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Feed your head

at Chautauqua Institution

Chautauqua is an idea, embracing
'all things of life'

Would you care for a little Toscanini after your Tennesee Williams? Or a bit of tai-chi before tennis?

by Susan Beckhorn

Stop a minute. The voice of a single flute seems to stir the maple leaves overhead. A friendly bat diligently sweeps the ether for mosquitos.
Here, beside a lake in western New York, where muskellunge prowl the weedbeds, on just such a summer's eve 122 years ago the first cluster of Chautauqua tents glowed with lantern light and human faces radiated the light of knowledge.

"Chautauqua is an idea, embracing 'all things of life'-art, science, society, religion, patriotism, education-whatsoever tends to enlarge, refine and ennoble the individual," John Heyl Vincent, the Institution's co-founder, explained long ago. Before the advent of modern communication, Chautauqua Institution tents brought enlightenment to the far reaches of rural America. Today, the original self-contained lakeside community bustles with 142,000 visitors each summer.Tents have evolved into fairy tale Victorian cottages, whose gingerbread and flower-decked porches entice visitors. The original Methodist Sunday school teachers' curriculum has expanded to include a cultural feast of over 200 summer courses: anything from the realities and misperceptions of Islam to basic investing; from gliding and soaring to mountain dulcimer making. The concept has grown, but the faces still glow.

Would you care for a little Toscanini after your Tennesee Williams? Or a bit of tai-chi before tennis? You can have dinner at Thomas Edison's favorite table in the Athenaeum, one of the last great old wooden hotels, or simply picnic on the lake.

Automobiles are relegated to a parking lot outside the main gate, and television is an anachronism here. There is a sense of time and tradition, but also one of youth and excitement.

Kids have always been welcome. "Bring the boys and girls to the Assembly," an 1877 Chautauqua newspaper said. "They may spend half their time climbing trees or boating on the lake...but they cannot avoid seeing and hearing many things which will...shape their destiny in life."

I came for the Highlights children's literature conference and came away with a vision that will stay with me always. There is a place where dreams live and hearts are open. It is Chautauqua.

If you go: Chautauqua Institution, Chautauqua, N.Y., 800-836-ARTS. Located 16 miles northwest of Jamestown, N.Y.
·Admission to most events by gate ticket (day, week or season)
·Privately owned hotels & guest rooms on the grounds; reserve early. Off-grounds accommodations also available.
·Discount vacation packages.
·A variety of recreation, youth and religious activities.
·For opera and theater tickets call 716-357-6250.

Susan Beckhorn has had stories and illustrations published by Cricket, Highlights and Horsepower magazines.

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