Joss van Seventer | Guest Writer
Chautauqua President Tom Becker opened the final Trustee Porch Discussion of the 2011 Season on Wednesday afternoon with a preview of the 2012 Season and a discussion of the wider mission of the Institution. With several audience members voicing their belief that Chautauqua’s last three years have been some of the most successful in its history, Becker’s focus on the future revealed that the Institution has no intention of slowing down.
Beginning with a tribute to the larger purpose of Chautauqua, Becker emphasized the continuity and tradition of the Institution along with a more humbling message of service to the outside world. Chautauqua, Becker said, is not such a unique place solely because of its 138-year continuity or tradition, but because the Institution helps people better understand their role in society and “the life they should lead.”
The ability for an institution so dedicated to its traditions to be able to adopt new and creative ideas — and to help others do the same — is, Becker said, a hallmark of the Chautauqua experience. His preview of the 2012 lecture series highlighted the ideas of civic duty and creative thinking as key areas of focus (see above article for further details on 2012 morning lecture series).
Becker concluded his presentation by emphasizing that the decisions on who to bring and which topics to cover for every Chautauqua lecture series is a highly iterative process, and that he has received input from numerous sources in creating next year’s program. Becker said he could not yet speak to next season’s arts scene as it is yet to be assembled.
Other questions centered on audience behavior during the lectures. Both those in attendance and Becker hoped to encourage audience members next year to hold their applause during the lectures even if they wholeheartedly agree with what the speaker is saying. Leaving behind one’s political “team colors,” Becker said, is also an imperative if Chautauquans wish to truly appreciate all that Chautauqua lectures have to offer.
The final questions of the morning focused on partnerships with other organizations, especially with colleges and universities. Although Becker has encountered problems dealing with some academic institutions that are “particularly hidebound as to how they do things,” he also has seen a measure of success in broadcasting Chautauqua lectures to other intellectual communities. “Our lectures are particularly appealing because we attract a lot of big names and because the lectures themselves are well-reasoned and tend to avoid undue partisanship and controversy,” he said.