New Year’s Eve, 2016. The precipice of change.
Media press releases are already abuzz with the upcoming year’s promises, from the ridiculous to the sublime. Among them, one bit of news which, on its face, might seem of interest only to the relatively unimportant; apparently, the Board of Trustees of the Chautauqua Institution has just voted to replace its 100+ year old amphitheater with an alleged “replica”.
Their argument goes that the structure, weakened by years of neglect, is in danger of imploding.
But, apparently, several surrounding trees – part of the canopy of a century of oaks – have just been destroyed, many of them as old as the amphitheater itself. The fact that these are already gone just might speak voluminously to what is really happening, here.
Had said Board a genuine interest in preserving the Institution’s historical mission, architect’s plans would never have included the removal of these 100 year old trees. This is all the evidence one needs to realize that the devoted residents of Chautauqua are being played. Getting the Board to agree by calling for a proposed “replica” only gives license to those in power for far more than an amphitheater; clearly, this writer suspects a gradual displacement of the entire Institution.
Chautauqua Institution was not founded as an entertainment venue. Read the history.
(paraphrased from ciweb.org): The Institution was established as a not-for-profit, 750-acre educational center beside Chautauqua Lake in southwestern New York State which grew to accommodate approximately 7,500 persons in residence on any day during a nine-week season, drawing a total of over 100,000 to its scheduled public events. To this day, 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. Succesfully founded in 1874 as an educational experiment in out-of-school, vacation learning, it broadened almost immediately beyond courses for Sunday school teachers to include academic subjects, music, art and physical education. Becoming Ecumenical in spirit and practice, Chautauqua’s Department of Religion presents distinguished religious leaders of many faiths from this country and abroad, both as preachers and teachers. In addition, the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle (CLSC) was started in 1878 to provide those who could not afford the time or money to attend college the opportunity of acquiring the skills and essential knowledge of a College education. This spawned satellites, “daughter Chautauquas” around the world. The Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra, founded in 1929, now performs thrice weekly with leading soloists, and Chautauqua Dance also appears in the Amphitheater. The Institution continues to play 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.
Yes; evolving gracefully from its roots into a center for both religious, political, and artistic discourse, the Chautauqua Institution is an American original.
And, its Amphitheater is a national treasure.
I did some digging. Apparently, the Board consulted with FORECON, a forestry consulting firm, before destroying the trees that were growing several feet away from the structure (see the photo included above). FORECON appears to be in place to advise foresters regarding the proper care and maintenance of their trees, per their marketability as timber. I never once saw the term “preservation” anywhere in their descriptor.
Yes. To that certain, remote few, this oasis seems nothing more than a vast piece of select property. Somebody convinced somebody else to take the vulnerable amphitheater’s repair cause and morph it into their notion of revolutionary change.
There will be no revolution. Instead, watch for the opposite. Expect the new, 41.5 million dollar monstrosity to be fully equipped with a sound system capable of the kind of “smoke and mirrors” show equivalent to a Vegas magician. Look for technology producing decibels of tympanum-killing intensity. Such ideological changes should send its decades-long community of residents – intellects, writers, readers all, superior artists, reflective thinkers – running for the hills. Dissolution, waiting at the gate.
This appears to be the intent.
The Board’s defenders might argue that Chautauqua has always been about evolution and expansion. But, all it takes is a discerning mind to inspect the situation; calling for $41.5 million for a performance space is a recipe for destruction of more than a faulty amphitheater. The residents of the village, and its patrons, didn’t have to come up with that kind of cash alone. While asking it of them would have been obscene, I wonder if perhaps those who already donated to the Institution last year may come to discover that their monies were appropriated in ways that they never realized. This kind of stealth is only a couple genteel steps away from a coups; overtake the people, disempower them, and what is theirs is easily attained.
Predictably, money is poised to capture the mentality of the graceful, the elegant, the precious. Just like tasteless city “planners” notions of what constitutes “class” maraud the landscape, the proponents of such vapid notions likely stand ready to seize the entire village.
So, as we review and contemplate our own resolutions for the coming year, might the rest of us stand to defend the causes of institutional preservation. Wherever we can, might we resolve not just to speak out but to act against the powers of greed and covetousness that seek to demolish them. If we aren’t finally willing to resist these forces, they will succeed in destroying our very belief in the value of history, itself. And, once we turn our backs on our legacies, we condemn ourselves to a bleak and barren future.
The trees will be listening.
.© Ruth Ann Scanzillo 12/31/15
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