Becker discusses strategic planning at porch discussion

RUBY WALLAU | Staff Photographer
President Tom Becker speaks about Chautauqua Institution’s strategic initiatives during the first Board of Trustees Porch Discussion on Hultquist Porch Wednesday morning.

Attract, attain, advocate, give. That was President Tom Becker’s mantra at the first Chautauqua Institution Board of Trustees Porch Discussion about the Institution’s strategic plan Wednesday morning.

“This is probably the first real strategy that the board has developed,” said trustee Ron Kilpatrick. “Before then, we had plans for fundraising but not really a plan for keeping Chautauqua sustainable forever.”

The Chautauqua Mix

The first initiative is what Becker called “The Chautauqua Mix.” The focus of this initiative is to increase the opportunities for the Institution’s programming and develop a wider audience base for programming on the grounds.

Becker said the variety of programs is what sets Chautauqua apart from any other music festival or lecture series.

“The real wisdom of this place, its definitive character, is that we bring all of that to bear in a way that isn’t forceful, meaning you find your own pathways in the course of a day,” Becker said.

He emphasized the artistic collaborations and partnerships being created at Chautauqua. Inter-arts collaborations like The Romeo & Juliet Project two years ago and this year’s Carmina Burana are the kinds of work that the Institution hopes to expand upon in the future.

The Community

The community initiative encompasses the buildings and infrastructure on the grounds as well as Chautauqua Lake.

Stormwater management is part of the plan to strive for environmental excellence at Chautauqua. This involves improving the stormwater system below ground, creating catch basins, channeling water off in appropriate direction, and creating rain gardens as another way to catch run-off.

The restoration of older buildings on the grounds, such as the Athenaeum Hotel, also falls under the community initiative.

“We needed to put money back into the hotel in a more aggressive way,” Becker said.

A few million dollars were put into the hotel quickly to deal with structural problems and then a plan was set to invest $500,000 every year for improving, renewing and redecorating rooms.


Organization and a systematic approach to transitions in leadership and creating opportunities for volunteerism in the community is a large part of the leadership initiative.

Specifically looking for someone who could grow into his or her role was especially important in the search for someone to fill Marty Merkley’s position as vice president and director of programming. Deborah Sunya Moore, currently associate director of programming, will succeed Merkley in the fall, and Becker said he has profound confidence in her abilities.

Becker also updated the audience on the search for artistic direction of Chautauqua Opera. Following Jay Lesenger’s April announcement that he would step down following this season Moore assembled a committee and led a process that has led to two finalists. Becker said both represent exciting possibilities for the future of opera at Chautauqua.

Financial Sustainability

“We put in a lot of time examining our revenue over a long period of time and looking at models of projected behavior going forward,” Becker said.

The Institution has managed to keep ticket prices relatively steady, with an average increase of 3 to 3.5 percent per year.

“Cost control is vital,” Becker said. “We’ve held our prices, tried to hold our expenses down and emphasized philanthropy as best we can.”

Brand Management

Brand management is all about how Chautauqua projects itself and what it is trying to accomplish, Becker said.

This is where “attract, attain, advocate and give” come into play. This approach focuses first on enticing new people to come to the grounds, then making them feel genuinely welcomed and engaged.

“Once they are here we need to be ‘stickier’ and hold on to them better,” Becker said. “It is all about moving people along the continuum.”

The Chautauqua Board of Trustees Porch Discussions occur at 9:30 a.m. every Wednesday on the porch of the Hultquist Center. Each session is focused on a different theme and open to the public.