WAXAHACHIE — In a theme of ”Public Spaces” that was inspired by the growth of Waxahachie’s very own parks and public areas, the Waxahachie Chautauqua Preservation Society is hosting its annual all-day program free to the public, this Saturday, Sept. 30.

“The Chautauqua is about education, learning new things, being exposed to something different, and thinking about things that you haven’t considered before,” began Kirk Hunter, President of the Waxahachie Chautauqua Preservation Society (WCPS). “So this is a very unique event to have in this area with a mix of things in one particular place.”

“This isn’t an event that you come and get bored with one thing. It’s an event you come, and it lasts all day. So we’re really excited about it, and we hope everyone can come,” he added.

From stage combat reenactments of the Renaissance group, Sonehenj, to the powerful voices of the Old-Fashioned Singers, Hunter assures that the community will not want to miss out on the vast array of cultural festivities and heritage of the Chautauqua.

“There’s been a lot of questions about Chautauqua and the places at Chautauqua, and it all started in New York, and so we’ve asked the historian and archivist, Jon Schmitz, from the Chautauqua Institution to talk about the Chautauqua gathering places,” Hunter explained one of the guest speakers. “And he’ll also talk about Waxahachie’s place and the Chautauqua’s national history and where we fit in.”

The WCPS’s press release goes on to mention that one of the most iconic spaces of reflection and remembrance is the National 9-11 Memorial in New York City, where Allison Blais, Vice President of Operations of the Memorial, will give the opening keynote presentation during Saturday’s lineup.

“She’s been with the Memorial since the beginning and has overseen the development of that space,” Hunter acknowledged. “She will tell how this space came to be and how it now serves as a sacred place. So we have speakers coming in from all over the country, as well as, Dallas, and locally.”

Adding to the list, Hunter goes on to name a former president will also make a special appearance.

“Thomas Jefferson will be here,” Hunter chuckled about Stephen Edenbo’s reenactment of Jefferson. “Stephen is a Jefferson scholar and actor who will portray him, and so you can ask him any questions you want about the Declaration of Independence and architecture because a lot of people don’t know that Jefferson was actually one of the greatest architects in our country.”

“So for the history part of the event, we went pretty big with two historical architects, one being Thomas Jefferson, and the other being George Keaton who’s going to give a talk on William Sydney Pittman, the first black architect in Texas, and the one who designed Joshua Chapel AME Church in Waxahachie.”

According to the WCPS’s press release, the event has joined with Joshua Chapel in a Friday night celebration, honoring one of the longest continuous congregations in Ellis County, and its important role in Texas and United States history.

“We wanted to include a sacred space so we said we would bring in William Sydney Pittman and we found Mr. Keaton and he was happy to do it,” Hunter recalled.

In congruence with the combination of the past and present coming together, the Waxahachie Parks and Recreation Department, Director, John Smith, will also share what the future of Waxahachie’s landscaping will encompass, highlighting a piece of the program.

“We’re excited about this year especially since it's on public spaces,” Smith expressed. “I’m going to discuss the parks we have in town and the improvements we’ve made to them, and also add that there are some future improvements that we’re going to make as well.”

“We certainly have a rural culture in Waxahachie, and we want to retain that using native plants, keeping some of our natural prairies and corridors open. Whether it be our creeks or something visible from the highway, we want to retain our rural heritage here by capturing the feel of the black land prairies,” he expounded.

In addition to the Smith’s speech, Maureen Moore, programming chair of the Chautauqua Preservation Society, notes that the Trashcan Transformation project will also be on display throughout the day.

“Trashcan Transformation is apart of Chautauqua,” Moore noted the creative beautification project to make Waxahachie parks unique. “Artists will be bringing their finished trashcans to display at the Chautauqua, and there will be several artists that will be painting their trashcans during the events.”

“And if there’s too many for Getzendaner Park, then we’ll distribute them around to other parks,” she added.

With an impressive lineup of activates, Moore lists the wide range of live activities and speakers to be expected that include San Antonio’s Last Chance Conservancy bird’s of prey show, Dallas’s crape myrtle artist and sculptor Sherry Owen, Oak Cliff’s Better Block “tactical urbanization” demonstration, and Dallas architect Kevin Sloan to speak on how to make public spaces better.

Wrapping up the day with a dazzling show of traditional Mexican folk dancing, the Mexico 2000 Ballet Folklorico performers will perform a 45-minute colorful showcase on the Chautauqua stage.

“They’re just beautiful,” Moore complimented. “And they’re going to perform on the Chautauqua stage where the acoustics are really amazing for what they’re going to do.”

In a fun-fueled time of culture, history, and education, the Chautauqua’s Public Spaces festival invites the community to attend what Moore guaranteed to be “a crowd pleaser.”

“I hope the public comes out to learn that the concept of public spaces isn’t just about parks, that there are so many public spaces that we overlook and take for granted, such as our library or museums, and things like that,” Smith pointed out.

“We want to link our history with our older spaces and also with our new spaces, so hopefully we’ll have more connections between those places and people for the future of Waxahachie,” he added.

“We’re pretty enthusiastic about the day,” Hunter chimed in. “And we hope everyone can come out and enjoy the entire day with us.”

The Waxahachie Chautauqua “Public Places” festival is scheduled for this Saturday, Sept 30 from 9am-5pm in the Chautauqua Auditorium and Getzendaner Park on 400 South Grand Avenue. Admission is free. For more information, visit waxahachiechautauqua.org.


Chelsea Groomer, @ChelseaGroomer