The Aspen Institute Arts Program was established to support and invigorate the arts in America, and to return the arts to the center of the Aspen Institute's "Great Conversation." Directed by Damian Woetzel, it brings together artists, advocates, educators, managers, foundations and government officials to exchange ideas and develop policies and programs that strengthen the reciprocal relationship between the arts and society.

2014 Aspen Ideas Festival - Arts
What the Arts Can Do: Engaging At-Risk Youth and the Justice System

How are the arts effective in correctional institutions and rehabilitation? And how can they act as a positive interceptor for at-risk youth before and after they may have entered the justice system? Join the director and a participant in Chicago's Storycatchers Theatre, which has worked with at-risk youth for over 25 years, as they discuss the work of the arts in corrections and rehabilitation.

Featuring: Angelica Garcia, Philip Kennicott, Moderator and Meade Palidofsky

2014 Aspen Ideas Festival - Arts
2024: The Communities We Hope For

Community is a much-heard catchword, but what are the communities we hope to have and how can we enable them? Find out how arts and culture play an indispensable role on a local, city, and national scale.

Jamie Bennett, Moderator, Kate Levin, Eric Liu, Dennis Scholl, Laura Zabel

2014 Aspen Ideas Festival - Arts
Competing for the Future: Culture and the Successful City

When planning for the future of a city, where does culture fit alongside other prospective infrastructure needs? What cultural elements are required to ensure that a city remains dynamic and appealing? This panel will explore how cities can leverage investing in arts and culture to secure and maintain competitive advantage.

Featuring: Philip Kennicott, Kate Levin, Jamie Bennett, Rip Rapson, Jed Bernstein, Janet Echelman

2014 Aspen Ideas Festival - Arts
Actress Alfre Woodard Performs Sonia Sanchez's 'Stay On The Battlefield'

From co-founding Artists for a Free South Africa, to working in failing schools to turn them around, actor and 2014 Harman-Eisner Artist in Residence Alfre Woodard has played a role in making change as an activist artist. Woodard joins Damian Woetzel in a conversation about her career and work as an artist on the front lines.

Featuring: Alfre Woodard, Damian Woetzel

Author Sarah Lewis talks about creativity with Lil Buck A Conversation in Words and Movement

Sarah Lewis is the author of the recent bestseller "The Rise: Creativity, The Gift of Failure, and the Search for Mastery". Charles "Lil Buck" Riley is a dancer and a 2014 Harman-Eisner Artist in Residence of the Aspen Institute. They spoke in advance of an event featuring Lil Buck and Damian Woetzel, Director of the Aspen Institute Arts Program.

Charles "Lil Buck" Riley and Damian Woetzel

Memphis Jookin' dancer and 2014 Harman-Eisner Artist in Residence of the Aspen Institute Charles "Lil Buck" Riley, and ballet dancer and director Damian Woetzel had a conversation of words and movement on April 14, 2014 at the Asia Society and Museum in New York. Watch these collaborators, arts advocates, educators, and friends as they talk shop about being an artist in the 21st century. Riley and Woetzel were joined by musicians Johnny Gandelsman, Eric Jacobsen, and Cristina Pato.


On Thursday, April 10, cellist and 2013 Harman-Eisner Artist in Residence Yo-Yo Ma and dancer and Arts Program Director Damian Woetzel visited Detroit Public Schools' Spain Elementary-Middle School to stage an Arts Strike. Joined by 2014 Harman-Eisner Artist in Residence, dancer Charles "Lil Buck" Riley, and Sphinx Organization founder Aaron Dworkin, Ma and Woetzel worked with students then led an all-school assembly for an audience that included Detroit Public Schools leadership, national arts and government officials, and media. The Arts Strike was presented in conjunction with the larger Aspen Arts Strategy Group, convened by the Aspen Institute Arts Program in partnership with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, with the support of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. See a gallery of photos from the Detroit Free Press here, and read more from the Detroit News here.


Monday, April 14, 2014; New York, NY; The Asia Society and Museum
Charles "Lil Buck" Riley | Damian Woetzel

Memphis Jookin' dancer and 2014 Harman-Eisner Artist in Residence of the Aspen Institute Charles "Lil Buck" Riley, and ballet dancer and director Damian Woetzel in a conversation of words and movement. Join these c​o​l​l​a​b​o​r​a​t​o​r​s​​, arts advocates, educators, and friends as they talk shop about being an artist in the 21st century. For more information,and to register please contact Arts Program Manager Adam Erickson at or 212-895-8072.

