For eighteen years, Ashland has been home to a living history festival that draws hundreds of people on summer evenings for live performances in the historic band shell in Ashland’s Brookside Park. Ashland is the county seat of a rural, north central Ohio agricultural county of the same name, with a population of just over 50,000. Ashland began its “Chautauqua adventure” as a host of Ohio Chautauqua, the statewide living history program sponsored by Ohio Humanities. After several seasons of Ohio Chautauqua, local fans were so captivated that they decided to create a locally-produced version themselves. Current Ashland Chautauqua project director, Deleasa Randall-Griffiths, explains the work involved:

The Ashland community loves Chautauqua! Each year we choose a theme, send a call to our scholar network, select a nationally recognized troupe of performer/scholars, and begin creating our event by soliciting donations, booking workshops for youth and adults, and organizing opening acts and main stage performances. Hundreds of people come each night to learn about the past through engaging performances. 

Since branching off on its own, the Ashland Chautauqua group has applied to Ohio Humanities’ competitive grants program for key funding and been consistently successful. In the last six years, Ohio Humanities has invested $23,000 in Ashland Chautauqua. This has been matched by approximately $130,000 in local investment, including numerous individual donations. And this year marks a special milestone in the Ashland Chautauqua adventure, as Randall-Griffiths reports:

Earlier this year, Ashland Chautauqua received the Ashland Area Chamber of Commerce award for “Culture and Recreation.”  Accepting that award validated our many years producing the annual five-day event that brings history to life, Chautauqua style. None of this, not the award and certainly not the many years of scholarly performances and workshops, would have been possible without Ohio Humanities. Our community is enriched each year by Ohio Humanities. They help us see the present through the past and expand our notion of what it means to be human.        

As exemplified by Ashland Chautauqua, part of Ohio Humanities’ mission is to help leverage local support for cultural and heritage programming throughout the state. Programs like Ashland Chautauqua are not only economic generators, but also critical investments in the social and cultural lives of Ohio’s rural communities.=

For complete details on this year’s program, Ashland Chautauqua: Voices of Freedom, visit ashlandchautauqua.com.

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