The Visual Arts at Chautauqua Institution (VACI) encourages engagement with an expansive range of critical issues in the visual arts, and attracts distinguished exhibitors and renowned guest artists and faculty. Our galleries present contemporary as well as historically based exhibitions.
VACI includes the Chautauqua School of Art, the galleries of the Strohl Art Center, the Fowler-Kellogg Art Center, the Melvin Johnson Sculpture Garden and the visual arts lecture series.
Our students come from top art schools and smaller programs internationally. A nationally respected forum for engaging with a broad range of content at the highest levels possible, VACI offers an unparalleled experience with artists and their work.
History of the Visual Arts at Chautauqua Institution
The visual arts programs at Chautauqua Institution have been the launching point for thousands of artists for more than a century, and for over 50 years our galleries have been one of Chautauqua’s primary links to the world of contemporary as well as historical art.
One of the oldest summer visual art programs in America, courses in art were offered at Chautauqua as early as the 1880’s, but it was with the construction of the Arts and Crafts Quadrangle in 1909 that a fully active school for visual arts was established. It was designed and built by the team of New York artist Henry Turner Bailey (first Director of Chautauqua's visual arts program) and renowned architect E.B. Green.
A century later this facility, one of the finest examples of American Arts and Crafts architecture in the country, continues to be flawless in its design as an art school, even though the building was conceived before most of the major art movements in 20th and 21st Century Art had been conceived. It has lived through Cubism, Expressionism, Abstraction, Pop, Post-Modernism, time based media and all that followed, and it continues, through the foresight of its original designers, to create an ambiance which facilitates a natural exchange of ideas among students and faculty, many of whom are working in media that hadn't even been invented when the building was originally constructed. The layout of the quadrangle, with it's U shaped structure overlooking a green expanse leading to one of the best views of Chautauqua Lake in the region, has served it's pedagogical purpose well for more than 100 years.
For decades many of the faculty at the School of Art have been among the most respected "artists who also teach" in America. Many of the prominent artists on the Chautauqua School of Art faculty also teach in top graduate programs nationally, and all are highly respected professionals - artists first.
In 2009 we celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Chautauqua School of Art with the complete renovation of our historic facilities: more than 50,000 square feet of studios and galleries.
In 1956 the independent Chautauqua Art Association Gallery was founded through the foresight of painting program director Revington Arthur and long time Chautauquan supporter of the arts Florence Norton. Two years later the annual Chautauqua National Exhibition (now the Chautauqua Annual Exhibition of Contemporary Art) was established. Throughout its history jurors for this exhibition have included highly respected artists, critics and museum and gallery directors such as Janne Sirén, Luis Grachos and Douglas Schultz (all Albright-Knox Art Gallery directors), Carlos Guiterrez-Solana (Artists Space)Richard Armstrong (Carnegie Museum of Art), Sherman Lee (Cleveland Museum of Art) ,Tom Messer (Guggenheim Museum), Julian Zugazagoitia (Museo del Barrio), Robert Storr (Museum of Modern Art), Jeremy Strick (National Gallery of Art), and Patterson Sims (Whitney Museum of Art). Among the gallery directors who have selected this show are Denise Bibro, Kim Foster, Michael Gitlitz (Marlborough Gallery), Nancy Hoffman, Jim Kempner, Phyllis Kind and Rachel Vancelette (Barbara Gladstone Gallery). Since the 1950’s a number of artists and critics have also been asked to select the exhibition including Jack Beal, Carl Holty, Leon Kroll, Donald Kuspit, Barbara Rose, and Stephen Westfall.
In 1986 artist Don Kimes became Artistic Director of the visual arts programs at Chautauqua Institution. A year later the original Arts and Crafts Center was renamed the Chautauqua School of Art and Logan Galleries were established in order to showcase the work of contemporary artists, faculty and students. Now in his third decade at Chautauqua, he expanded the presence of Chautauqua's visual arts program by bringing visiting faculty of substantial renown, expanding the visual arts lecture program, and enhancing the exhibitions programs.