Sphinx Medals of Excellence:

On March 19, 2014, the Aspen Institute Arts Program (Damian Woetzel, Director), and the Kennedy Center (Michael Kaiser, President) joined together to host the 2014 Sphinx Medals of Excellence awards luncheon at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. The annual Sphinx Medals of Excellence honor extraordinary Black and Latino leaders in music who, early in their career, demonstrate artistic excellence, outstanding work ethic, a spirit of determination, and leadership. The honorees for the 2014 Medals of Excellence were Carla Dirlikov, Damien Sneed, and Pedrito Martinez. The Sphinx Organization demonstrates what is possible through diversity in the arts and why this work is critical not only to the arts, but to society at large, and the Aspen Institute Arts Program is honored to play a role in their vital work.

Left to right: Sphinx Awards Winners Pedrito Martinez, Damien Sneed and Carla Dirlikov. Photo by Kevin Kennedy.

The Aspen Institute Arts Program congratulates Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie on receiving the National Book Critics Circle Award for Americanah!

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in conversation with Damian Woetzel on March 5, 2014, at the Asia Society and Museum, New York. Photo © Erin Baiano. Click here to see Adichie in conversation with Arts Program Director Damian Woetzel about Americanah and other writings, just several days before the award announcement.


Tuesday, March 25, 2014, Washington, D.C., United States Institute of Peace

Can the pairing of young Israeli and Palestinian children as dance partners create opportunities for a more peaceful future? And what is the potency today of cultural diplomacy? A screening of the award-winning 2013 film Dancing in Jaffa was followed by a discussion between Arts Program Director Damian Woetzel and ballroom legend and Dancing Classrooms founder Pierre Dulaine on how artists today can productively engage with diplomacy.

This event was presented by the Aspen Institute Arts Program, in partnership with Film Forward. Film Forward is an initiative of the Sundance Institute and the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Institute of Museum and Library Services.


Wednesday, March 5, 2014, New York, NY, Asia Society and Museum
Award-winning Author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, in conversation with Damian Woetzel

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, whose third novel Americanah was selected by The New York Times as one of the 10 Best Books of 2013, joined Arts Program Director Damian Woetzel in a conversation on the role of literature and the arts in a discourse on race and gender. Adichie discussed her novels, including Americanah, an exploration of the African identity in America, and other works such as Half of a Yellow Sun, a historical novel set during Nigeria’s Biafran war. Adichie is a MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship Awardee, and was named one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World by Time Magazine in 2012.

For more information, please contact Arts Program Manager Adam Erickson at or 212-895-8072.


Sunday, January 26, 2014, New York, NY, New York Live Arts

Presented in partnership with New York Live Arts, Bill T. Jones (Choreographer and Co-Founder of Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, and Executive Artistic Director of New York Live Arts) and Damian Woetzel (Director of the Aspen Institute Arts Program and former New York City Ballet Principal Dancer) joined for a conversation on the pivotal years when modern performance was no longer looking towards classical forms and rules to dictate its working vocabulary.

This conversation was the first in a series of Bill Chats, conversations featuring Bill T. Jones in dialogue with noted artists, scholars and critics from the field of dance and other disciplines, on key topics facing the community today. This inaugural Bill Chat was the first co-presentation between the Aspen Institute Arts Program and New York Live Arts.

L-R: Photo of Damian Woetzel by Bruce Weber; Photo of Bill T. Jones by Christina Lane.


Monday, January 27, 2014, Washington, D.C., Aspen Institute Headquarters

Michael M. Kaiser, President of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, joined Aspen Institute Arts Program Director Damian Woetzel in conversation on the state of the arts in America. Kaiser has been dubbed “the Turnaround King” for his work guiding and rebuilding numerous leading arts institutions through difficult economic climates, including the Royal Opera House in London and American Ballet Theatre. Now, as he embarks on his thirteenth and final year leading the Kennedy Center, Kaiser addresses how the arts in the 21st century can thrive, while making meaningful contributions to society.

For more information on this Washington Ideas Roundtable, please contact Adam Erickson at


October 24, 2013, New York, N.Y., Asia Society and Museum
All We Have Is Now: A Conversation with Alan Alda

Seven-time Emmy Award and Golden Globe Award-winning actor Alan Alda in conversation with Aspen Institute Arts Program Director Damian Woetzel.

Alda discussed his life, career, and engagement in realms from science to civic justice. In addition to appearing on Broadway, in films, and on hit television series including M*A*S*H and The West Wing, Alda has hosted the award-winning PBS series Scientific American Frontiers for eleven years, serves on the board of the World Science Festival, and has received the National Science Board’s Public Service Award, for his efforts to develop innovative programs enabling scientists to communicate more effectively with the public. A true citizen artist, Alda actively champions numerous causes, including longtime activism in support of women’s rights.



