President Becker recommends Amphitheater project decision be deferred
CHAUTAUQUA, N.Y. — Calling its Amphitheater project “too important to the Institution’s mission not to get it right,” Chautauqua Institution President Tom Becker recommended today to the Institution’s board of trustees that “decisions on proceeding with the Amphitheater development project be deferred to the Board’s August 2015 meeting.”
The later approval will likely mean a delay in the start of construction on the Amphitheater until the fall of 2016.
Becker also announced plans to consult with an historic preservation expert from the U.S. Department of the Interior, and to re-engage the CHQ community in a meaningful discourse about the “Amp” project, particularly during the 2015 summer season.
“Following a detailed review of the project to date,” said Becker, “it is clear from the public and private communications going back and forth between the Institution and various members of the CHQ community that meaningful re-engagement of our various constituencies — especially those who are so passionate in their views, both positive or critical, about the Amp and its future — should occur, especially during the summer season and before we move forward.”
In a letter to Institution Board Chairman James Pardo, Becker urged the board to allow additional time for review of the project’s design, costs and timelines; consult with federal historic preservation experts; and further inform and engage the CHQ community in discussion about the Amp project.
“I am convinced that we have to this point acted with integrity and in a manner consistent with the mission and values of CHQ,” stated Becker. “That said, as part of our commitment to the ongoing project and its priority for our future — as well as its identity with our past — I am equally convinced that before bringing a recommendation to the board, we should take another look at critical elements of the project.”
Becker also informed the board that he will be organizing initiatives around three key actions prior to the Board’s August meeting. Becker said he would
- continue to assess and communicate historic preservation matters;
- re-engage the CHQ community in a meaningful discourse about the Amp and its future; and
- utilize outside experts and advisers.
Regarding historic preservation, Becker said he has already had a “constructive and helpful” discussion with a representative of the U.S. Department of the Interior and has invited her to visit the Institution’s grounds. Chautauqua Institution staff will exchange with Department representatives information and ideas that may inform the ongoing planning and development of the Amphitheater with regard to historic preservation standards.
Becker stressed that all design aspects of the project, including historic preservation, “must meet the project’s safety, engineering, sustainability, and long-term programmatic objectives that form the foundation of the project.”
In addition, Becker said that his recent detailed review of the project convinced him of the need for additional community dialogue about the Amp.
He said he was seeking to both ”better understand the emotion, disinformation and distrust that has emerged, particularly since the close of last season,” along with “reviewing some of the very thoughtful, equally passionate and supportive communications received.” He said that in reaching his recommendation to defer decision making to August, he had dialogue with community members that had shared with him very informed, accurate and valid criticism that was often accompanied by equally informed suggested solutions.”
As a result, Chautauqua Institution has engaged a New York firm with expertise in communications, education and community engagement and has asked them to propose specific ways to bring all who wish inside the project to explore the challenges, listen, share and engage in ways that support clarity and informed decision-making.
“It is clear to me,” Becker said, “that there has been much communicating at each other but not enough discussion with each other.”
The pre-eminent expression of lifelong learning in the United States, Chautauqua Institution comes alive each summer with a unique mix of fine and performing arts, lectures, interfaith worship and programs, and recreational activities. Over the course of nine weeks, more than 100,000 people visit CHQ and participate in programs, classes and community events for all ages — all within the beautiful setting of a historic lakeside village. Smithsonian magazine named CHQ as the No. 1 “Best Small Town to Visit in 2014” in the cover story of its April 2014 issue.
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