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The Aspen Institute

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Created in 1949 by Chicago businessman Walter Paepcke, the Aspen Institute has evolved over the decades into what it is today—an important educational and policy studies organization. The impetus behind creating an organization like the Aspen Institute was a desire on Paepcke’s part to explore important issues with thought leaders of diverse backgrounds and professions, and at the same time begin to rehabilitate the reputation of high German culture in the aftermath of World War II. Paepcke believed that the natural beauty of Aspen would create the perfect environment in which to allow reflection and initiate transformation of thought.

In 1949, Paepcke initiated a three-week celebration of the poet and thinker, Johann Wolfgang Goethe, timed to observe Goethe’s 200th birthday. The Goethe Bicentennial Convocation and Music Festival brought many luminaries of the day to Aspen, including Albert Schweitzer (in his only visit to the United States), author Thornton Wilder, Jose Ortega y Gasset, and the renowned Russian pianist Arthur Rubinstein. From that initial celebration grew some of Aspen’s most treasured cultural institutions – the Aspen Music Festival and School and the Aspen Institute.

Today, the Aspen Institute provides a well-regarded and impartial forum that invites discussion on topics of crucial importance in today’s world, including education, national security, the environment, technology and more.

The Institute’s annual programs in Aspen include the Aspen Ideas Festival, Aspen Security Forum, the McCloskey Speaker Series, the Great Books Series, and the Teen Socrates program.

Aspen Ideas Festival

Taking place each summer at the end of June, the Aspen Ideas Festival has become the flagship event of the Aspen Institute’s summer offerings in Aspen. Leaders from all sectors—government, business, education, science, and art—convene in Aspen for insightful and inspiring conversations and presentations. If you can’t attend the live event, you can find archived audio and video recordings of past sessions on the Aspen Ideas Festival website. 

An Aspen Ideas Festival podcast called Aspen Ideas To Go exists for those who love to listen to inspirational conversations while traveling.

In past years, the Festival’s roster of participants has included:

  • Madeleine Albright
  • Ehud Barak
  • Tony Blair
  • Stephen Breyer
  • Bill Clinton
  • Hillary Clinton
  • Sylvia Earle
  • Salam Fayyad
  • Eric Fischl
  • Bill Gates
  • Theaster Gates
  • Murray Gell-Mann
  • Ruth Bader Ginsburg
  • Al Gore
  • Alan Greenspan
  • Yo-Yo Ma
  • Sen. John McCain
  • Sandra Day O’Connor
  • Henry Paulson
  • Biz Stone
  • Barbra Streisand
  • Lawrence H. Summers

Aspen Security Forum

Held each summer in mid- July, the Aspen Security Forum focuses on current issues of national security, both for the United States and more broadly throughout the world. The Security Forum presents lively discussions with senior staff —both former and current — from the US Departments of Homeland Security, Defense, State, and more. Also featured are speakers who are considered thought leaders and insiders in the security and counterterrorism industries, with backgrounds ranging from journalism to finance.

You can watch the Aspen Security Forum live during the week of the event via the ASF website. You’ll also find an extensive video library of past sessions, should your schedule neither permit live attendance nor viewing.  

Past speakers at the Aspen Security Forum include:

  • Michael Chertoff, former Secretary of Homeland Security
  • James Comey, former FBI Director
  • Michael Hayden, former Director of the CIA and NSA
  • Jeh Johnson, Secretary of Homeland Security
  • Caroline Krass, General Counsel to the CIA
  • Loretta Lynch, US Attorney General
  • John McCain, Senator
  • Michael Rogers, NSA Director

McCloskey Speaker Series

An annual summer lecture series, the McCloskey Speaker Series brings intellectuals, innovators, and big thinkers to Aspen. Aspen Public Radio has partnered with the Institute to offer the exclusive live broadcast, as well. Past speakers have included FBI Director Christopher Wray, Associate Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Madeleine Albright, Jimmy Carter, Associate Supreme Court Justices Sandra Day O’Connor and Elena Kagan, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Hank Paulson, Brian Greene, and Evan Williams.

Great Books Series

The Great Books Series is an annual five-week series of entertaining weekly discussions centered around works that define the best of Western literature. Taking place in late winter, the Great Books Series has explored the writings of Plato, Aristotle, William Shakespeare, Thomas Jefferson, Charles Darwin, Immanuel Kant, Jean-Paul Sartre, Flannery O’Connor, Virginia Woolf, and Franz Kafka. The weekly dialogues are run by a moderator.

Teen Socrates Seminar

Teen Socrates is part of the Institute’s recently-launched Youth and Engagement Programs.

The Teen Socrates Seminar invites high school students between the ages of 15 and 17 to the Aspen Institute campus for 3 days of debate and discussion on contemporary issues over Presidents’ Day Weekend each year. Past topics include constitutional law, the US Supreme Court, Shakespeare’s works, economics, the environment, energy, and philosophy. The seminar is moderated by experts in the respective topics.

Interested in learning more about Aspen Institute events and programs?

Guests can contact the Aspen Square Hotel concierge team (1-866-286-2596 EXT. 3515, or for information about any events that will take place during their stay with us. Non-guests may contact the Aspen Institute directly at (970) 925-7010.