Community airs praise, concerns at Saturday’s Trustee Open Forum

Taylor Rogers | Staff Writer

“The hardest part, to be candid, is to convey this place in all the various aspects… to someone who’s never see it before. It is brutally difficult because there aren’t comparisons, and if there are, they don’t work,” said Tom Becker, president of Chautauqua Institution.

Becker’s statement was in response to a question at the Trustee Open Forum, held directly after the Institution Corporation Annual Meeting at 10 a.m. Saturday in the Hall of Philosophy.

The forum brought concerns and praises from the audience, including the suggestion that Institution administration focus more on cultural events around the grounds than weekly themes.

“How much do we limit people coming in by concentrating on (lecture themes) rather than pushing some of the other things that are going on?” asked Chautauqua resident Joe Goldfarb.

Becker responded by saying that while the point was well taken, themed weeks are an easy way to describe Chautauqua. Take that away, and it’s often very challenging.

Other comments and questions ranged from how to enhance the Chautauqua experience for young adults to problems with parking and the gates.

Another audience member brought up the treatment of those who work at the gates, saying the overall environment is unacceptable and unauthorized access is a big problem.

“Is that what we want Chautauqua known as, a rule-breaking institution?” he asked.

George Snyder, chairman of the board of trustees, said the board realizes a mindset change will be important in solving the problem of unauthorized users.

“We as a board have been struggling to get people to look at Chautauqua not as a commodity but as an idea that’s worthy of their all-in support,” he said.

He added that Chautauqua’s administration also is relying on Chautauquans themselves to spread the word about what a worthy experience coming here is.

Snyder also opened the Corporation Annual Meeting, which comprised a nomination to the board, the financial report and Becker’s annual report.

The property owners of Chautauqua elect four members to the board of trustees, Snyder said. The Chautauqua Property Owners Association presented its nominee, Jennifer DeLancey, who then was approved to serve her second four-year term.

Sebby Baggiano, vice president and treasurer, presented the last audited financial report. He said gain from operations in 2010 was down from 2009, with 2010 bringing in $1,015,000.

The Institution’s earned revenue in 2010, however, matched 2009.

Baggiano said both were financially sound years for the Institution, with the overall result being similar.

“I think if we look back from a bottom-line performance, those are more than likely the best two years that Chautauqua Institution financially has experienced,” Baggiano said.

He walked the audience through several other aspects of the financial report, including ticket sales and money brought in from the bookstore. He said any person interested in getting a copy of the report may do so at his office in the Colonnade.

Following Baggiano’s presentation, Becker gave his report, which included a comprehensive look at the adjustments the Institution made recently and where they are in respect to the strategic plan, which Chautauqua adopted in 2010.

Becker said they are continuing the sustainability study, which means examining data they’ve gathered and taking it to a “granular” level, examining individual sections of the Institution to look for improvements and areas where they can lower costs.

“We’re getting close to having the right presentation of that data, so it’s understandable,” he said. “What that produces is the beginning, not the end, of a conversation about individual sustainability of sub-areas of the grounds.”