Merkley talks arts programming at porch chat


Marty Merkley, vice president and director of programming, discusses the challenges of arts programming at Chautauqua in Wednesday’s Trustees Porch Discussion on the Hultquist Center porch. Photo by Lauren Rock.

Rabab Al-Sharif | Staff Writer

At Wednesday’s weekly Trustees Porch Discussion on the Hultquist Center porch, Institution Vice President and Director of Programming Marty Merkley spoke with members of the community about arts programming in Chautauqua.

Arts programming entails all of the visual and performing arts, Merkley said, including opera, theater, music, dance, chamber music, visual arts and all the groups associated with those genres.

Having a variety in the arts is important, he said, because everyone likes different things.

“I will say it is impossible that everyone likes everything all the time,” Merkley said. “If that were the case, we would probably all be raptured into heaven, because we’d be living in a near-perfect world.”

Programs such as the Friday night entertainment acts in the Amphitheater are geared to bring people in from outside of the grounds, Merkley said. The Institution usually tries to bring in country and rock musicians, because those sell the most tickets.

Selling tickets is important, as it helps subsidize other entertainment such as opera, dance and the symphony.

“If we don’t do Friday nights, we don’t subsidize everything else,” he said.

When choosing those acts, Merkley said he tries to select artists, such as Diana Krall and Straight No Chaser, that will appeal to broad audiences. It is his job to try to find entertainment that will please people from ages 12 to 90.

“Believe me, it ain’t easy,” he said.

Members of the audience also expressed concern with the loud volume of rock and country concerts.

Merkley said there are times when his only option to eliminate the noise would be to stop the concert altogether, which is something he cannot do.

“I’m sorry to say this, but there are going to be evenings that are going to be loud,” he said. “It’s that kind of music.”

He referred to Friday night as “Aunt Mildred evening.” Chautauquans’ choices of escaping the noise are to go to the cinema or to visit Aunt Mildred in Westfield and hear the concert from her front porch, he said.

Improving sound in the Amp is Merkley’s main concern with the structure’s new rehabilitation project.

“It can be pretty, it can be beautiful, it can be nice, but if doesn’t work acoustically, we have failed, and we will be burned at the stake in Bestor Plaza,” he said.

Chautauquans also asked about maintenance and repairs in Elizabeth S. Lenna and Norton halls.

There have been nine plans to renovate Norton Hall, and a 10th to build an entirely new building, Merkley said, but because Norton is essentially a concrete box, those renovations become difficult.

“If, in fact, at some time in our lives, a bomb were dropped in Chautauqua, the only thing that would survive would be Norton Hall,” he said.

Change in any way is enormously expensive because of the building’s thick concrete walls, Merkley said. So Norton Hall will continue to receive no more than cosmetic repairs.

Trustees Porch Discussions are held at 9:30 a.m. every Wednesday on the Hultquist Center porch.