New Format Debuts at Nebraska Chautauqua In Kearney

2018 Chautauqua in Wayne, Nebraska. (Photo courtesy of Humanities Nebraska)
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August 1, 2019 - 6:40am

Nebraska Chautauqua starts Friday in Kearney, a two-day event focused on the events of the 1950s. There are some new twists to this year’s event, and Jack Williams of NET News talked to Mary Yager with Humanities Nebraska to find out what’s in store. 


NET News:  Give us a quick primer and what Chautauqua is and how long Humanities Nebraska has been offering the program in Nebraska.

Mary Yager: Well, Chautauqua itself has a long history. It began 145 years ago in a small town called Chautauqua in southwest New York State. It began as an opportunity to bring entertainment and educations elements to a rural population. It became so popular that it spread across the country and it was maybe ten years later that it came to Nebraska and the first Chautauqua was held in Crete. Other communities got into the action and Chautauqua became a really popular opportunity for people to learn what was going on in their country and in their state in a summer, week-long event.             

NET News: Traditionally, Chautauqua has been a five-day event, but you’ve taken a look at that model and made some changes this year. What’s different and why the changes?

Mary Yager with Humanities Nebraska. (Photo by Jack Williams, NET News)

Mary Yager:  Humanities Nebraska had been doing a modern version of Chautauqua for the past 35 years and with that we were bringing historical figures to communities and scholars would present as historical figures and we would do that for a one week period. Over the course of that time and with evaluations from attendees and with interest in maybe taking a new look at the format, we developed this year a new system. We’ve reduced the five days to basically one-and-a-half days. Technology has brought a lot of change. People’s schedules are different, they have a lot of different activities going on so we thought a streamlined version might be successful.                

NET News: You’ve picked an interesting topic this year, ”The Fifties in Focus,” and there’s a lot to choose from there. What about the 1950s makes it such an intriguing and nostalgic era?

Mary Yager: The ’50s was a very important time. We were coming off of World War II. There had been changes with people working in the workforce. Women were working during the war and then the ’50s came along and there were some changes. The ’50s were also important because there were a lot of political changes. The Cold War was starting. There were just a lot of issues that really brought a different focus to the country then we had experienced in the past.            

NET News: Another interesting addition to this year’s Nebraska Chautauqua is the collection of oral histories from people who lived through the 1950s. Tell us about that.

Mary Yager: UNK’s history department and the Senior College of Central Nebraska are coming to the Kearney Public Library on Saturday. It’s the same time we’re having a lot of concurrent sessions on a whole lot of different topics that will be of interest to folks. And we encourage those who come to go to the oral history area and share their stories of the ’50s and their experiences from that time that will then become a part of history itself.     

NET News: How does Chautauqua kick-off tomorrow and what do people need to know if they plan to attend?

Mary Yager: The activities tomorrow will start at 5:45 at the Merryman Performing Arts Center with a '50s fashion show, so that will be a lot of fun. We have a scholar on fashion history and some models from the community, so we encourage people to come out of for that. There will be food trucks available before that if you want to catch a meal. Following the fashion show, we’ll have our keynote address by one of the premier scholars on President Eisenhower. 


Editor's Note: By way of full-disclosure, Humanities Nebraska provides funding to NET for humanities-related reporting.   

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