Changing of the Guard
Kelly to retire as Chautauqua
coordinator after this year
She is training two others
to take over the festival in 2016
(March 2015) –After 18 years at the helm, George Kelly on Feb. 23 announced she is stepping down as coordinator of the Madison Chautauqua Festival of Art. Kelly told the VisitMadison Inc. tourism board of her decision to retire after this coming year at the board’s February meeting, held monthly at the Lanier-Madison Visitors Center. She plans to stay on through one more Chautauqua festival and use the opportunity to transition its leadership to two committee members who are being groomed to serve as co-coordinators – Jenny Straub Youngblood and Amy Fischmer. The two women have been before a Chautauqua selection committee and accepted as co-coordinators. Their selection must still be approved by the tourism board.
“Someone said that the secret to a long and happy life is knowing when it’s time to go, and I have decided that it is time for me to go,” said Kelly, 66, who has been involved in 23 Chautauquas in all. “I wanted to stay on until someone was on board to continue leading the festival, and I am very confident with these two young women who want to take this on.”
Kelly will serve as coordinator through next fall’s event, then continue to assist the committee as a consultant and volunteer. VisitMadison inc., which oversees the annual festival, will decide at a later time the pay structure for the two co-coordinators, who will each receive a stipend this year, said Linda Lytle, executive director of the city’s tourism board.
Lytle said the two women will not share in the same amount of pay that Kelly makes, which is $29,150 per year as a contract employee. The board will attempt to iron out those details at its March meeting, Lytle said.
Youngblood, 39, and Fischmer, 37, have served as volunteer committee members for the past three years and first met each other from that experience.
Jenny Straub Youngblood
Youngblood works as a juvenile probation officer for Jefferson County, Ind. Fischmer is an art teacher for K-12 grades at the Prince of Peace Catholic school system in Madison.
Youngblood, also an artist, is a Hanover College graduate who majored in studio art in 1998. She also writes for the RoundAbout Entertainment Guide.
Fischmer earned a degree in graphic design at IU-PUI in Indianapolis. She also studied visual art at the Herron School of Art and Design, based at IU-PUI.
Kelly said the two women work well together and will play off each other’s strengths as they develop their own style of managing the two-day event, held annually on the third weekend of September. She told the board that at some point, one of the women will have to step up to hold a sole leadership position and serve as a single point person for exhibitors and food vendors to contact about participating in the festival.
“I want to create a model for them to follow. I will be there to assist them, but I will be hands off to allow them to find their own way of doing things,” Kelly said. “I didn’t have that when I took over, but I had prior experience in organizing shows.”
Youngblood said, “We already have a rough idea of how we will do certain jobs.”
Fischmer added, “We’re pretty good about talking to each other before making a decision.”
Kelly said she told her Chautauqua committee last August her decision to retire after last year’s event. She stepped out of the room to allow the committee members to discuss with Youngblood and Fischmer their plans to take over the leadership. When Kelly returned to the room, the committee asked her to stay on one more year to help in the transition. She agreed.
“You have been a wonderful director for this very important event in our community,” tourism board president John Nyberg told Kelly upon news of her pending retirement.
“You have provided a model for our other festival directors to follow, in terms of leadership,” ‘added board member Andrew Forrester.
Lytle said the Chautauqua is the hardest event of all the city’s festivals to stage. She has first-hand knowledge after having directed it for one year in 1995. “I immediately hired someone else to do it the following year.”
Kelly has spent 18 years as the Chautauqua coordinator, beginning in 1993-94. She stepped down the next five years to take care of her ailing father. She returned as coordinator in 2000 and has guided it ever since, with the help of an all-volunteer committee.
The Chautauqua does not receive funding from city or county sources but rather generates income from exhibitor fees, food vendor percentages and sponsorships from local businesses. It also sells merchandise, such as a limited edition poster, T-shirts and sweatshirts.
Known throughout the region as a premier juried art show, the Chautauqua also has a large economic impact on the town and local businesses, and attracting an estimated 70,000-80,000 people over one weekend. It also features many musical performers and dramatic productions presented by local high school students during the art show.
This will be the 45th year of the event. Last year’s festival featured 214 exhibitors. In addition to annual net profits that last year nearly reached $10,000, the Chautauqua has more than $63,000 in invested in interest-bearing Certificates of Deposit. Some proceeds are used to purchase such things as communication radios and picnic tables for the city, to support various arts-related educational programming, and to establish an annual scholarship award to an art student graduating from one of the three area high schools.
The first Chautauqua in Madison was held in 1901 with a 10-day camp meeting that gave Sunday School teachers a chance to mix religious studies with recreation. The event grew to include sermons, lectures, scientific demonstrations, political speeches, dramatic readings, magic acts and musical performances. The event was held on the site of the former Madison Country Club. A permanent pavilion was built for the event, which continued until 1929. The pavilion was destroyed by the 1974 tornado.
Today’s more modern art show began in 1970-71 when some local merchants and art teachers organized a sidewalk art sale as an incentive to bring business from the Madison hilltop to the downtown. The group included jeweler Oscar Bear and art teachers Lou Knoble and Gary Chapman, with some advertising support from Alea Newman of WORX radio station, according to Bear. Mostly high school students and teachers participated in those early shows. Then in 1973, under the direction of newcomer Dixie McDonough of Columbus, Ind., the show took on the Madison Chautauqua name with the intention of promoting the arts, and it grew from there.
When McDonough moved to Columbus, Ind., to organize a similar art show there, Kelly was hired by the Madison Area Convention and Visitors Bureau in 1993 to continue the Madison show. While Kelly had not been involved in the Chautauqua, she benefitted from show experience, having previously organized art and craft shows in Louisville.
“Georgie received no help from her predecessor,” Bear said. “She came in and picked up the pieces, and she has done a wonderful job of managing the Madison Chautauqua.”
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