“A rich and vibrant tapestry – this is how I envision Chautauqua”

– Michael E. Hill, President, Chautauqua Institution


In a time of universal longing for better and deeper civil discourse in America, the mission of Chautauqua Institution to explore the best in human values and the enrichment of life could not be more important or urgent.

Even as Chautauqua approaches its 150th anniversary from a position of strength, it cannot afford to become complacent. Fundamental changes in demography, lifestyles, family leisure time preferences, labor supply and practices, and increased visitor expectations all pose significant challenges to Chautauqua’s basic operating model.

As a steward with an eye to the next generation, the Institution bears a special responsibility to respond to these challenges now, before they become crises. To that end, this plan lays out a set of strategies designed to leverage Chautauqua’s assets, capabilities, and attributes, resulting in a financially sustainable operating model and a vastly expanded approach to how it delivers its mission.



Chautauqua Institution is dedicated to the exploration of the best in human values and the enrichment of life through a program that explores the important religious, social, and political issues of our times; stimulates provocative, thoughtful involvement of individuals and families in creative response to such issues; and promotes excellence and creativity in the appreciation, performance, and teaching of the arts.


Chautauqua aspires to create an informed, engaged, and renewed public that fosters and actively contributes to a more civil society, nationally and within the various communities represented by its individual constituents and partners.


Chautauqua is a shared community where people with a thirst for learning and an interest in ongoing self-development are drawn and thrive. Chautauqua’s work and interactions with others, as an institution and a community, are inspired and guided by a common set of beliefs and commitments. Together, the Institution and its community value:

  1. Multigenerational and multidisciplinary engagement through the arts, education, religion, and recreation
  2. The dignity and contributions of all people
  3. Dialogue to achieve enhanced understanding that leads to positive action
  4. The serenity, tradition, safety, and ecology of Chautauqua’s historic Grounds and surroundings
  5. A balance between Chautauqua’s heritage and the need to innovate



No single goal could ever express the full range of aspirations of Chautauqua’s diverse, vibrant community—nor should it. Indeed, the opportunity for self- expression and personal exploration is central to the magic of Chautauqua. But the Institution holds itself to a higher common purpose; to a collective value larger than the sum of its parts. Chautauqua’s ten-year goal thus frames its impact model:

Convene diverse perspectives and voices to discover and advance the most important, relevant conversations and experiences of our time during the summer assembly season and year-round, on the Grounds of the Institution and beyond.


To achieve Chautauqua’s ten-year goal, the Institution will focus over the next three to five years on achieving concrete, measurable progress, as reviewed and adjusted periodically, toward the following four broad objectives:

Optimize the summer assembly season on the Chautauqua Grounds to provide a first-class experience around the arts, education, religion, and recreation


  • Increasing attendance to allow earned revenue to grow without pressure to increase pricing
  • Ensuring appropriate return on investment for program and facilities
  • Achieving best-in-class guest experience and delivering greater value to first-time and returning Chautauquans
Expand Chautauqua’s convening authority year-round to broaden its impact beyond the summer assembly season
  • Developing platforms and venues to build upon and fully leverage summer assembly content and to create new and more expansive Chautauqua experiences
  • Forging partnerships to generate and disseminate first-class content and increase impact
  • Strengthening brand awareness to reach new, larger, and more diverse audiences for Chautauqua
Drive the implementation of a comprehensive, science-based approach to improving the health and sustainability of Chautauqua lake and elevate its conservation as the centerpiece of the region’s economic prosperity
  • Creating watershed-wide alliances that result in a coordinated approach among local stakeholders to tackling the issues facing the lake
  • Harnessing science-based solutions to ensure a lake ecosystem that benefits people and sustains wildlife for generations to come
  • Creating a comprehensive public affairs/government relations program to encourage local, state, and national partners—both public and private—to act on the issues impacting the lake
Grow and diversify revenue to address critical needs, increase financial resiliency, and fund Chautauqua’s future
  • Growing philanthropy to support new emphasis on convening and reduce pressure on outsized increases in attendance or pricing
  • Securing favorable alternative financing, where available and appropriate, to augment philanthropy and provide flexible capital funds for major infrastructure improvements
  • Pursuing new or complementary lines of business to help ensure long-term financial sustainability


