Press Room / History
Chautauqua Institution is a not-for-profit, 750-acre educational center beside Chautauqua Lake in southwestern New York State. Founded in 1874 by Lewis Miller and John Heyl Vincent, it was originally named the Chautauqua Lake Sunday School Assembly and was an educational experiment in out-of-school, vacation learning. It was successful and broadened almost immediately to include academic subjects, music, art and physical education.
The Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle (CLSC) started in 1878 to provide those who could not afford the time or money to attend college the opportunity of acquiring the skills and knowledge of a college education. The four-year, correspondence course was one of the first attempts at distance learning. Besides broadening access to education, the CLSC program was intended to show people how best to use their leisure time, and to share the cost of purchasing the publications and support others in the course; students were encouraged to form local CLSC reading circles. These were soon established throughout the country and around the world. With the success of the CLSC, many new Chautauquas were created, known as 'Daughter Chautauquas,' giving rise to what was called the 'Chautauqua Movement.'
Years later, the talent agencies that provided speakers and entertainers for these platforms, put together shows of their own, which traveled to small towns across the United States and Canada, known as the 'circuit chautuaquas' or 'tent chautauquas.’ By 1880 the Chautauqua platform had established itself as a national forum for open discussion of public issues, international relations, literature and science.
The Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra was founded in 1929 and now performs thrice weekly with leading soloists in the 5,000-seat Amphitheater, Chautauqua's program center. Popular entertainers perform there other evenings. The Chautauqua Ballet Company also appears in the Amphitheater, sometimes with guest artists, while the Chautauqua Conservatory Theater presents its season in Bratton Theater. The Chautauqua Opera Company, also founded in 1929, performs in English in Norton Hall.
Chautauqua plays a unique educational role today, offering studies on a vacation level, a more serious level and a professional level. In addition, there are enhanced learning opportunities within Chautauqua's other programming. Music, the arts, religion, recreation and the pursuit of knowledge are all available. Younger and older students often share learning experiences in an open, congenial atmosphere. Children and young people are also provided with their own special programs.
Today, Chautauqua Institution is governed by a 24-member board of trustees, four of whom are elected by property owners. The board establishes the policies and direction of the Institution, electing the officers who are responsible for the operation of the Institution.
Approximately 7,500 people are in residence on any day during Chautauqua Institution’s nine-week season, and a total of over 142,000 attend scheduled public events. Over 8,000 students enroll annually in the Chautauqua Summer Schools which offer courses in art, music, dance, theater, writing skills and a wide variety of special interests.