In 1995, Disney’s then-CEO Michael Eisner created the Disney Institute, his commercial homage to the Chautauqua Institution, a 135-year-old center of learning and recreation in western New York that comes alive for nine weeks every year. Disney Institute, which is located on the periphery of Disney World, never became as successful as Eisner had hoped, but Chautauqua continues to draw about 145,000 visitors each summer. Founded in 1874 as a training camp for Sunday school teachers, the institution is now multidenominational, and this year a Jewish Life Center opened, with a full program of well-attended classes and seminars and inter-religious activities. In 2010 it will host a Book Week, when authors will have several opportunities to speak and autograph their books. (For more info, contact us.)As many as 7,500 people turn up each day for lectures, concerts, readings and classes, whether they’re living on Chautauqua’s 750-acre campus (listed on the National Register of Historic Places) or coming for a specific event. Each of the nine weeks has a different focus, and speakers from the worlds of academics, public policy, and media come to address the participants, many of whom have been coming to the Institution for a week or more every summer since they were children. (Many now come with their children, and even grandchildren, who spend their days in the CI camp, located on the shores of Lake Chautauqua.)
There are two main talks per day, and the Amphitheater, where every week day brings another world class speaker (including presidents, chief justices, and Nobel Prize winners) to address the week’s topic, seats 5,000. After the lecture, said speaker makes his or her way to the autographing section behind the bookstore, to sign books and chat with the crowd.
Other speakers might go to meetings of the Chautauqua Literary & Scientific Circle, the oldest book club in the US, to participate in a book discussion. (Membership involves signing up for—and reading—the year’s list of books, which are sold to members at a slight discount.) And there is the Writers’ Center, where Robert Pinsky is speaking this week. Everyone ends up at the Chautauqua Bookstore, which stocks all of the week’s lecturers’ books.
In the course of a week, numerous authors talk in a variety of venues—lectures, classes, workshops or at the various literary meet-and-greets. Oddly, and despite a constant emphasis on books and authors, the daily newspaper, The Chautauqaun, contains no book ads. (Advertising may be reached at (716) 357-6206.