October 10, 2013, New York, NY

In partnership with the Turnaround Arts Initiative - a program of the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities - thirty students from what have been identified as some of the nation’s lowest-performing and highest-poverty schools traveled to New York City, to engage in a private photographic exploration of the High Line led by its architect, 2012 Harman-Eisner Artist in Residence Elizabeth Diller. Students were introduced to a brief history of the park and shown elements of the design that encourage visual interaction with the city; each student was then given a digital camera to create their personal narrative of the High Line. Other artists, some of whom have previously engaged in "Arts Strikes" -- including Galician bagpipe master Cristina Pato and the young soprano Jacqueline Bolier -- were on hand as artistic guides, providing inspiration for engagement with the subjects that the students encountered. The photo projects will continue to be refined by the students as they return to their schools, and will eventually be posted online on various platforms including the Aspen Institute and the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities, demonstrating a model project for schools, arts organizations, and artists around the country.

Photo by Erin Baiano.

For more information about the High Line Arts Education Project, READ OUR BLOG or, VISIT THIS PAGE TO VIEW STUDENT PHOTOS, or contact Arts Projects Manager Erica Sheftman at


October 16, 2013, Washington, D.C.
Washington Ideas Roundtable Series: Soft Power, Embassies and Art

How can artists today productively engage with diplomacy? Are we doing our best as a nation to harness the utility of art as a foreign policy tool? And can we identify aspects of an artwork which lend themselves most greatly to this cause? Aspen Institute Arts Program Director Damian Woetzel led a roundtable discussion with iconic American artist Joel Shapiro, who has installed more than thirty site-specific, abstract public sculptures in Asia, Europe and North America. The conversation was introduced by Gordon Giffin, former United States Ambassador to Canada, and examined cross-cultural dialogue through the lens of Shapiro’s commissioned works at several U.S. government outposts abroad, including at the U.S Embassy in Ottawa, and at the U.S. Consulate in Guangzhou, China, as part of the cultural diplomacy initiatives of the Foundation for Art & Preservation in Embassies (FAPE).

For more information, please contact Arts Program Manager Adam Erickson at or 212-896-8072.


Citizenship, Democracy and the Arts

Wednesday, September 18, 2013, 6:30-7:30pm

Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute; New York, NY

L-R: Kate Levin, Eric Liu, Jennifer Raab, Damian Woetzel

Should government ensure that all have access to ways to express themselves, and to find their voice as artists and as citizens? How does exercising one's rights as a citizen create power, and how do arts and culture contribute to that work? What responsibility do arts leaders have to foster a sense of shared national culture? And what is the role of educational institutions in harnessing the benefits of “art for life’s sake?”

Kate Levin, Commissioner of the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs, joined Eric Liu, former speechwriter and Deputy Domestic Policy Adviser to President Clinton, and author of The Gardens of Democracy, and Jennifer J. Raab, President of Hunter College, for a conversation with Arts Program Director Damian Woetzel about the evolving role of the arts in America. The panel was introduced by NYC's Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Robert K. Steel.

Read more about the discussion on our BLOG.

Watch the full session of the Aspen Institute Arts Program event "Citizenship, Democracy and the Arts."


How can 21st century artists engage with the public beyond traditional performance? How can arts organizations make themselves increasingly relevant to their communities?

Damian Woetzel and Yo-Yo Ma discuss "Art for Life's Sake" at the 2013 Aspen Ideas Festival. Photo by Daniel Bayer.

The Arts Program curated a series of sessions as part of the "Citizen Artists" track, examining the evolving civic role of art and artists. As innovative means are sought for addressing challenges facing society today, artists and the arts can be called upon to provide and inspire solutions across a wide range of issues. The Citizen Artists track brought together a diverse group of artists, cultural leaders and innovators to examine the growing role of the arts in realms from healthcare to education to peacemaking.

Enjoy this video of our 2013 Harman-Eisner Artist in Residence Yo-Yo Ma, closing a session on "The Arts, Veterans and Healthcare" with an unforgettable performance of "America the Beautiful," joined by MusiCorps Founder Arthur Bloom, Marine Corps Lance Corporal Timothy Donley, and Sing for Hope Co-Founder Camille Zamorra.

And watch this video of founder Charles Best, Sing for Hope co-founder Monica Yunus and Design for Change founder Kiran Bir Sethi in a conversation on "Democratizing the Arts," discussing how their organizations have changed the way we can educate, empower and inspire communities by giving artists and the public a voice and hand in change.

Past Event: Monday, June 17, 2013


Shakespeare, Money and Morals

Are there some things money can't buy? Do we have obligations to each other as citizens? In the spirit of free exchange epitomized by more than 50 years of The Public's Shakespeare in the Park, the Aspen Institute Arts Program and the Public Theater co-presented an evening of theatre and public debate.

