Children’s School staff works to take advantage of Chautauqua resources


A young boy helps members of the Chautauqua Theater Company Conservatory line up chairs for an event at Children’s School. Photo by Demetrius Freeman.

Josh Cooper | Staff Writer

Every summer, the children who attend Children’s School do everything normal children do: make arts and crafts, play on playgrounds and hear stories. However, they also get to experience the arts in a way Children’s School administrators say is unique.

“It’s been a strategy for some time at Children’s School to take full advantage of the rich resources at Chautauqua, and particularly around the arts,” said Jack Voelker, director of the Department of Recreation and Youth Services.

Each year, the Children’s School has representatives of the various arts programs at Chautauqua visit and give demonstrations of their art form. For example, there is a demonstration of the “instrument of the week,” wherein a representative from the School of Music comes to the school to introduce the kids to a musical instrument. Members of the ballet and theater companies also do in-house demonstrations for the kids.

The children also make special trips out of the Children’s School to see the artists in their own environments. They visit the Arts Quad to see the print shop and the pottery studio.

“There’s a wealth of art here at Chautauqua,” said Gretchen Jervah, curriculum coordinator for the Children’s School. “That wealth of art means that these children can have a wealth of experiences interacting with the art and the artists.”

Voelker said one goal of having the arts be a part of the curriculum at Children’s School is to show the people behind the art.

“One of the things that’s been most important to me in many of our youth programs is making the human connection between the producer of the art and the art and the child.” Voelker said. “Too often, young people grow up thinking that music, for example, comes from a CD, and they don’t realize the effort it takes to create that music. They see visual art, but they don’t understand that someone painstakingly created that. So making the personal connection is really what this is all about.”

He said that connection happens best in the right environment.

“It’s about allowing them to see and talk to the artists in that informal setting,” he said. “It’s not up on a stage. It’s not intimidating. With the ‘instrument of the week,’ for example, they can actually touch and play the instruments. That’s a totally different experience from just going to a concert.”

Jervah said the close proximity to the arts is a unique part of Children’s School.

“I’m a teacher in the off-season, and nowhere have I seen a community with this much art in it and where children have the opportunity to learn about the arts like this one,” Jervah said. “Chautauqua is all about lifetime learning, and it really starts here.”

She said it’s not only the kids who learn about the arts.

“The staff and the teachers are learning about the different arts, too,” Jervah said. “That’s definitely a unique thing and a very Chautauquan thing.”