Scholarships make study at Chautauqua possible for talented arts students

People come to Chautauqua Institution from different backgrounds, from all over the world, but their reasons for coming are usually the same: They want to learn and enrich themselves.

That’s why Chautauqua makes many efforts to attract the best and brightest talents from around the country to learn, particularly in Chautauqua’s Schools of Fine and Performing Arts. It’s a place that strives to help young, aspiring artists and musicians hone their skills, work with renowned teachers and grow with their peers. This year, about 80 percent of students receive some level of financial aid, which on average covers 65 percent of the cost of attendance, according to the Chautauqua Foundation. The total support awarded in 2015 was nearly $695,000.

Looking into a small window of the lives of three students who have received scholarships illustrates the opportunity this community provides for those who work for it.

Julimar Gonzalez

The talent that brought 18-year-old violinist Julimar Gonzalez to the School of Music first brought her to the United States. Born and raised in Venezuela, Gonzalez moved to the U.S. three years ago. She has been studying violin since she was 7 years old.

Gonzalez first came to the U.S. after getting a tip from a friend that had already visited the States. When Gonzalez told her friend she, too, would like to go to America to attend college, he said: “You have to go with the Vamoses.”

Upon returning to America, her friend delivered a video of Gonzalez playing violin to Almita Vamos, a private instructor of the Music Institute of Chicago. After listening to Gonzalez play, Vamos invited her to Chicago to study and receive private lessons. In the fall, Gonzalez will be attending the Music Institute of Chicago as a student.

This is Gonzalez’s second year at Chautauqua. She first came to the School of Music after entering the Sphinx Competition for Black and Latino Music Students in 2014. She reached the semi-finals. After the competition, she received a pamphlet that listed different summer music schools. One of them was Chautauqua Institution.

“I already knew about Chautauqua because of my friends,” Gonzalez said. “So I was like, ‘Yes, I want to go to Chautauqua,’ and I started searching for it in the pamphlet, and I found it.”

Returning again with scholarship support, Gonzalez said her time in Chautauqua has been bliss.

“I love Chautauqua so much,” she said. “I think it’s an amazing place. Maybe I would go somewhere else next year, but I will go back to Chautauqua [in the future]. It’s just something I have to do again. I love it.”

Gonzalez said she’s still trying to figure out her long-term professional plans, but music is her passion. She knows she wants to play in an orchestra or give recitals. But at the moment, she wants to finish school.

While in America, Gonzalez is glad she can study in Chautauqua and Chicago because, in Venezuela, things have gotten difficult, she said. The economy is going under, and inflation is on the rise. Her parents work hard to get some of the most basic items, and they are proud their daughter made it to the U.S. to study and pursue her passion.

If things improve in her country, she might go back, Gonzalez said. But for now, her future remains in America. If it wasn’t for her scholarship, Gonzalez said she’d probably be back in Venezuela for the summer until the semester starts in Chicago, so she’s happy to study in Chautauqua.

“It’s good because I’m improving a lot here,” Gonzalez said. “I’m receiving lessons. I’m going to orchestras; it’s just great. I learn a lot here. I love it.”

Laura Spector

Laura Spector, a 21-year-old piano student, has returned to Chautauqua for a second summer with a scholarship.

Last year, Spector found out about the Institution from a friend. She was selected from the waiting list and ultimately placed in the annual Chautauqua Piano Competition.

When she first arrived in Chautauqua, Spector couldn’t believe what she experienced.

“I remember being kind of awe-struck because I’ve never really seen a community function in this way,” Spector said. “It’s interesting because it’s kind of exclusive but with a very warm atmosphere at the same time, which is kind of an odd feeling.”

Spector started playing piano at the age of 3 and has never looked back. With her mother, a flutist, and her grandfather, a saxophone player and clarinetist, music pumped through her blood like a metronome. Thanks to a family friend who was a piano teacher, Spector started her long path to success. Currently, she is a rising senior at Oberlin College and plans to obtain her master’s in piano performance; after that, she said she dreams to become a part of a contemporary ensemble.

Lawrence Mitchell-Matthews

Lawrence Mitchell-Matthews grew up in Detroit, where he performed his first solo at Mt. Efren Missionary Church at the age of 5.

Mitchell-Matthews first heard about Chautauqua after he won a spiritualist competition in 2012, where the prize was to sing at the Institution. He came into contact with Vice President and Director of Programming Marty Merkley via email. After his visit, Merkley invited Mitchell-Matthews to apply to the Voice Program. He took up the opportunity last year. For Mitchell-Matthews, this year was his first as a student rather than a guest, backed by the Mr. and Mrs. Sanford Nobel Scholarship.

“All I had to pay for was my housing and food,” Mitchell-Matthews said. “I was blessed, man, beyond measure.”

Currently, Mitchell-Matthews is a rising senior at Indiana University South Bend. As a black man, Mitchell-Matthews said he loves how Chautauqua is attempting to become more diverse.

“I think Chautauqua is a magical place,” he said. “I feel like it’s becoming more diverse since I was here [before in 2012]. It’s really colorful. I was telling my friends, this is the free America I think everybody was talking about, our forefathers, here at Chautauqua. I just think everybody should experience it.”

After Mitchell-Matthews graduates, he said he’d love to be invited back to Chautauqua as a student but would truly like to return as a teacher. He’d also like to obtain his master’s from the Juilliard School. After Juilliard, he wants to start his singing career, something he said Chautauqua has helped him get closer to achieving.

“Chautauqua taught me how to prepare and how to connect with people who you come in contact with, who want to support the arts,” he said. “There are so many connections here and they’re all interested in investing in what we do.”

If you would like information on how to make a scholarship gift in support of students enrolled at Chautauqua’s Schools of Fine and Performing Arts, please contact Tina Downey, director of the Chautauqua Fund, at or 716-357-6406.