Lake Superior Big Top Chautauqua has acquired a 70-acre parcel of property adjacent to its current tent location on Ski Hill Road in Bayfield.
The decision to acquire a new location for Big Top's tent coincides with the end of the useful life of their current canvas tent and Big Top's decision to begin planning for the construction of a new, permanent tent structure. Big Top will remain at its current Mt. Ashwabay location for the next few years as plans and fundraising develop.
After that, Big Top will be located a little further down the hill. The new parcel of land solves logistical challenges Big Top's Board of Directors has been addressing over the last three years, and provides a workable resolution to negotiations between the owners of Mt. Ashwabay (AOEF) and Big Top Chautauqua (BTC). AOEF and BTC have been partners on the ski hill property since 2005 when Mary Rice sold the property to AOEF with the stipulation that it remain a ski hill in the winter and serve as the summer home of BTC.
Over the years both AOEF and BTC have sought to revise the partnership for various reasons - most critical for BTC was to be able to own the land underneath their planned permanent tent structure. AOEF wants to expand the use of the property during the summer tourist season which has been largely prevented due to the security needs and sound issues for Big Top artists loading in and rehearsing during the day.
The property that is now being obtained by BTC is located directly adjacent to AOEF property, thus expanding the entire footprint of the two partner organizations, and freeing up the site for AOEF to grow in their outdoor education mission during the summer months. BTC Executive Director Terry Matier says that after the main concert structure is established down the hill, BTC and AOEF will explore new ways to partner together for increasing tourism and exposure for the area to the benefit of the entire region. "It is our hope that we can move forward together and ensure that both organizations continue to thrive and enrich our community."
After celebrating their 30th Anniversary last summer, the Big Top Chautauqua Board of Directors has begun the planning process to ensure the iconic arts organization’s success in the next 30 years. What makes this planning process different from their ongoing strategic planning they undertake is the inability to obtain the custom canvas tents that inspired the name “Big Top.” Board President, Kim Ogle suggested this provides the organization with challenges but also opportunities to forecast what kind of facilities will be needed for the future. “We are exploring possibilities for a more permanent structure that can re-create the best qualities of our canvas tents, and improve upon some of the issues that we have had with them. We want to make sure that we have a tent-like look and feel to any structure we might create, and maintain the excellent sound quality that’s a hallmark of Big Top performances. At the same time, we’d like to improve accessibility and amenities for our patrons and solve some of the weather-related issues that we currently have.”
Board Member Cheryl Fosdick sits on the Facilities Committee leading the effort. Fosdick states, “We are committed to building a structure that preserves the rural, nostalgic ‘feels like home’ qualities of our current venue. When more is known, we will seek input from our community as to how we can make this a world class, transformative facility, nestled in the natural beauty of the area, recalling ‘a simpler time’ as the current venue does.”
Big Top’s Executive Director, Terry Matier indicated that exploration has begun to look at all options open to the organization to make this future project possible for Big Top and consistent with the environmental focus of the Bayfield Peninsula. “The current tent was purchased in 2014. If all goes well, and we have no major weather incidents, we can expect to run with this tent through the 2019 season.”
More than that is not known at this time. Matier and Ogle say there will be many opportunities for the community to have input into the project once the Board has finalized its information gathering and study phase.
Big Top’s 2017 Summer Season is set to open on June 16 with the traditional New First Night featuring the Blue Canvas Orchestra on the Chautauqua grounds at Mt. Ashwabay in Bayfield. The season planning is underway with five shows already announced and on sale including Celtic acts Gaelic Storm and Mary Black, Texas Bluesman Delbert McClinton, Here Come the Mummies – a funky big band where the musicians are all wrapped in mummy garb, and Louisiana’s Tab Benoit. Many more shows will be announced in the coming weeks and months.
Big Top is a non-profit arts organization founded in 1986 whose mission it is to provide entertaining and educational cultural activities for the residents of and visitors to the Chequamegon Bay area. Visit www.bigtop.org
Big Top Chautauqua
Future Planning News
Many people are wondering what Big Top is planning for our future. While the Board of Directors is at the beginning of their planning process, some information is known at this time and more will be forthcoming over the course of the next year.
Read more HERE.
Main Box Office:
101 W Bayfield St
PO Box 455
Washburn, WI 54891
32525 Ski Hill Rd
3 miles South of Bayfield at Mt Ashwabay Ski & Recreation Area