Chautauqua Institution (CI) Chief of Staff Matt Ewalt was welcomed as the guest presenter during the Jan. 9 meeting of the Rotary Club of Westfield-Mayville, which was held at The Parkview in Westfield. He was introduced by Janese Berkhouse, Club President. Ewalt’s program was titled “A Glimpse of 2018 at Chautauqua Institution.” Rotarians were given a taste of the vision, goals, changes, season themes, events and speakers for 2018.
As CI’s Chief of Staff, Ewalt is responsible for the organization’s renowned Amphitheater Lecture platform. Also, he serves as program curator for the nine-week summer season, and offers strategic counsel to CI’s new president, Michael E. Hill. Ewalt formerly served CI as an associate director of education and as editor of CI’s newspaper, The Chautauquan Daily. He earned a BA and MA in literary and cultural studies from Carnegie University. Ewalt has been with CI for 11 years.
Ewalt stated, “Michael Hill, who is the 18th president of CI, is a leader with bold vision and deep respect for the CI organization. We need to think of CI as a broader resource, and not just as for what people can experience during one week of the season while they are on vacation.”
He continued, “The vision is to transform the CI gates into a gateway of learning and to also promote what our region has to offer. We have an obligation to be better neighbors by creating partnerships, such as with the National Comedy Center in Jamestown. Moving beyond the summer season, CI will become a winter village of activities and events. In addition, important relationships and collaborations are being established with national organizations.”
CI is opening an office in Washington, D.C., which will facilitate the development of partnerships with other cultural institutions and organizations. Ewalt stated, “The plan is for CI to make significant contributions to national thought and learning by moving forward from the nine-week season, having physical events in other cities, and enhancing engagement through digital events. We have opportunities for stronger partnerships and also for drawing more people to our region.”
On the topic of greater diversity, Ewalt said, “The community on the CI grounds needs to represent the national community. A commitment has been made to have more diverse staff and marketing, as well as more diverse partnerships. Socioeconomic and race diversity, expanded community engagement, and expanded national partnerships are part of this.”
Ewalt went on to say that the expansion of the CI nine-week season not only includes programs, but also facilities. He noted, “CI is financially strong. But it must dream of what it can be. For purely financial stability, the question becomes how do we begin to have and prepare for the use of our grounds beyond the summer season?” Ewalt discussed some of the plans for developing alternative revenue and engagement streams. He mentioned enhancing youth engagement, college studies and credit sessions, intergenerational opportunities and greater socioeconomic diversity.
While discussing CI as being a major resource for local communities, Ewalt mentioned the free youth ages 12 and under programs, Educational Wednesdays, free Sundays, family entertainment series and the educational engagement opportunities with local school districts.
“There is no shortage of content during the nine-week season,” Ewalt said. “We want to create dynamic discussions beyond the themed weeks. CI can play a greater role with discussions of national
issues.” One way to achieve this is through online.chq.org. This digital experience of CI includes live streaming, video archives, an engagement medium and a resource for lifelong learning. Ewalt added, “What challenges our speakers the most is not the general discussions held on the grounds, but the question and answer discussions they have with the general population. The challenge is how can we carry content forward with online conversations, for example, so that the work that is developed can rather stand on its own. We’re at an exciting time in terms of digital communication.”
When asked about the process of determining the weekly themes for the season, Ewalt noted the interrelated factors of the lecture platform series, what can people learn and bring back to their communities, and what are the major national and global topics that the CI experience can bring to those discussions and explorations of the topics. Other factors are the inclusion of a variety of topics and the mix of them, as well as when to place them during the nine-week season. Also, themes are considered for their potential audience engagement, so that people will want to return to CI.
Ewalt presented some highlights of what the 2018 CI Season has to offer. This year’s nine-week season runs from June 23 through Aug. 26. The nine weekly themes are as follow: The Life of the Written Word; American Identity; The Art of Play; Russia and the West; The Ethics of Dissent; The Challenging Nature of Work; The Arts and Global Understanding: A Week Featuring the Silkroad Ensemble, Culminating with the Silkroad Ensemble with Yo-Yo Ma; The Forgotten: History and Memory in the 21st Century; and Documentary Film as Facilitator: Storytelling, Influence and Civil Discourse, A Chautauqua Film and Food Festival. For more information explore chq.org/2018 or call 716-357-6250.