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Ohio Magazine
June 2010

Arts, Festivals, and More abound this summer in Chautauqua County, NY and Erie, Pennsylvania



            Chautauqua County, NY and Erie, Pennsylvania, less than a days drive from most of Ohio, offers a variety of summertime art and cultural activities, as well as numerous festivals and recreational pursuits. Whether you’re looking for a quick weekend getaway or an extended summer stay, this region has plenty to choose from. Described below is just a sampling of what this region has to offer.


Ultimate Arts and Culture Getaway

            Say the word Chautauqua and some people will think of the entire county or perhaps the 17 mile long lake. However, what comes to mind most often is the Chautauqua Institution. This well known center for performing arts, religion, education, and recreation has been attracting visitors since its founding in 1874.

            Over 150,000 people converge on this 856 acre gated community during the nine week summer season. A gate fee, which allows admission to lectures and concerts, is charged daily, except for Sunday, when admission is free. This very quaint Victorian community, which was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1989, takes one back in time; for example, most people get around by foot and bicycle, as vehicular traffic is very limited. By design, Chautauqua offers a respite from the busyness if modern life.

            Some of this summer’s highlights include an evening with Mark Russell on July 14, a performance by singer Dion on July 20, and a talk by award wining film maker Ken Burns on August 11. For a complete listing of events, visit


More to do in nearby Mayville

            Just a few miles outside of the gates of the Chautauqua Institution, the village of Mayville offers more to choose from. “The Chautauqua Institution is a wonderful vacation and learning center and the businesses outside the gates enhance the visitor’s experience,” said Debi Clementi, who has lived on the grounds of the institution for over 35 years. Her family owns the Chautauqua Marina in Mayville, where one can rent a boat for a few hours, a day, or even a week.

            Not up to piloting your own vessel? The Chautauqua Belle, a 98 foot long authentic stern wheel steam boat, offers scenic excursions along LakeChautauqua. Other pursuits in Mayville include boutique shopping at the Red Brick Farm and eating in one of the many fine restaurants in the village.

            Upcoming events include the Mayville Bluegrass Festival June 19-20 and National Marina Day on August 7, which includes a free youth fishing derby. The free “Entertainment in the Park” concert series takes places Thursday evenings from July 8-August 26. For more information, visit


Creative Arts

            If you enjoy quality handmade craft items, the Chautauqua Craft Alliance holds two open-air art shows on the grounds of the Chautauqua Institution each summer. (This year’s dates are July 9-11 and August 13-15.) This organization was founded in 1982 by a group of ChautauquaCounty studio artists who wanted to develop opportunities for members to show their work. Today the shows are recognized as two of the finest juried craft shows in the country, with artists from all over the United States participating. Pottery, jewelry, fiber arts, woodworking, glass blowing, and more are featured.

            Many studio artists find their inspiration in the natural beauty of ChautauquaCounty. These artists, who number about 25, belong to the North Shore Arts Alliance. They’ve created the Chautauqua Arts Trail, which sponsors an open studio tour each May and November. Many of these artisans are normally open by appointment only, although some do keep regular business hours. Visit and for more information.

            “I think most people are looking for professional quality artwork from the region and therefore, that is our focus,” said Audrey Kay Dowling, who has operated Portage Hill Gallery in Westfield for almost 30 years. “Many of the regional artists are nationally known and some are internationally known.” The gallery, located in an 1830’s Greek Revival home, features the work of over 200 regional and national artists. They even offer lessons, both private and group, if you want to try your hand at painting.

            Dowling added, “Especially during the summer, there is a full plate of art choices to do in ChautauquaCounty. If you include all of the opportunities on the grounds of the Chautauqua Institution, almost all art forms are represented.

            The Chautauqua Institution offers numerous hands-on workshops during the summer season, including photography and writing. Additional opportunities include knitting and jewelry making classes taught at Imagine, located in Bemus Point, across the Lake from the Chautauqua Institution and stained glass lessons at Creation Station in Silver Creek.

            If you are looking for nature-inspired art, Art in the Woods, held at the JamestownAudubonNatureCenter, features over 40 artists, both local and national, who create jewelry, paintings, photographs, pottery, pressed flowers, woodworking, ironwork, and more. This art show, which was founded in 1992, is a celebration of nature in art and art in nature. Over 2,000 people attended this major fundraiser for the nature center last year; with proceeds going towards environmental education programs. This year’s show takes place July 17-18. 


Erie, Pennsylvania offers a summer of festivals

            Erie is very lucky to have a wide variety of ethnic festivals during the summer months,” said Christine Pennsy, Director of Communications for VisitErie. “I attribute it to Erie having a big melting pot of ethnicities, like a smaller New York City.”

            The largest attended of the ethnic festivals is the Panegyri Greek Festival (July 9-11), at Assumption Greek Orthodox Church, which features music, entertainment, games, authentic Greek foods and pastries.

            Other ethnic festivals include the annual Edinboro Highland Games & Scottish Festival (July 22-24), which is held on the campus of EdinboroUniversity, Enjoy bagpipe music, Scottish foods, dancers, and athletic competitions.

            St. Paul’s Annual Italian Festival (August 13-15) includes a pasta fagioli dinner, Italian baked goods, and musical entertainment. Later in August, the Zabawa Polish Summer Festival (August 27-29) features live Polka music, dancing, and, of course, Polish foods like pierogi and kielbasa.

            In September, the German Heritage Festival (September 4-5) includes live German music, along with dancing, foods, and children’s activities. The Erie Irish Festival (September 17-19) includes an Irish-themed art show, as well as Irish food and entertainment.

            A number of other festivals are also very popular, for example, the Erie Art Museum’s annual Blues and Jazz Festival (August 7-8), which features national, regional, and local musicians, usually draws a crowd of 10,000 over the course of the two day event. The 42nd annual Erie Festival of the Arts (June 25-27), held in LibertyPark, includes a juried art show, children’s activities, workshops, and musical performances.

            “Many, if not all of out local arts organizations hold an event of some sort during the summer season,” said Christine Pennsy from VisitErie. Most of these events are fundraisers, but they offer affordable admission.

            “What I love about the areas cultural scene is that they tend to think outside the box and offer cool and different things to do to draw people in,” said Pennsy. “For example, The Erie County Historical Society has a yearly event each May called Market in the Mansion. They take one of their buildings, the WatsonCurtzeMansion, a gorgeous renovated mansion on historic Millionaires Row and have a unique boutique shopping adventure inside with vendors that represent area art galleries and eclectic stores.” For information on festivals in Erie, visit

            One of the most picturesque places in Erie in Presque Isle State Park, a 3,200 acre peninsula which is a National Natural Landmark, The park attracts over 4 million visitors each year for its many recreational activities, including swimming at its 11 beaches, boating, fishing, hiking, and biking.

            The TomRidgeEnvironmentalCenter at the entrance of the park has state-of-the-art displays and interactive exhibits on Presque Isle history and ecosystems. Climb the 75 foot glass enclosed tower for a spectacular view of Lake Erie. The center’s nature shop features the works of local artists, as well as books and other items pertaining to the region.

            Discover Presque Isle Days (July 23-25) is an annual fundraiser for the Presque Isle Partnership. The three-day festival features one of the area’s largest arts and craft festivals, along with children’s craft activities, boat tours of the peninsula, live music, and nature inspired activities.