The Chautauqua Institution is making progress with its Forward 150 strategic plan by optimizing the summer assembly program, improving the condition of Chautauqua Lake, expanding the year-round program, and increasing the institution’s financial resilience.
President Michael Hill shared news of the progress in his annual status report, which detailed the efforts the institution has made over the past year.
Hill discussed the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the institution and progress on the strategic plan.
“Just as 2020 has challenged us all to transition and adapt to a fully online experience, so 2021 has challenged us to be flexible and adaptable.” Hill said in his report. “At so many crossroads at just the right moment, we felt like we finally had a real understanding of the shape of our circumstances, regulations would change or the unpredictable economy would throw us a curveball or the spread of viruses would turn dramatically in both positive and positive ways as well as in negative directions. The gratitude I feel towards all of you – my fellow staff members, our board of trustees and all the community members who have been with us on this journey – knows no bounds.”
In the first three to five years, the plan focuses on progress with four broad goals, including:
¯ Optimizing the Summer Gathering at the Chautauqua site to deliver a premier experience centered around arts, education, religion and recreation;
¯ extend Chautauqua’s convening powers throughout the year to extend its impact beyond the summer meeting;
¯ To advance the implementation of a comprehensive, science-based approach to improve the health and sustainability of Lake Chautauqua and to place its conservation at the heart of the region’s economic prosperity;
¯ Grow and diversify revenue to meet critical needs, increase financial resilience and fund Chautauqua’s future.
“The main goals and the corresponding strategies must be implemented across the organization and require the participation and investment of all stakeholders,” said hill. “Cross-functional imperatives, on the other hand, enable institution-wide action on key organizational capabilities needed to fulfill Chautauqua’s mission. All require sustained attention for the duration of the plan. We have identified four imperatives to focus on in the first three years of 150 Forward: Strategic Partnerships, Technology Mobilization, Work and Talent Solutions, and Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accessibility (IDEA).”
Hill said the institution is having success in “Conducting an in-person summer meeting in 2021.”
“Operating under relative normalcy is a prerequisite for real progress here,” said hill. “Nonetheless, the unique circumstances of 2021 provided us with an opportunity to experiment with our model and processes, and to measure customer feedback on these experiments. Some were hits and others hit the ground running, but all provided important learning opportunities.”
Hill said a new gate pass has been introduced, the Grounds Access Pass, which gives guests access to accommodation and other areas on the premises without the programming aspect. The institution also introduced reserved seating for certain events, which was not the case “well received by everyone” said hill.
The institution also expanded the reach and scope of the Chautauqua Lecture Series and the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle with content on the CHQ Assembly platform. Hill added that the online classroom allows students to experience programs, courses and workshops throughout the year.
Hill said the Chautauqua Institution has also focused on building its capacity “Serves our neighbors in Chautauqua County and western New York.”
“The work of Chautauqua Arts Education has moved swiftly, serving local school children and teachers with classes and development workshops in personal, fully remote and hybrid settings.” he said. “We also completed the first phase of the CHQ Trail, open to the public at Chautauqua Golf Club, thanks to a grant awarded through the Play Everywhere Design Challenge supported by the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation. Over the next year, the CHQ Trail will be further developed to build a permanent mud track that will be available to both cyclists and hikers during the spring, summer and fall months.”
When it comes to the lake, Hill said Chautauqua has also been active on that front.
“The Chautauqua Institution continues to play a fundamental role in regional efforts to improve the condition of our beloved Lake Chautauqua,” he said. “In June, we announced a $1 million investment in research initiatives to support the continued development of scientific knowledge about lake ecology. This investment includes funding a dedicated full-time position to support our operations staff – under the auspices of the Chautauqua Climate Change Initiative – to oversee the institution’s work on maritime issues. I am delighted that Toby Shepherd has joined as our new Chautauqua Lake Project Manager in early 2022.”
Hill said last year summer attendance returned almost to 2019 levels. With the new ticketing model, he said, attendance provided about 75% of annual sales, which was ahead of forecasts made.
“Our traditional corporate activities such as the Athenaeum Hotel and associated dining facilities, the Chautauqua bookstore and our leisure offerings also all reported revenues well in excess of our budgets.” he said. “The staff across all of these areas deserve tremendous credit for staying creative and staying the line against adversity – their efforts have allowed us to budget for 2022 from a position of considerable strength.”