectual ideas, artistic performances, literary achievements, social philosophies, and cultural experiences.

Forbes magazine called it a “Magical Place” that is a community, learning center, retreat, vacation destination, and American Utopia all in one.

For most of the year it is a small town of about 400 people along the shores of Chautauqua Lake. But for nine weeks each summer, from the end of June to the end of August, it grows to accommodate about 7,500 new visitors each week who come to get refreshed and culturally recharged.

If you decide to give Chautauqua a visit next summer to indulge in some personal growth, be sure to make your reservations early. Everything gets booked quickly.

Themes for the 2023 season are:

June 24-July 1: Friendship

July 1-8: Games, a Celebration of Our Most Human Past Time

July 8-15: Can the Center Hold?

July 15-22: The State of Believing

July 22-29: Infrastructure, Building and Maintaining the Physical, Social, and Civic Underpinings of Society

July 29-August 5: A Life of Literature

August 5-12: The National Parks, How America’s Best Idea is Meeting 21st Century Challenges

August 12-19: Exploring the Transformative Power of Music with Renee Fleming

August 19-27: The Global South, Expanding the Scope of Geopolitical Understanding

“Associate yourself with people of good quality. For it is better to be alone than to be in bad company.”

Booker T. Washington

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