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Assembly Takes Institution Digital

Programs normally held inside the grand Chautauqua Institution Amphitheater have been shifted online this season, as a result of COVID-19 precautions. Submitted photo

While residents and visitors will not be able to attend their favorite lectures and programs inside of the historic Chautauqua Amphitheater this summer, the show will still go on.

Through its newly-launched CHQ Assembly platform, Chautauqua Institution will shift the majority of its summer schedule online due to public health concerns around COVID-19. The institution announced in early May that it would not offer in-person services this summer, and has since expedited the rollout of its digital content and services.

“The online components here were always in the offering for Chautauqua, it is outlined that way for us in our strategic plan,” said Jordan Steves, director of strategic communications and community relations.

“It is a way for us to reach beyond both our physical grounds here and outside of the normal calendar of a traditional season. We just thought we were going to have a year and a half or two years to sort of plan and roll that out. The online space now becomes where we do our work. We’ve greatly accelerated what we thought was going to be an 18-month timeline to roll out a more robust expression of our mission online, to about two months.”

Assembly online began with a beta test version launched on June 22, with the testing phase continuing through August 31, allowing guests to sign up for a 90-day free trial at chq.org/2020-assembly. Following the 90-day trial period, membership will be $3.99 per month.

While COVID-19 has caused disruption for so many different organizations this summer, social lockdown has had the benefit of growing online outreach that extends beyond the physical reach of institutions, and will persist for years to come.

“While CHQ Assembly allows us to present our patrons with the inspiring and stimulating programming they’ve come to expect, it also allows us to open our digital doors,” said Chautauqua Institution President Michael E. Hill in a news release. “For the first time, we’re able to invite audiences from across the country to participate in our time-honored tradition, thereby removing barriers to attendance and engagement in a way that has implications well beyond the summer.”

Registration to the program grants access to a library of archival content in addition to all of the planned summer programming, which will include the assembly’s video platform, online master and enrichment courses, a virtual front porch for interactive discussion, as well as visual arts and poetry platforms.

“Almost all of this work was handled by our internal staff here,” Steves said. “In a lot of cases, people who have been redeployed within the organization. They traditionally serve in some other related capacity when we are operating as normal, but we are using their skills and expertise to first build these online platforms and now to support their upkeep.”

One of the major challenges in shifting programming online has been communication with the hundreds of different speakers, performers and other visitors who were scheduled to visit in person.

Institution staff approached that herculean task chronologically, working through the summer schedule to reorganize and coordinate with guests to schedule their programs online.

“Almost everyone, for whom it is feasible for us to present in an online way, has stuck with us and has been willing to work with us from wherever they are to produce a remotely recorded lecture or program of some kind,” Steves said. “In some cases they will be live still. The idea was to preserve all nine of the themes for the 2020 season, and to the extent it is possible, the people and the presentations.”

A similar path has been taken with the online master and enrichment courses, a highlight of the institution’s summer schedule that normally includes in-person classes led by community members on a wide variety of different topics.

“What has been traditionally on the grounds here are special studies community education courses,” Steves said. “They have been very popular, and in most cases it is community members teaching community members. People who have some expertise or hobby, sharing that with their fellow Chautauquans. We’ve taken about 20% of the offerings we had planned for in-person classes here on the grounds and translated them into the online environment. We have worked with those instructors, and some who have plenty of experience in online course work, but many who don’t.”

CHQ Assembly is available online by visiting Assembly.CHQ.org, or searching ‘Chautauqua Assembly’ in the App Store and Google Play, and on Apple TV, Roku, Fire TV, Android TV or Chromecast television streaming services to access and download the app.

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