Around the Institute

The Who, What, and How of Aspen Ideas Festival 2023

June 23, 2023  • Institute Staff

It’s time once again for the Aspen Ideas Festival, the Institute’s signature summer event. In back-to back sessions June 24-27 and June 27-30, the festival brings more than 320 speakers and thousands of attendees to share facts, ideas, and inspiration high in the Rocky Mountains. It’s a big event with a full programming schedule and an impressive speaker list.

Big names will be taking center stage, but there are big ideas around every corner at the festival. The schedule is designed to give attendees continuous opportunities to engage with speakers—and each other—through workshops, roundtables, field trips, and seminars, as well as evening programming taking place throughout the city of Aspen.

Passes to attend are still available, and tickets for in-town evening events are available for those who aren’t attending the on-campus festival. If you haven’t made plans to attend this year, be sure to follow online at the festival site and Twitter.

What’s new?

In 2023, each morning will begin with the “Wicked Problem” series, where attendees gather to explore a complex current issue in depth. Topics to be discussed include the debate over educational content, living with AI, affirmative action, guns in America, immigration, and the way forward on China. It’s a way to get the brain working early.

Who’s covering it?

NBCUniversal News Group is the exclusive media partner of the Festival, collaborating on programming and extending the reach of the across NBCU News Group’s broadcast, cable, digital, audio and streaming platforms. Participating in the festival this year are NBC Nightly News anchor and managing editor Lester Holt, co-host of TODAY with Hoda & Jenna Jenna Bush Hager, NBC News chief Washington correspondent and chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell, NBC News NOW anchor Tom Llamas, NBC News NOW anchor and co-host of Stay Tuned Savannah Sellers, co-anchor of CNBC’s Squawk Box Andrew Ross Sorkin, anchor of CNBC’s TechCheck Deirdre Bosa, Noticias Telemundo anchors Vanessa Hauc and Johana Suárez, as well as host of MSNBC Films and NBC News Studio’s Leguizamo Does America, John Leguizamo.

The highlights:

Following is a list of what’s happening on the big stages—but there are plenty of big ideas in smaller venues, and great conversations to be had over meals and along hiking paths.

Saturday, June 24

What have we learned since the Manhattan Project? NBC News’ Andrea Mitchell leads a conversation with documentary film director Chris Cassel and author Kai Bird in advance of the release of the NBC News Studios documentary, To End All War: Oppenheimer and the Atomic Bomb.

The opening session features Saudi Arabian Ambassador to the United States Reema bint Bandar bin Sultan in conversation with NBC News’ Andrea Mitchell, and science journalist Catherine Price dives into the “Power of Fun.”

Around the world, a free and independent press stands as one of the last lines of defense against rising autocracy. Nobel laureate Maria Ressa, who faces persecution at the hands of the Philippines government, addresses the stakes in conversation with Aspen Digital Executive Director Vivian Schiller.

Sunday, June 25

As U.S. cities adjust to a new post-pandemic normal of empty office buildings and decreased foot traffic, how are city and federal leaders working with small businesses to reimagine downtowns? Hear from Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and U.S. Small Business Administration Administrator Isabella Casillas Guzman in conversation with Charter Co-Founder and CEO Kevin Delaney.

NASA astrophysicist and Nobel laureate John Mather presents images from the James Webb Space Telescope, showing how it works and what has been found.

BlackRock Chairman and CEO Larry Fink sits down with David Rubenstein, Co-Founder and Co-Chairman of The Carlyle Group.

As Patagonia celebrates its 50th anniversary, CEO Ryan Gellert reflects on the company’s legacy in the wake of a decision to legally restructure and commit all profits to environmental causes, and speaks to Baratunde Thurston, host of the “How to Citizen” podcast.

Monday, June 26

How can we regulate AI and manage the potentially catastrophic societal risks while maximizing its positive influence? Schmidt Futures Co-Founder Eric Schmidt, Tulane University history professor Walter Isaacson, and MIT Schwarzman College of Computing dean Daniel Huttenlocher grapple with the question.

In “Read with Jenna: Migration and the Meaning of Home,” NBC’s TODAY’s Jenna Bush Hager speaks with authors Javier Zamora and Jamie Ford on the ways in which migration has shaped them, unpacking what it means to be American and exploring the meaning of home.

Reportedly, when Ron Klain left his job as White House Chief of Staff in February, his most prized possession from his tenure was a rock. Atlantic journalist Frank Foer asks him about that rock and lessons learned in the West Wing.

General Motors Chair and CEO Mary Barra challenged the auto industry as leader of the first major US automaker to pledge all electric cars and SUVs by 2035. With new partnerships between Tesla and Ford to drive accessibility for EV chargers, NBC News President of Editorial Rebecca Blumenstein speaks to her about her bet, recent moves to improve accessibility with Tesla and Ford, and her leadership as one of the longest serving CEOs.

What does the future hold for oil and gas? Chevron CEO Mike Wirth shares his perspective on the clean energy transition with CNBC’s Andrew Ross Sorkin.

If Americans are to remain a nation, we must ultimately find a way to reckon with race, history, and chart a path forward. Two renowned scholars, Princeton University professors Eddie Glaude, Jr. and Imani Perry, lead a conversation on how we might do just that.

