Sunday, June 5, 2011

Local family endows speaker series at FLCC

The late George M. Ewing Sr.
A new initiative to bring high-profile artists, speakers and other celebrities to Canandaigua three times a year will launch this fall at Finger Lakes Community College, thanks in part to a “a generous and substantial” endowment from the Ewing family.

The George M. Ewing Canandaigua Forum will kick off Nov. 20 at the college’s new Student Center, with a yet-to-be-announced guest that organizers promise will “appeal to the intellectual and cultural interests of the community.” Another event is scheduled for February 2012, and a third for the spring of 2012 in a three-part format that will continue annually.

“This is an exciting project that will benefit the entire region, and we could not be more pleased to have George M. Ewing’s name attached to it,” said Caroline Delavan of Canandaigua, one of the organizers behind the effort. “Events like this are a perfect complement to the many cultural and other attributes enjoyed by Canandaigua, and George no doubt would have been behind it 100 percent.”

Geroge Ewing Jr.

The late Mr. Ewing, who passed away in September 2009 at the age of 87, was the long-time editor and publisher of the Daily Messenger, later to become Messenger Post Media. He and his late wife, M.M. Ewing, were philanthropic leaders in Canandaigua for many years, and that tradition has continued through his son, George M. Ewing Jr., and his family.

Delavan explained that she and others have been working behind the scenes for more than a year on the project, lining up guests, pulling in supporters and working with the college on venue logistics.

George M. Ewing Jr., who took over from his father as publisher of Messenger Post Media in 1992, heard about the initiative and called Delavan to offer the kind of financial support he knew his father would have provided.

“Dad loved these kinds of events,” George Jr. said. “He brought a conviction to this community when he moved here in 1959 that exposure to the arts, serious discussion and intellectual and cultural stimulation were extremely important in order for this community to thrive. Clearly, the people behind this series of forums aim to provide all of that.”

Steve Martin, senior vice president at Canandaigua National Bank and Trust Co., is on the organizing committee with Delavan.  He said the Ewing family gift is “generous and substantial, and will be the start of an endowment intended to ensure the viability of the forum initiative in its early years.” The committee is soliciting additional community support to help expand the event in the years to come.

Delavan said guest speakers’ expertise on a wide range of topics – from national and international events and politics to literature to entertainment – will all be part of an eclectic mix.  Some might be generally well known, and others might be known within their fields as leading experts. In any case, she said, the Sunday afternoon forums will be a fertile mix of stimulating conversation and socialization unlike anything else offered in Canandaigua.

The exact format of each event will be determined by the guests. Some might prefer to offer prepared remarks followed by a question-and-answer session, while others might lean toward a discussion similar to the popular “Inside the Actor’s Studio” show seen on the Bravo network. Singer/songwriters might mix in a few acoustic performances as they discuss the creative process, Delavan said.

“We see it as a wide range of quality programs that will appeal to the intellectual and cultural interests of the community,” Delavan added, quoting almost directly from the fledgling group’s working mission statement.

The pending opening of FLCC’s new $30 million Student Center, which will feature a 410-seat auditorium, was seen as an ideal venue. Hosting the George M. Ewing Canandaigua Forum supports the college’s mission to contribute to the cultural and economic vitality of the region, college officials said.
A rendering of the FLCC Student Center auditorium now under construction at the main campus.

“These kinds of partnerships are a great fit and help cement the college’s role as a community asset and a beacon for intellectual stimulation and thought leadership,” said FLCC President Barbara Risser. “When Caroline approached us with the idea, we jumped at the chance to work together on this exciting project.”

In addition to Delavan and Martin, organizers of the effort include Meg Ewing, the late Mr. Ewing’s daughter-in-law, former City Council member Barbara Hamlin, Valerie Knoblauch of the Finger Lakes Visitors Connection, former Canandaigua school board members Frieda O’Hanlon and Tarry Shipley, John Parkhurst from the Rochester Broadway Theater League, community leader Marion Schwartz, as well as Debbie Kenney and Bob Matson from Finger Lakes Community College.

Martin said the group is reaching out to other community members to solicit additional financial and logistical support and to join subcommittees that will help carry out the mission. Anna Polimeni of Canandaigua, for example, has agreed to serve as treasurer.

As to who will appear during the first season, Delavan was coy. “We’ll have outstanding guests right out of the gate, and I think people will be surprised at the kinds of resources we’ll be able to tap into both locally and nationally,” Delavan said.

Season tickets will be available at a range of $79 to $149, the latter being “patron-level” tickets that will include preferred seating, valet parking and an invitation to each of the three post-performance receptions with the guest speaker. Single event tickets will range from $29 to $39. Delavan, who chairs the organizing committee, said proceeds will be used to build the endowment and keep the series going for years to come. Money will be managed within a community fund overseen by Canandaigua National Bank and Trust.

Additional details, including the list of the first season’s guests, are expected to be released in the coming months.

For more information, call Bob Matson at (585) 785-1221.

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