This one-night-only Public Forum included Shakespeare readings about money and justice by Alan Alda, Christine Baranski, Marsha Stephanie Blake, Matt Damon, Raul Esparza, Hamish Linklater, Jesse L. Martin, Lily Rabe, Vanessa Redgrave, and Gloria Reuben. The evening ended with a lively town-hall conversation with the audience, conducted by Harvard professor and best-selling author Michael Sandel about the way the language of money has been taking over our lives: the subject of his recent book, What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets.

Read the review from The New York Times here:

And read more about the seeds of the event on the Aspen Institute Blog!

For more information on this event and upcoming programming, please contact Erica Sheftman, or 212-895-8040.

Past Event:

Aspen Arts Strategy Group: Los Angeles

March 6, 2013

Alfre Woodard and Father Greg Boyle

Aspen Arts Strategy Group Los Angeles Participants: Emmy and Golden Globe-winning actress Alfre Woodard and Homeboy Industries Founder Greg Boyle.

In October 2012, over 30 arts leaders from around the nation assembled in New York City for the inaugural Aspen Arts Strategy Group. Led by Aspen Institute Arts Program Director Damian Woetzel, this gathering convened artists, policymakers and arts administrators as part of a year-long effort to shine a light on the Citizen Artists initiative, define the value of artist engagement in a wide array of civic roles, and begin building templates for engagement, collaboration and coordination amongst artists, institutions and administrators. Read more here.

Following the success of this initial gathering, the Aspen Institute Arts Program decided to convene several Strategy Groups around the country, in an effort to bring this national dialogue to strategic convenings in other cities – where discussion will be shaped by issues and leadership specific to those communities.

On March 6, 2013, The Aspen Institute continued its groundbreaking work in Los Angeles, partnering with The Music Center to expand the Citizen Artists framework. As a longstanding innovator in arts education, as well as community and participatory programming, The Music Center is well suited to introduce the Aspen Arts Strategy Group to the West Coast.

The day-long event included an Arts Strike at Skid Row's Inner-City Arts education center, a closed-door roundtable session, and a Citizen Artists Public Forum at Walt Disney Concert Hall's BP Hall. This culminating event was open to the public and featured the illustrious roster of Strategy Group participants in series of short discussions on activism, policymaking, community-building, and the role of music in society; additionally, several participating musicians and dancers led a series of demonstrations of the arts in action.

CLICK HERE for more information, a summary of themes and media gallery from the convening.


Washington Ideas Roundtable Series: The Arts, Healing and our Military Community

Damian Woetzel, Cmdr. Moira McGuire, and Rocco Landesman. Photo by Tarek Rizk.

The lives and families of today's military are being impacted by a unique set of challenges associated with the signature wounds of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars; traumatic brain injury and psychological health issues, including post-traumatic stress. The military has increasingly looked toward creative arts programs to work in addressing the needs of returning servicemen and women, and many artists and arts organizations have taken on this charge as well.

This lunchtime discussion, part of the Washington Roundtable Series 2012, explored the potential of the arts to serve as part of a broader solution in healing and healthcare for wounded service men and women. The conversation, moderated by Arts Program Director Damian Woetzel, brought together Arthur Bloom (Founder, Musicorps), Rocco Landesman (Chairman, The National Endowment for the Arts), and Commander Moira McGuire (Clinical Care Coordinator, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center).


Inaugural Aspen Arts Strategy Group on Citizen Artists

All Strategy Group photos by Erin Baiano.

On October 2-3, 2012, the Aspen Arts Strategy Group - a program of the Aspen Institute Arts Program supported by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation - convened 30 artists, policymakers and arts administrators to tackle issues facing the arts sector, and to develop strategies on how the arts and artists can contribute to the challenges facing society through roundtable discussions, working-groups and presentations. The closed-door sessions aimed to build templates for engagement, collaboration and coordination amongst artists, institutions and administrators, in realms from education to healthcare and diplomacy.

The Strategy Group culminated in a Discussion and Demonstration with Yo-Yo Ma, Damian Woetzel and other guests in a celebration of the inaugural Aspen Arts Strategy Group and the mission of Citizen Artistry. The invite-only event took place at The Kaye Playhouse at Hunter College, on October 3rd at 6pm. For more information on this past event, please e-mail Erica Sheftman, Projects Manager, at


May 16 Arts Circle Event

(Photo: Erin Baiano)

On May 16 Meryl Streep, and New York City Public School 7th grade teacher Carla Espana joined Arts Program director Damian Woetzel in a discussion on civic engagement through the arts in education, in communities, and in international affairs. Read more...

Meryl Streep also collaborated with the Arts Program at the US China Forum on the Arts and Culture in Beijing. See video...

Photo highlights from past events!