Almost everyone struggles to fit all that is Chautauqua into one simple sentence. But that didn’t stop Megan Smith from trying during Friday’s NOW Generation Reception.
“It’s the TED conference, only if it was founded in the 1800s. And lasted all summer,” Smith said.
Smith’s description provides a poignant example of a younger Chautauquan’s search for relevance. NOW Generation seeks to connect those ages 21–50 and to provide the resources to allow them to make Chautauqua pertinent to young people well into the future.
The reception, which took place at 5 p.m. at the President’s Cottage, boasted 150 attendees. The first half-hour of the event was social — a time for people to meet, reunite and chat on the goings-on of Chautauqua.
Tina Downey, director of the Chautauqua Fund, was the first of the evening’s speakers.
“Welcome home,” Downey said. “It’s an amazing summer.”
Downey introduced Megan Sorenson, assistant director of the fund and the primary staff member responsible for working with members of NOW Generation.
Sorenson emphasized that Chautauqua is more than just a place — it’s a living, breathing idea that permeates every aspect of life.
“The stories and relationships we build here help keep us connected,” Sorenson said.
Sorenson touched on some of the initiatives that the Institution and the Foundation have undertaken to utilize 21st-century technology.
“The Institution is striving to adapt to that ever-changing landscape,” Sorenson said. “We really want your input. Let us know your ideas.”
Sorenson stressed that time, talent and philanthropy are also important to contribute to the Institution.
“I’m excited to learn what your passions are,” she said.
Matt Ewalt, editor of The Chautauquan Daily, spoke on his appreciation of all the ideas NOW Generation members can generate. The age demographic is so important, Ewalt said, that they are the inspiration for an entire week’s theme next season — Week Two’s “The Next Greatest Generation.”
“We’re trying to do some things online to engage people,” Ewalt said.
One of the new engagement initiatives that Ewalt referred to is the “Tell Your CHQ Story” initiative. People may share their connections with Chautauqua online via Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or Storify.
“These stories are told by people in the community, not by us,” Ewalt said.
Leslie Mathis, digital communications manager, further explained the CHQ Stories project.
“We view our social media here as an extension of the Chautauqua community,” Mathis said.
She and Marketing and Communications staffers video-record Chautauquans telling their stories on the porch of the St. Elmo and then post the videos online to share with others.
Smith, an employee at Google, explained that Chautauqua is also expanding its online presence by hosting Street View cameras from Google.
Special cars and tricycles with cameras facing every angle will roam the streets this week, capturing images of the Institution that will be available on Google’s map feature.
“It’s an important place to bring forward,” Smith said. “We want to bring Chautauqua out into the world.”
George Snyder, chair of the Institution’s board of trustees, said NOW Generation is the perfect venue for introducing new ideas to move Chautauqua into the future.
“There’s such a wonderful energy from within this group,” Snyder said.
He updated those present on some of the current issues facing the Institution, including the process for selecting his successor to serve as chair of trustees and the major renovations planned for the Amphitheater.
Institution President Thomas M. Becker closed the evening with a few words on the singularity of Chautauqua.
“We create a community here that is different from any other community on the face of the Earth,” Becker said. “And it speaks to an idyllic sense of what it is to be free, of an environment in which creativity is the currency of the community and in which values matter.”