What is Chautauqua?

21 Jun

When Zelda Fitzgerald wrote  “I still believe that one can learn to play the piano by mail and that mud will give you a perfect complexion,”  she was contemplating the effects of advertising, but I think she captured something of the spirit of the Chautauqua Institution, a faith in the possibility of self improvement.


The Chautauqua Institution was founded in 1874, among its goals was to provide education to adults. It became the center of a vast social movement that embraced both self improvement and social betterment. Traveling chautauquas brought arts and education to Americans longing for something greater. Its book club the CLSC is the oldest continuously running book club in America.

Every summer Chautauqua holds its nine week season, each week organized around a topic. Every weekday morning there is a lecture on that topic made by a prominent expert. In addition, there are adult education classes, a movie theater, an opera, a theater program, and extensive activities for children.

Chautauqua also has the feel of one those great Amercian utopian projects. During the nine moth season the population of the institution swells to urban levels, yet it remains a very livable space where walking and cycling are the main modes of transportation.

I don’t know if you really can learn to play the piano by correspondence, but I am in favor of adults taking up challenging learning projects. Chautauqua is a place to keep cognitively engaged. If you have never been to Chautauqua you owe it to yourself to visit this amazing place.

One Response to “What is Chautauqua?”


  1. Photography: Chautauqua Institution | Charles Ray's Ramblings - August 9, 2013

    […] What is Chautauqua? […]

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