To execute effectively in pursuit of the key objectives, Chautauqua must operate with agility across its myriad administrative units, programs, venues, audiences, and constituencies. Cross-cutting imperatives enable Institution-wide action on important organizational capabilities needed to achieve Chautauqua’s mission. Chautauqua envisions focusing on the following four imperatives over the next three years:
Strategic Partnerships. Cultivate a range of creative, well-negotiated partnerships that extend the Institution’s reach and amplify its message; address labor and housing challenges; and add value and diversity to Chautauqua’s programming during the summer assembly season.
Mobilization of Technology. Prioritize major investments to harness the power of technology at every level.
Labor and Talent Solutions. Chautauqua Institution’s primary physical location in Western New York, its current seasonal nature, and a general trend toward alternative work arrangements will continue to present a challenge within a highly competitive market. Chautauqua requires a comprehensive human capital management plan and workforce planning solutions to recruit, develop, and retain a diverse workforce that encompasses all the skills and experience necessary to deliver on its long-term strategic vision and to provide an environment for that workforce that positions the organization as an “employer of choice” on the national stage.
Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Accessibility (IDEA). Create the conditions in which everyone feels that they can engage as full and valued participants in the Chautauqua experience.


Chautauqua has always relied on a mix of earned income and philanthropy to pursue its mission and deliver programming. In recent years, the Institution has made growth in summer assembly season attendance and cost controls its primary strategies to achieve financial stability. This approach has been substantially successful during the last decade—enabling the Institution to weather the 2008–2010 financial downturn and, thereafter, to achieve positive financial results annually. Nevertheless, considering the challenges the Institution faces, this approach alone cannot deliver a financially sustainable Chautauqua. To remain financially viable in the long-term, Chautauqua must grow its revenue through a multi-faceted strategy that emphasizes increased attendance, revenue diversification, responsible price increases, and transformational philanthropy.

This strategic plan anticipates a much greater role for philanthropy. It will continue, as now, to serve as the source of funding for all material new or restorative capital projects while also representing, by 2024, a materially larger percentage of annual total operating revenues. With the Institution’s expansion of its year-round programming and concurrent expansion into new platforms and venues designed to reach a broader audience, Chautauqua has the opportunity to engage with foundations and other institutional donors who otherwise would not support programs that are limited in time and place. Chautauqua also has significant potential for crafting marketing partnerships that have a philanthropic component. A cultural shift is necessary: participation in philanthropy must become an ingrained part of the Chautauqua experience and culture.


To effectively pursue the aspirations of this plan, Chautauqua Institution will determine prioritization across and within the plan’s key objectives, strategies, and cross-cutting imperatives. With these priorities established, the Institution will then assess and deploy existing and new resources, structures and investments that are aligned with the direction outlined in 150 Forward. Detailed operational plans and corresponding metrics-based monitoring and evaluation tools, integrated into Chautauqua’s multi-year budgeting process, will enable leadership and staff to assess the impact of current and prospective activities and make adjustments and corrections as necessary.

This approach will also allow for transparency and information sharing across the organization, empowering staff at all levels to contribute to and understand their roles and responsibilities with regard to operational plans, benchmarks, measures of success, and outcomes. A standard reporting framework and protocol will be created for ongoing Board of Trustees oversight and a new Board committee will be formed to conduct ongoing, comprehensive assessment of plan performance. President Michael E. Hill will annually present a 150 Forward Status Report to the Chautauqua Community. This approach to plan implementation, monitoring, and evaluation will, itself, build institutional capacity for the future.


This plan imagines the impact that Chautauqua will have by the time it reaches its sesquicentennial in 2024 and sets its sights on an even more robust future in service to a timeless mission.

As the strands of this plan come together, we imagine Chautauqua in 2028:

Chautauqua’s name is synonymous with civil dialogue in communities across the nation through a program of year-round engagement and thought leadership, and our summer assembly season exemplifies the very best of what Chautauqua and Chautauquans can achieve through enhanced awareness and understanding, and a true commitment to the progress of humankind.

Our revenue streams are diversified, with transformational growth in private philanthropy complemented by investments from regional and national foundations and corporate support that speaks to our impact in the world. Income-producing operations on and off the Grounds represent a growing part of Chautauqua’s revenue mix, and the historic campus in Western New York is a destination of choice for conference and retreat programming in addition to major life, family, and friendship celebrations.

Chautauqua Lake is well on its way to becoming a healthy freshwater body among New York State’s best examples of lake conservation, negative ecological trend reversal, and community collaboration.

Chautauqua is lauded as a legacy organization and community that prioritizes inclusion, diversity, equity, and access, and the Institution’s strategies for broadening its circle of engagement have begun to form a new model for diversity transformation.

The Institution’s increased programming and activity on the Grounds outside of the summer assembly season leads to more life-sustaining, full-time jobs in Chautauqua County while also contributing to regional economic development through expanded tourism and business growth.

And woven into every strand are the current and future Chautauquans who learn, ask and imagine together, seeking the best in human values, now and always.

Copyright 2019 Chautauqua Institution. Site by The Quilted Squirrel.