What is a Chautauqua?

The name “Chautauqua” comes from the Chautauqua Institution, originally a non-denominational educational summer school camp established on Lake Chautauqua, New York in 1874. Although its original purpose was to educate Sunday school teachers, the outdoor setting was conducive to merging family entertainment and recreation into an educational program. The Chautauqua brought entertainment and culture for the whole community, with speakers, teachers, musicians, showmen, preachers, and specialists of the day. The Chautauqua movement spread across the country and eventually arrived in Tulsa in 1992.

Today, the Chautauqua movement is alive and well across the United States and its focus now is a living history program in which performers, in costume and in character, bring historical figures to life through theatrical monologues.

History of Tulsa Chautauqua

When audiences attended the first Tulsa Chautauqua at Veterans Park in 1992 and in later years at OSU-Tulsa’s campus, even the stale heat and occasional mud puddles failed to deter enthusiastic fans from enjoying scholarly historical presentations under a huge white tent, which is symbolic of the Chautauqua movement. Those inconveniences disappeared when Chautauqua moved indoors in 2014 and 2015 to the TCC Performing Art Center for Education, in South Tulsa, but at the sacrifice of its tent origins.

Ultimately, Tulsa Chautauqua moved to the Tulsa Historical Society in 2016, a completely renovated historical mansion more in line with the organization’s historical mission. The Chautauqua’s spacious, white, iconic tent is back, but with improvements. It’s now staked down against spring storms to a mud-free concrete pad, with numerous pole fans circulating the summer air. Parking is also closer and a lush, sloping lawn is open to picnickers for their enjoyment.

All About the Scholars

It would not be a Chautauqua without the intelligent, dedicated scholars recruited from a Chautauqua talent pool for our history-themed summer engagement each year. The Event’s five selected historians are paid a nominal fee to research and prepare for their roles, well in advance of the 20 days they will spend in June delivering presentations to audiences at four Oklahoma Chautauqua circuit locations: Altus, Tulsa, Enid and Lawton.

Historical Periods Selected

The Oklahoma Chautauqua Committee selects both the historical period and characters more than a year in advance, recognizing that people of both genders and all ethnicities have made significant historical contributions. Past themes included “Cold War: the Early Years,” “The Civil War,” “The Renaissance”, etc.

About Tulsa Chautauqua

Tulsa Chautauqua is a nonprofit 501(c)(b) corporation run by a Board of Directors and supported by an indispensable staff of volunteers, whose devotion and hard work keep living history alive.