Nevada Humanities Chautauqua

Author: 
Rachel Hopkin

As one of Nevada Humanities’ two staff members based in the southern state office, I spend most of my time in and around Las Vegas. However, last week – as the heat closed in on my hometown – I was lucky enough to be in the relative cool of Reno where one of our signature programs was having its yearly outing.

Yes - it was time for our annual Chautauqua festival. This week-long event includes workshops, discussions, tours, and, of course, theatrical performances of first person living history given by both professional Chautauquan scholars and the impressive graduates of our Young Chautauqua program.

My main activity during the week was to record interviews with participants and guests. With the material I gathered, along with photos taken by various colleagues, I shall be making little audio slideshows that I hope will give some insight into what the Nevada Humanities Chautauqua is about and why it attracts such a devoted and enthusiastic audience, because it really does. Many people with whom I spoke had been coming every year since the event launched in 1992. One man had even written a lovely poem inspired by the performances of our young Chautauquans and I’m extremely grateful that he gave me permission to share it here, however, he preferred that I not refer to him by name:

Young Chautauquans and Reflections of America

Chautauqua is an Iroquois word and it means "two moccasins together tied"
And the shape of two Indian moccasins forms to make a western New York lake.
Then in 1874 ministers started a camp where scholars and students sat side by side.
Here by discussion and questions they enriched their minds for learning's sake.

The Lake's housing and chapels of worship broaden out to everyone, education for all,
A rising nation thirsted for leaning and the Chautauqua Movement is what it came to be.
Those Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle lectures tore down ignorance's wall.
A tidal wave of education enriched the average Americans...people like you and me.

Young Chautauquan students returned to their homes and others they did spire,
In those small horse drawn towns others wanted to learn especially in the Midwest,
A Chautauqua circuit traveled with tents to add to our nation's educational fire,
People in those classes learning about the latest with lectures from only the best.

But then came cars, movies and that might Depression brought every family down,
People no longer had interest in the Chautauquas, it was radio who had their ear.
Television too played a mighty role and the Chautauquas stopped coming into town,
Sadly we lost the person speaking directly to us with a voice.....a great loss I fear.

But the sunshine that once reflected brightly on Lake Chautauqua again does glow,
Its birth came at the San Rafael Park and then the Bartley Ranch, voiced this very day.
Young Chautauquans voice the history of past Americans so great lives we may know.
As a Vietnam vet I declare, knowing these great Americans reflects our American way.

I was part of a terrible conflict fought half way around the Globe there by the Pacific Sea,
Our history reflects people who stood strong so a better America we could create.
Young Chautauquans loudly voicing the lives that echo the American values of you and me.
We are proud of all our Chautauquans that voice America here in the Nevada State.

As for me, I hope to be putting together a number of the aforementioned audio slideshows when I get back from leave (I’m about to go off for 2½ weeks), but for now, here’s the first one. It focuses on the Reno-based journalist, writer, and Chautauquan, Frank Mullen, who appeared this year as Albert Einstein.

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