Under Kimes’ leadership the independent Chautauqua Art Association Gallery eventually merged with the School of Art and Logan Galleries in 2004, bringing the School of Art, Logan Galleries, the Art Association Galleries and the visual arts lectures series under one umbrella which became known as VACI - Visual Arts at Chautauqua Institution. The synergies created by VACI resulted in a tremendous level of interest and support for the visual arts programs. From 2007 to 2009 the School of Art underwent an extensive renovation of its century old facilities and in 2008 the Art Association Galleries underwent a 3.5 million dollar renovation resulting in brand new, museum quality exhibition facilities known as the Strohl Art Center. The art school renovations provided improved individual studios, expanded sculpture facilities, the state of the art Joan Lincoln Ceramics Center, faculty studios in close proximity to student studios, a re-built printmaking studio, a fabulous drawing studio and more.
Along with the new Strohl Art Center galleries, in 2008 the Melvin Johnson Sculpture garden was completed as a venue for temporary sculpture installations by contemporary artists. In 2010 the Fowler-Kellogg Art Center, with four spectacular galleries, opened to the public after a total renovation. Exhibitions formerly housed in the Logan Galleries were relocated to this elegant and historic 121-year-old facility. Fowler-Kellogg, which is linked to the Strohl Art Center and Melvin Johnson Sculpture Garden by an outdoor piazza, gives VACI one of the premier summer program gallery complexes in America.
VACI now presents 11 exhibitions to thousands of visitors every summer as well as to students in the visual art programs. These range from cutting edge work by nationally recognized artists in all media and shows of significant work that is outside the mainstream gallery world, to the annual School of Art student exhibition. A sampling of some of the artists whose work has been seen in VACI’s galleries ranges from Charles Burchfield, Reginald Marsh, Franz Kline and Jack Tworkov in the1950’s to exhibitions which in recent years have included Mel Bochner, Louise Bourgeois, Chuck Close, Val Cushing, Richard Diebenkorn, Tara Donovan, Caroll Dunham, Nancy Graves, Philip Guston, Keith Haring, Jasing, Jasper Johns, Lee Krasner, Sol Lewitt, Susan Rothenberg, Jessica Stockholder, Cy Twombly, Terry Winters and dozens of others.
Applicants to the School of Art now come from nearly every prominent school of art and art department, as well as from many smaller programs across the country and abroad. For many students, the Chautauqua School of Art offers the opportunity for contact with faculty who have taught in a wide range of schools, as well as interaction with dedicated students from many other programs, as they try to decide where to attend graduate school. For others out of school or already enrolled in graduate programs, it offers an opportunity to deepen their experience with a range of artists from across the country. In any case, all of the students are looking for the opportunity to immerse themselves in the studio and to engage in the ambiance and interchange made possible through their residency at Chautauqua.
Today VACI is comprised of 5 interconnected entities: the Chautauqua School of Art, Strohl and Fowler Kellogg Arts Centers, the Melvin Johnson Sculpture Garden and the Visual Arts Lecture series. It is not only one of the most respected summer visual arts programs in America, but as a cornerstone at the world renowned Chautauqua Institution, it is also the only summer program in the world which brings together in one place such an extraordinarily high level of experience in the visual arts, dance, theater, symphony, opera, literature and intellect in a fashion that is so dynamic, rigorous and relevant to the 21st Century.
Advisory Council to the Artistic Director
- Denise Bibro, Director, Denise Bibro Fine Art
- Michael Gitlitz, Director, Marlborough Gallery
- Judy Glantzman, Artist
- Louis Grachos, Director, Albright Knox Gallery
- Donald Kuspit, Distinguished University Professor, SUNY Stonybrook
- Barbara Rose, Art Critic/Historian
- Robert Storr, Dean, Yale School of Art
- Stephen Westfall, Artist/Critic, Art In America
- Julian Zugazagoitia, Director, Nelson-Atkins Museum
VACI Partners is a membership-driven organization committed to the creative vitality of the visual arts at Chautauqua Institution. Each summer we host an array of stimulating events to raise funds to pay for scholarships for deserving students.
Learn more about membership and events.
News and Publications
Living and Sustaining a Creative Life, by Advisory Council and faculty member Sharon Louden
Dannielle Tegeder in Conversation with Barry Schwabsky, with faculty member Dannielle Tegeder
Reinhardt Melted the Ice, in The Brooklyn Rail, by VACI Artistic Director and faculty member Don Kimes