Chautauqua Institution Reports Bump In Attendance

Michael Hill, president of Chautauqua Institution, reflected on the summer season as it came to a close last week. Pictured is Yo-Yo Ma with Hill during a performance at the institution in August. P-J photo by Jordan W. Patterson

CHAUTAUQUA — Laughing alongside world-renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma, Michael Hill, president of Chautauqua Institution, was living in a moment he would never forget and one that helped boost attendance numbers.

Weeks later, Hill told The Post-Journal Chautauqua saw an increase in attendance totaling 272,199, a .2 percent increase in visitors over the previous year. Hill reflected on his second summer season as president and looked forward to continuing the success in 2019.

“We’re paying a lot of attention to what is working and what isn’t working,” Hill said.

Hill cited world-famous individuals like Yo-Yo Ma giving lectures, Chautauqua’s concert series and initiatives appealing to neighboring communities as the leading reason for the steady increase in visitors. The institution experienced an increase in 2017 from 2016 as well, Hill pointed out.

“All of that is underlined with some really strong work we’ve done with analytic data,” he said.

The 2018 season brought the likes of the Rev. Jesse Jackson; U.S. Sen. Chris Coons; The Silk Road Ensemble; David Brook, New York Times critic, among others.

As per tradition, the nine-week season featured various themes week to week ranging in topics. The most attended was week seven, “The Arts and Global Understanding: A Week Featuring the Silkroad Ensemble,” culminating with the Silkroad Ensemble with Yo-Yo Ma, and featured performances from the Silk Road Ensemble — a group Ma created in 1998.

The final week is typically the lowest attended due to where it falls on the calendar, but Chautauqua Institution has made an effort to change that. In 2017, the institution introduced a food-related week during week nine that incorporated local businesses.This year, week nine was titled “Documentary Film as Facilitator: Influence and Civil Discourse — A Film and Food Festival Festival” featuring different tents offering local food, wine and beer in Bestor Plaza. Hill said the introduction of the food-related week boosted week nine’s attendance.

“We’re trying new partnership and new initiatives,” Hill said.

Additionally, Chautauqua Institution partnered with four schools including Jamestown Community College, St. Bonaventure University, Miami University of Ohio and Kent State University.

Included in its partnerships, the institution has collaborated with the National Comedy Center. In 2019, Hill said the institution will bring back a week based solely around comedy similar to 2017. This year, while there were comedians on the grounds, Chautauqua Institution didn’t have a week dedicated to comedy. Hill said the institution wanted let the National Comedy Center handle the majority of the incoming comedians given the grand opening of their new facility.

“We’re thrilled again to partner with the comedy center,” he said.

Hill said Chautauqua Institution will try to figure out what the “right menu” is as it relates to each new season. Preserving the uniqueness of the season while innovating was an emphasis for the president. Hill said the current initiative to reach out to the local communities in the surrounding area will continue. He repeated a sentiment he’s said before about turning “(Chautauqua’s) gates into gateways.”

Hill said when he was brought to Chautauqua Institution, conversations were held about how to increase overall attendance. A major shift from those discussions was to market toward the communities in Chautauqua’s Institution backyard.

“We have a coalition of partners in Chautauqua County and that makes me really excited,” he said.

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