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Chautauqua Institute and the Arts: Provoking Dialogue and Making Connections

In 1874, a Methodist preacher and a businessman founded Chautauqua Institution in southwestern New York to train Sunday School teachers and provide adult education. Today, as WRTI’s Susan Lewis reports, Chautauqua’s many offerings include lectures by high-profile speakers, and a panoply of art and music events – all in a disarmingly informal lakeside setting. 

Radio Script: 

Susan Lewis: In 1929, the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra was founded – quickly followed by an opera company – and an opera house. Marty Merkley, has been director of Chautauqua programming for 25 years.

Marty Merkley: The greatest show of emotion and power is through the arts. That expression has become an integral part of this community.

SL: Inside its gates, Chautauqua looks like a well-kept small town, with homes, shops, cafes, and many houses of worship; people of all ages stroll, ride bikes, walk dogs, maybe headed to the lake or to an art show, concert or play; to an event in the amphitheater, or a lecture in the open air Philosophy Hall.

MM: So The biggest problem is choice...we basically have 14 performing venues that go 7 days a week.

SL: Speakers and performers come from every realm: academia, the media, religion, politics, and the arts.   Many take questions.

MM: There’s permission granted to discuss what’s going on, what you saw, how you felt about it, good, bad, or indifferent.

SL: Audience members may also talk with artists on the street, such as Conductor Rossen Milanov. Now music director of symphonies in Princeton, Columbus, Ohio, and Spain, he's also directing the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra.

Rossen Milanov: I go to the coffee shop in the morning. I talk on the way to a lot of people who have seen me perform last night…they want to give you feedback, to tell you how much the music matters to them. This is something I have never experienced anywhere else.

SL: Over 100,00 people visit Chautauqua during its nine-week summer season.

Listen to more of Susan's interview with Marty Merkley, Director of Programming at Chautauqua for 25 years.

Listen to Conductor Rossen Milanov talk with Susan Lewis about his experience making music and making connections at Chautauqua.

Susan writes and produces stories about music and the arts. She’s host and producer of WRTI’s TIME IN online interview series, and contributes weekly intermission interviews for The Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert series. She’s also been a regular host of WRTI’s Live from the Performance Studio sessions.