Chautauqua Institution hires 1st-ever IDEA officer to diversify operations, programming

Mar 29, 2021

When the Chautauqua Institution opens another summer season during COVID soon, there will be a major change very close to the top.

While the Chautauqua Institution has long been a place for ideas, upper management will soon include an IDEA curator, a new senior vice president and chief inclusion, equity and accessibility officer.

Several years ago, the institution approved a 10-year strategic plan that included not just having a diversity officer, but one who is a senior manager at the landmark thought center. When Amit Taneja comes on board May 17, he will be working out of the president's suite of offices, with a place at the table when decisions are made.

Amit Taneja will be the Chautauqua Institution's first IDEA officer.
Credit Tom Rettig / Chautauqua Institution

"I'm grateful that he has, in essence, started from scratch before, because that's certainly what he'll be doing from here," said Institution President Michael Hill. "As I said to him, you're coming to an institution that has a profound desire to make a difference. You have a community that has done it's own set of conversations and reckoning over the past several years. It's not starting completely from scratch."

Hill said Taneja is a good fit because he has been to the institution in the past and has started diversity programs at Hamilton College and Holy Cross College before accepting this position. Taneja grew up and was educated in Canada and has parents in Toronto.

"I found a willingness and an eagerness from our patrons who come from older generations to tackle this work," Hill said. "It's because, invariably, a son, daughter, grandson, granddaughter, friend, neighbor comes from a different background than they do and because they love that person, they want to understand these issues."

Hill said the intellectual and cultural events at the institution are very diverse, while the audiences aren't.

"We've done a lot of work on our staff and our board. We have a lot more work to do, but our board is getting increasingly more diverse. Our staff is starting to get increasingly more diverse and, in many ways, while that work will continue," Hill said. "Now, it's how do we think about this in term of our program, how do we think about this in terms of our audience and how do we think about this in terms of people that we serve with our programs, year-round and across the country?"