From a role on The Office to a role as cheerleader for spirituality, the comedic actor, writer, and producer Rainn Wilson is on a mission to show the world how embracing spirituality can help us navigate challenging times. Jenna Bush Hager sits down with Wilson to discuss his new book and travel show.

Tuesday, June 27

Second Gentleman Douglas Emhoff, Executive Vice President of Race Forward Eric Ward, and White House Homeland Security Advisor Dr. Liz Sherwood-Randall speak to Katie Couric about the first ever U.S. National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism, released by the White House in May.

At the midway point of the festival, the “Afternoon of Conversation” will be opened by NBCUniversal News Group Chairman Cesar Conde and Aspen Institute President and CEO Dan Porterfield. Speakers will include former United States Representative Liz Cheney on the future of democracy in conversation with NBC News’ Lester Holt. Pulitzer Prize–winning biographer Jon Meacham and Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter Lyle Lovett speak with Walter Isaacson on the music that made a nation. Hear from theoretical physicist Brian Greene on quantum entanglement. Dow Jones CEO and Wall Street Journal publisher Almar Latour speaks with Katie Couric on the fight to free detained journalist Evan Gershkovich. Celebrated actor Brian Cox appears in conversation with Katie Couric.

As AI-generated images and deepfake videos flood our feeds, what tools do news organizations have to vet their validity? Journalists discuss a new frontier in artificial intelligence, with 1A host Jenn White, NBCUniversal News Group Executive Vice President of Digital Chris Berend, Wall Street Senior Personal Technologist Joanna Stern, and The Verge Editor-in-Chief Nilay Patel.

From King Lear to Succession: Brian Cox, renowned Shakespearean actor and star of “Succession,” and Simon Godwin, Shakespeare Theatre Company artistic director and Aspen Institute Harman/Eisner Artist in Residence, join former CEO of The Walt Disney Company Michael Eisner to discuss how they bring the Bard to life.

Wednesday, June 28

Why purpose is still powerful: hear from the CEOs of SYPartners, Ralph Lauren, and Danone, Jessica Orkin, Patrice Louvet, and Shane Grant, and Prudential Financial Vice Chair Rob Falzon.

In 2023, the NBCUniversal News Group launched its third annual multi-platform franchise event, Inspiring America: The Inspiration List, highlighting ten honorees, including Susan Burton, Eva Longoria, LeBron James, and Reba McEntire. Tom Llamas brings this conversation to Aspen with “Leaders Inspiring America.” The panel will include Catherine Flowers, an environmental and climate justice activist, Susan Burton, creator of non-profit “A New Way of Life,” and actor John Leguizamo, on his series Leguizamo Does America highlighting thriving Latino communities across America.

The Inflation Reduction Act has helped give legs to a clean energy manufacturing boom in America, but myriad regulatory, political, and practical challenges remain to meet our climate goals. White House clean energy advisor John Podesta shares how the administration is implementing the IRA and working to overcome these challenges with Noticias Telemundo’s Vanessa Hauc.

Columbia University linguistics professor John McWhorter and New York Times columnist David Brooks discuss the “word wars,” touching on the concept of wokeism and the battle over language.

How can governments bring their citizens home while also preventing further captures? The United States’ top hostage negotiator Roger Carstens, Dartmouth Foreign Policy and International Security Fellow Dani Gilbert, and a former hostage—the Washington Post’s Jason Rezaianspeaks to NBC News’ Tom Llamas.

Thursday, June 29

U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona appears in conversation with Noticias Telemundo’s Vanessa Hauc, describing a new era of education in the United States as we emerge from the unprecedented disruption of the pandemic.

Even at a time of intense partisan polarization, it is still possible to get things done in Washington. Hear from Representative Jason Crow (D-CO) and Representative Tony Gonzales (R-TX), co-chairs of the House for Country Caucus, in conversation with Katie Couric.

Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi discusses changes coming to the ridesharing service, such as sustainability features for riders and drivers, a more efficient food delivery system, and a plan to make the company emissions-free, in a conversation with NBC News’ Savannah Sellers.

A cutting-edge nuclear power plant is coming to Wyoming. Rich Powell, the CEO of ClearPath, speaks with two of the driving forces behind the project: TerraPower President & CEO Chris Levesque and Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon.

Does America need a new party? Some research suggests that’s what 60 percent of American voters want. Forward Party Co-Chair Andrew Yang shares his perspective with NBC News’ Savannah Sellers.

Friday, June 30

NBC News President of Editorial Rebecca Blumenstein, along with Jorge Guajardo, Jessica Chen Weiss, Elbridge Colby and Stephen Roach will discuss “The Way Forward on China.”

Stanford professors Rob Reich and Mehran Sahami argue that big tech’s obsession with optimization and efficiency has sacrificed fundamental human values. In conversation with the Wall Street Journal’s Joanna Stern, they outline steps to change course and renew democracy.

Former White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove and National Review Editor-in-Chief Rich Lowry speak to Katie Couric.

In his book The Myth of American Inequality, former U.S. Senator Phil Gramm argues that the facts reveal a very different and better America than the one currently described by many policy advocates. He speaks with Robert Doar, president of the American Enterprise Institute.

The closing session features New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, architect David Adjaye, “How to Citizen” podcast host Baratunde Thurston, and “The Slowdown” podcast co-founder Spencer Bailey.

For more information, visit the Aspen Ideas Festival website.