Chautauquas from across North America gather at Lakeside

Apr 2, 2024 | Featured, Around Ottawa County | 0 comments

Representatives from Chautauquas from across the nation and Canada visited Lakeside Chautauqua on March 20 and 21 to network and learn about their diversity and common bonds. (Submitted photo)

BY SHERI TRUSTY

Many locals who have visited Lakeside have a specific conception of what defines a Chautauqua. Here in Ottawa County, Lakeside Chautauqua offers images of a quiet, historic community where families gather for culturally secular or faith-based events, programs and activities. Each offering at Lakeside falls under one or more of the Chautauqua pillars of religion, education, arts and recreation.

But across the U.S. and Canada are a myriad of Chautauquas, each one distinctively unique and yet dependently tied to the foundational pillars. On March 20 and 21, representatives from Chautauquas across North America gathered at Lakeside to connect, learn and inspire each other.

Some of the Chautauquas are gated, and some are public. Some are faith-based, and some cling to another pillar independent of religion. Some are open all year long, some are open seasonally, and one is open only four days a year. Some were established in the 19th century, and some are just a few years old.

Some Chautauquas, like Lakeside, which was established in 1873, developed entire communities on property owned by the association. Chautauqua-Wawasee in Syracuse, Indiana, which was established just ten years ago, owns no property and no buildings. Instead, it hosts programs in local parks and convention centers and in venues in neighboring towns.

“We are not our land. We’re the mission of Chautauqua,” Mary Moretto said.

Lakeside VP of Advancement & Marketing, Gretchen Colón, standing at right, talks to representatives from Chautauquas from across the nation and Canada on March 20. (Photo by Sheri Trusty)

Lake Superior Big Top Chautauqua in Bayfield, Wisconsin has no ties to religion but is based on the pillars of cultural arts and recreation. It was founded by a group of 50 musicians in 1993, and, today, it hosts concerts under a tent featuring famed musicians like Lyle Lovett and Bonnie Raitt.

“We’re located on top of a ski hill,” Gary Schalla said. “We can fit 900 under the tent and about 800 around it.”

The Bay View, Michigan Chautauqua, which was founded in 1875, is similar to Lakeside in its historic character and religious foundation, and it shares a passion for music with Big Top Chautauqua. It boasts a music conservancy that offers summer resident programs for young musicians from around the world.

“We’ve had students from Argentina and Brazil,” said Michelle Hansen. “Our students say this is a wonderful place to perform because everyone wants them to be successful.”

The Florida Chautauqua, located in Defuniak Springs, was founded in 1885 and dissolved in the 1920s. In 1993, it was reestablished by local residents wanting to preserve and promote the history of the original Chautauqua. The Florida Chautauqua is not a community but instead offers programming just four days each year.

“We have a keynote speaker, breakout sessions, performances, teas with historic reenactors and living history,” Karen Chilcutt said. “One year, Rosalyn Carter served as our keynote speaker.”

At the other end of the Chautauqua spectrum is New Piasa Chautauqua in Alton, Illinois, a gated and private summer resort that offers programming exclusively for its members. The community, which was founded in 1885, includes 126 cottages and the oldest outdoor auditorium in the state.

“We’re more like a little city. We run our own electricity and water,” Jerry Young said.

Among the representatives at the two-day Lakeside event was Mary-Lou Gardner, the founding director of Chautauqua Canada, which isn’t a Chautauqua at all. It is an organization researching the history of Chautauquas in Canada.

“There are 14 Chautauquas operating in Canada. I’m trying to figure out how many there were historically,” Gardner said.

Although the Chautauquas across North America are distinctively unique, they are bound by a desire to bring people together for connection and new life experiences. For more information on the various communities, visit www.chautauquatrail.com.

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