1999 Chautauqua

Art, crafts, food, music and a whole lot more


MADISON, Ind. (September 1999) – In its 29th consecutive year, the Madison Chautauqua Festival of Art has become the area's premier event, drawing more than 70,000 people to the banks of the Ohio.

1999 Chautauqua Poster
Chautauqua poster design
by Kevin Carlson.

This year's event promises to be just as rich in art, crafts, entertainment, food and fun for the entire family. The Chautauqua also provides an opportunity to introduce visitors to Madison's scenic beauty, historical sites, unique architecture and small-town charm.
"It's the one event that showcases our town the best," said Linda Lytle, executive director of the Madison Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. "I think it's part of the reason why we have such a strong and growing arts community in the area. The reputation of the event is well known."
Indeed, it is among the state's largest arts festivals, filling all the local hotels and restaurants with customers and making parking on city streets a luxury. To help ease the parking problem, officials three years ago started a shuttle service from the Madison Consolidated High School on top of the hill. But the streets -- those that are still open to traffic -- are still full of cars and pedestrians strollers.
The event is planned and organized under the auspices of the convention and visitors bureau, primarily by volunteer committee members who meet year-round. Several local businesses provide financial support, and city officials help organizers accommodate the influx of people into this city of about 13,000.
"We get great support from the city. It's a big undertaking to put this festival on," said the bureau's special events coordinator, Melissa Spry.
But if you're looking for Madison's home grown talent at the Chautauqua, you may have to do some digging. Only eight of the 280 vendors hail from the Madison-Hanover area, though others may have local ties. Another five are from neighboring Ripley, Jennings and Scott counties. The rest represent 25 other states, coming from as far away as Washington and California.
There are several locals who display their wares around the Jefferson County courthouse and along Jefferson Street, from Main down to the river. That's the site of the annual Old Court Days, a twice-a-year event that coincides with the Chautauqua and is sponsored by the Pilot Club of Madison.
The Chautauqua, meanwhile, is a who's who of talent from cities large and small. Over the years, festival organizers have tried to manage the growth of the event.
"We cut off the entries at 275 because if we were to go any higher, we wouldn't have any place to put them," Spry said. "Also, it takes a full day to see the whole show. If it was any bigger, it would take two days, and we don't want that. We want visitors to see Madison's other offerings."
About 80 percent of the vendors return each year, Lytle said. That leaves plenty of room for new talent.
The volunteer committee, made up of a dozen people, decides who gets in, based on applications that are filed each year by mid-March. Exhibitors pay a $150 entry fee. Corner spaces – apparently the most desirable – cost $200.
But it’s not as simple as that.
Committee members also regulate what type of vendors are allowed into the show as a way of monitoring the mix of artists, crafts people, jewelers, weavers, sculptors, potters, photographers, woodworkers and the like.
Even more variety can be found at the Old Court Days, which costs much less to enter. There, you can sample local wines, trade knives or pick up a handmade Christmas ornament.
The festival committee also selects an artist each year to create the official Chautauqua poster.

Community flavor

Today’s Madison Chautauqua is as famous for its crowds as its arts and crafts. But for many, that’s part of the attraction.
And because of the numbers descending on Madison, some local organizations have become adept at turning the weekend into a fundraising event. There are bake sales, bean soup suppers, sidewalk sales and kid’s activities to meet a wide variety of interests.
In addition, a "Youth Tent" will display the works of local children who have participated in a variety of classes over the summer to learn the art of watercoloring, pottery, basket weaving and self-portrait painting. The classes are sponsored by the local artists' group, Arts in Madison.
Historic Madison Inc., meanwhile, uses the opportunity to show off its seven historic properties. Hundreds of people – mostly out-of-towners – tour the historic homes scattered throughout the downtown area.
Live entertainment takes place on stage throughout the weekend. This year, festival organizers have consolidated the music to one stage, to be located on the north lawn of the Lanier Mansion, 511 W. First St. The musical entertainment is eclectic, ranging from classical to country.
The 20 food booths that make up the Riverfront Foodfest are located along the riverfront on Vaughn Drive and are just as varied as the music.
"We try to make sure there's something to satisfy everyone's tastes," Spry said.
Local officials like to promote the Chautauqua as a community event, citing the $500 scholarship that is awarded annually to a local high school student who excels in visual or performing arts. Several local organizations also sell food and other items.

Early beginnings

The first Chautauqua in Madison took place in 1901 at Beech Grove Park, the site of today’s Madison Country Club, according to early reports on file at the Madison-Jefferson County Public Library.
That first event may have required less logistical planning, but it lasted 10 days. It was held in the summer and featured entertainers, music, instructional courses and lectures.
But more is known about the second Chautauqua because of pamphlets that were printed to publicize the event. Apparently, these early events attracted tourists from outlying areas who camped for the weeklong festival.
This second Chautauqua, more organized than the first, boasted having electricity in the campgrounds, pure fresh water and a telephone at Chautauqua headquarters. The grounds also had police protection.
Adults paid a whopping $2.50 for a weeklong pass; $1 for children. Daily admission was 10 cents in the morning and 25 cents for the afternoon or evening.
The Chautauqua attracted politicians and other officials. In fact, the highlight of the 1905 Chautauqua was a lecture by presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan. New Hampshire Gov. N.J. Bachelder also visited that year.
In 1906, the Chautauqua gave local residents their first look at moving pictures. In 1913, a Kinecolor film was shown, illustrating the construction of the Panama Canal.
The last of the original Chautauqua series took place in 1929. It wasn’t until 1971 that the event was revived. That year, a Chautauqua was held outdoors along Mulberry Street.
The event expanded in 1973 and became known as the Madison Chautauqua Festival of Art, with a stated goal "to cultivate the arts, entertain and educate."
Today’s Chautauqua is much different than its early predecessors. Now held in late September on the streets of downtown Madison, the event has changed to reflect the times: more emphasis on the sales of arts and crafts than on performances and lectures.
There’s still music and entertainment and food, but the focus of the two-day event is purely financial.
And you might have a little trouble finding a place to pitch your tent.

Back to September 1999 Articles.



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