Step by step Chautauqua has undergone significant changes in its mission, its appearance, its financial operation, and its institutional consciousness. As committed as the institution is to knowledge and wisdom, we became convinced that as an entity it has been unable, or unwilling, to question what appear to be its revisionist, and unchallenged, assumptions about its own character. And we believe that these revisionist assumptions should be questioned, and questioned vigorously.
Chautauqua's neglect of its own self-examination presents a substantial irony. Not long after its first assembly in 1878, Chautauqua established itself as a center for renewal through learning and the acquisition of knowledge. It has promoted debate and education about all manner of subjects and disciplines, from the arts to international affairs. It has prided itself on bringing a community of Chautauquans together every summer, so that each Chautauquan could grow and change, and set aside unexamined ideas about life and see it from new perspectives.
We find that Chautauqua has no equal in this diligent exploration of life - except where its own qualities are concerned.
This is why one seldom, if ever, sees even an afternoon set aside at the Amphitheater, or anywhere else on the grounds, for the purpose of rigorously debating what Chautauqua has become and where it will be in the years ahead. Any community that avoids self-examination can become stagnant. When Chautauqua avoids self-examination, season after season, it risks becoming a shadow of itself.
The Institution does provide opportunities to Chautauquans to meet trustees informally throughout the season, and these can be occasions for chats about what Chautauqua is and what it could be. But these sidestep the kind of commitment to vigorous self-examination we suggest.
We are not calling for a weekly introspective debate about the Institution. We are encouraging no ongoing critique of what Chautauqua stands for and what it offers. But the reality is that season after season goes by and Chautauqua avoids, perhaps discourages, even one full afternoon of a “self-audit.” An audit that all Chautauquans can participate in. Chautauqua deserves such an introspective exercise, now more than ever.
Hence this website. It pretends only to make a place available, albeit an electronic one, where questions can be raised and debated. Chautauqua-Observed.org aspires to be nothing more than a location where views about the great assembly on the lake can be presented openly. We will raise issues and offer our opinions, and we welcome the full spectrum of your views. All opinions are welcome on this site, and will be presented, subject to editing requirements, for all to consider.
We all love Chautauqua passionately. Each of us has long, priceless histories with the grounds. It is a unique American place. One of its strengths is its dedication to questioning and seeking the truth. One of its weaknesses is its reluctance to question its own progress and the direction in which it is heading.
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