Merkley discusses program operations at Porch Discussion


Marty Merkley, vice president and director of programming, speaks to a crowd on Hultquist Center porch Wednesday morning on the importance of the arts for the weekly Trustee Porch Discussion. Photo by Demetrius Freeman.

Taylor Rogers | Staff Writer

Marty Merkley is a maestro, a magician, a juggler — but not in the literal sense.

At least, that’s how Jill Bellowe, Chautauqua Institution Board of Trustees member, introduced him at Week Five’s Trustee Porch Discussion on Wednesday.

Merkley, vice president and director of programming, spoke on the importance of the Institution’s fine and performing arts, as well as his role in planning the season’s 2,000-plus events.

He initially spoke about the first-time visitors, those who haven’t had a chance to open a Chautauqua calendar. It’s an overwhelming experience, he said. Programming here has to be extensive, and that’s often unexpected for new guests.

“The breadth of our program is unmatched anywhere else,” Merkley said, adding that several elements go into making the events and experiences here so diverse.

Chautauqua is unique in many ways. It houses both professional and educational visual and performing arts. Merkley said roughly 300 students are in the different schools.

Both the professionals and the students offer community members a chance to be a part of the creative process. Instead of just experiencing the final product, whether it be theater, dance or opera, he said, Chautauquans have the opportunity to observe the artist at work, in rehearsal or at the studio.

“I think we’re very lucky,” Merkley said. “We get to watch them do their job … and I think that’s just amazing.”

He then went on to discuss the importance of the art world as a whole, referencing the Week Four theme, “A Case for the Arts.”

Merkley discussed the prestige and dedication of those who lead the fine and performing arts, mentioning Patricia McBride, master teacher for the Chautauqua School of Dance. McBride has a place in The George Balanchine Trust, allowing her to pass on his legacy, as well as hers, by staging his works to her students.

“Every one of our artistic staff and faculty are passing on the legacy of their particular art form to a new generation,” he said.

The arts have played a prominent role in Merkley’s life for a long time. He said he’s been a performer, an organizer and a presenter in some form for all of his life. It’s hard for him to picture a life without them, he added.

“I don’t know how one exists without art… I can’t imagine that,” he said.

Following his speech, Merkley took various questions related to programming, including when and how the Institution will choose a new Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra music director. The process will take up to three years, he said, starting next summer. He will cycle conductors throughout the season, candidates will be chosen, and the selection process will begin.

Attendees also asked Merkley about the possibility of certain performers coming to the grounds, including pianist Alexander Gavrylyuk, who will be at Chautauqua at some point next summer, and violinist Augustin Hadelich, who will be here Aug. 18.

The Trustee Porch Discussions are held each week at Hultquist Center porch with a different topic related to the Institution’s operations.