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.
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,
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
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
But its 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.
Todays Madison Chautauqua is as famous for its crowds as its arts
and crafts. But for many, thats 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 kids 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
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
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,"
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.
The first Chautauqua in Madison took place in 1901 at Beech Grove Park,
the site of todays 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
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
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 wasnt
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
Todays 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.
Theres 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.
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