Ohio Chautauqua returns to Marietta next week for the first time since 2000, the inaugural tour of the living history program.
"It was just a first-class operation and a great quality of both entertainment and education," recalled Marietta City Councilman Michael Mullen, I-at large, who served as a volunteer on the local committee that helped organize the event 12 years ago.
That was thanks in part to lessons learned in the first Ohio Chautauqua, held in Columbus in 1999 by the Ohio Humanities Council, said Fran Tiburzio, director of public relations for the council and Chautauqua coordinator.
Photo submitted by Ohio Humanities Council
Living history performer Hank Fincken embodies inventor Thomas Edison during the 2000 Ohio Chautauqua event in Marietta. Fincken returns to the Pioneer City this year, portraying Johnny Appleseed.
"That way we would know what was reasonable and unreasonable (to ask of host communities) and what works and what doesn't," she said.
Over the years, the council has gotten more involved working with the communities that play host to the events, which consist of living history presentations and youth and adult workshops. Tiburzio said they're more hands-on than other Chautauquas around the country since this is the council's "signature event."
"It's been a lot of work for everybody, but we believe in it," said Glenna Hoff, educator at the Campus Martius and Ohio River museums and events chairwoman for Marietta's Chautauqua events.
Special 12-page section inside today's edition
- The Ohio Humanities Council played host to the first Ohio Chautauqua, focusing on living history, in 1999 in Columbus.
- The next year, they took the show on the road to five different communities, including Marietta.
- Cities apply to be Chautauqua participants and are selected by a statewide advisory committee that considers facilities, geography and how they fit with that year's theme.
- Marietta had not applied since the 2000 program until it was submitted for consideration for this year's event by Marietta College and the Campus Martius Museum.
Source: Fran Tiburzio, Ohio Humanities Council.
Origins of Chautauqua
- 1874 - The Chautauqua Lake Sunday School Assembly is founded in Chautauqua, N.Y., as an educational experiment in out-of-school, vacation learning. It quickly expanded from courses for Sunday school teachers to include academic subjects, music, art and physical education.
- 1878 - The Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle is one of the first attempts at distance learning, started to offer people who lacked the time or money to attend college the chance to acquire skills and knowledge.
- 1880 - The Chautauqua platform had become a national forum for open discussion of public issues, international relations, literature and science, while also spawning offshoots called "Daughter Chautauquas" and traveling performances known as "circuit" or "tent chautauquas."
- Today, the Chautauqua Institution is a not-for-profit, 750-acre educational center beside Chautauqua Lake in southwestern New York, where approximately 7,500 people are in residence on any day during a nine-week season, and a total of more than 142,000 attend scheduled public events.
- Chautauqua Summer Schools offer courses in art, music, dance, theater, writing skills and a wide variety of special interests to more than 8,000 students annually.
This year's theme of "When Ohio was the Western Frontier" seemed to many to be a good fit for Marietta, the first settlement in the Northwest Territory. That led to the application being filed, with Marietta College and Campus Martius taking the lead.
Cities apply to be Chautauqua hosts, and Tiburzio visits them to assess their facilities and gauge the community support for cultural and historical programs. She submits her report to a committee that considers the possible sites, including how they spread across the state and how they might fit with the year's theme.
"In some communities, we want to establish regular hosting schedules," Tiburzio said. "We also try to spread it around so we can reach new audiences."
Holding an Ohio Chautauqua event for the first time last year was Coshocton, and they're already lined up for a return engagement in 2013.
"We were very pleased, and our community really embraced it," said Jan Myers, director of the Coshocton County Convention and Visitors Bureau. "For weeks and weeks, even into this year, people have asked, 'Are they coming back?'"
Tiburzio said only Gallipolis is on a set, every-other-year schedule, but noted Chautauqua has been to the city of Warren four times. She noted one thing that prevented a return to Marietta sooner was that no one applied on the city's behalf until this time around.
Among the things that endeared Coshocton to the council were big crowds each night and the cooperation of the committee, Tiburzio said. A return to Marietta "will depend, of course, a great deal on the success we have this summer," she said.
Mullen said he would like to see Chautauqua return to Marietta sooner than later.
"I think we ought to try to get in a cycle as it's available," he said. "It can be another of those big visitor weekends that has a big impact on our economy."
Tiburzio said that when considering regular returns, the council considers whether the arrangement will benefit both them and the community - for example, by providing humanities programming in under-served areas.
Myers said the Coshocton events drew people from the local community and beyond to both the evening events and the workshops during the day. Each night, they asked how many people in the crowd were from outside Coshocton County and more than half raised their hands, she said.
One of the things that makes Ohio Chautauqua popular is the quality of the living history presentations. A nationwide call is put out for people to perform as characters who fit that year's theme. They look for folks who are scholars first, but talented performers as well.
"No one will want to sit there and be lectured to," Tiburzio said.
So even though Debra Conner, who will be portraying Margaret Blennerhassett on Tuesday, the opening night in Marietta, hails from just across the river in Parkersburg, it was talent, not proximity, that landed her the job. She's making her seventh tour with Ohio Chautauqua.
"We had applicants from all over the country," Tiburzio said.
Themes are often chosen with an upcoming milestone in mind, like last year's Civil War-centric events, Tiburzio said. With this year marking the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812, there's a component of that in the 2012 edition with Oliver Hazard Perry - who won a decisive victory over the British in the Battle of Lake Erie - as Thursday's featured figure.
If there's no obvious theme, Tiburzio said they choose one, like "the Roaring '20s."
Preparations for next week's events continue, and local volunteers are still needed, said Patricia Eberhard, information specialist for the Marietta-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau.
The primary areas of need are for people to help with traffic direction and parking around the main parking lots from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. and trash duty from 7 to 10 p.m. People interested in helping can contact the CVB at 373-5178 and ask for Eberhard.