Chautauqua Revival in Brooklyn, Coming Soon!


photo: Nicole Reed

Derek Denckla, as part of his FarmCity efforts, is hosting a series of food related events at 61 Local Public House in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn. 61 Local is a new establishment, dedicated to locally crafted food and beer. The series is entitled "Chautauqua", in tribute to historic cultural gatherings which started in upstate New York and spread to rural farm communities all over America. The first Chautauqua was organized in 1874 by Methodist minister John Heyl Vincent and New York City businessman Lewis Miller at a campsite on the shores of Lake Chautauqua. Programming first focused on training Sunday school teachers, but quickly expanded its range. Chautauqua became so popular, that in less than a decade independent Chautauquas, called "Assemblies," sprang up in rural areas across the U.S. These "Chautauqua Assemblies" provided entertainment, including live music, Broadway plays and productions by the Metropolitan Opera. Many people saw their first movies in a Chautaqua tent. But the goal of the assemblies was also to challenge, inform, and inspire rural people, and the lectures were opportunities for the community to gather and listen to important political and cultural issues of their time.

Farm City's Chautauqua revives this tradition for urbanites -- building connections for city people to the land that their food was grown on, and the process of bringing food to the table, including the taste, display and ritual of food. Denckla's urban Chautauqua re-interprets the traditional rural Chatauqua Assemblies by bringing the benefits of food production into the city. "The Chautauqua's series aim", according to Denckla is "to create community through food, and vice versa". Denckla has assembled a varied team of artists and artisans who have created a roster of unique food related events and activities from a monthly book club to a community cooking club.

There will also be monthly events hosted by Communal Table, a sustainability speakers series by Green Edge NYC, a lecture on the crucial role of food and agriculture during the Civil War by a culinary historian, a "process dinner" by performance artist Chloe Bass, and "Tracing Trash," a multi-media installation and community dialogue led by an art collective.

The series starts with an event on February 22nd and ends on July 22nd. When the original Chautauqua Assemblies would come to a small town nothing evoked the promise of summer more than the arrival of the brown tent. The assemblies brought people together to improve their minds and renew their ties to one another. Denckla is hoping to recreate this atmosphere at 61 Local's "public house," the upstairs community room built out of reclaimed wood. William Jennings Bryan called Chautauqua a "potent human factor in molding the mind of the nation;" here is hoping that Denckla's series will do the same for community in Brooklyn.

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