Aspen Ideas Festival Announces 2021 Digital Program Agenda

June 18, 2021

Speaker line-up includes Elizabeth Alexander, Mary Barra, Chris Krebs, Rep. Stephanie Murphy, Pete Buttigieg, Yo-Yo Ma, Neal Katyal, Diana Trujillo, and more

Contact: Jon Purves
Senior Media Relations Manager
The Aspen Institute

Aspen, CO & Washington, DC, June 18, 2021–The Aspen Ideas Festival today announced the program agenda for the 2021 festival, which will take place from Sunday, June 27 to Thursday, July 1. Festival programming primarily consists of online conversations and interactive sessions, while some discussions will be recorded in-person in Aspen, CO, with a limited number of “on the ground” passes now available for the public to attend in-person programming. The entire festival will be free to access online and available to everyone.

Members of the media can view the full agenda and are invited to register here. The full speaker list is available here.

Reflecting the unique current cultural and historical inflection point in U.S. society, the Festival will coalesce broadly under the theme of “American Futures,” exploring issues including the future of democracy, identity, education, the search for meaning, our own mental health, and more. 

A number of speakers and moderators will be present in Aspen to participate in sessions that will be recorded at the Aspen Meadows campus in front of a live audience. The festival will begin on June 27 with a 5:00 pm MT evening plenary, with programming running from 9:30 am-6:30 pm from June 28-July 1, including plenaries at the end of each day.

Below is a small selection of programming scheduled for the online festival, which may be subject to change:

Sunday, June 27
  • 5:00pm MT – Opening plenary with Arthur Brooks, William Henry Bloomberg Professor of the Practice of Public Leadership at Harvard Kennedy School, discussing happiness and “life lessons from COVID-19”Monday, June 28
Monday, June 28
  • 9:30am MT – Tim Shriver, chairman of Special Olympics International, and Caryl Stern, Executive Director of the Walton Family Foundation, are interviewed by María Hinojosa, Founder and President of Futuro Media, on the “classroom of the future.”
  • 9:30am MT – Cellist Yo-Yo Ma and Eric Liu, Executive Director of the Aspen Institute’s Citizenship and American Identity Program  explore our lives and responsibilities in American democracy.
  • 12:00pm MT – Facebook Chief Product Officer Chris Cox speaks to The Atlantic CEO Nicholas Thompson on how Facebook thinks the world is changing.
  • 5:00pm MT – Plenary with Diana Trujillo, Aerospace Engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Marina Koren, staff writer with The Atlantic; Oskar Eustis, Artistic Director at the Public Theater in New York City and Saheem Ali, Associate Artistic Director and Resident Director, The Public Theater; Pete Buttigieg, Secretary, US Department of Transportation and Abby Phillip, CNN Senior Political Correspondent
Tuesday, June 29
  • 12:00pm MT – Panel discussion on the big health care ideas to come out of the pandemic, with emergency physician and George Washington University Public Health Professor Leana Wen, Rep. Lauren Underwood (IL-14), and Mount Sinai Health System Head of Inclusion Gary Butts interviewed by PBS Newshour Correspondent Amna Nawaz.
  • 12:30pm MT – Mary Barra, chair and CEO of General Motors, discusses “the road to zero emissions” and GM’s commitment towards investment in electric vehicles.
  • 5:00pm MT – Plenary with Whitney Wolfe Herde, Bumble CEO, and TIME senior correspondent Charlotte Alter on Bumble and her vision for the internet; Parag Khanna, Founder & Managing Partner of FutureMap on “mapping humanity”; and PayPal CEO Dan Schulman speaks with Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II,  American Protestant minister.
Wednesday, June 30
  • 9:30am MT – Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (PA-1), Rep. Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5), and Rep. Stephanie Murphy (FL-7) interviewed by Charlie Dent, Executive Director of the Aspen Institute’s Congressional Program, who asks “can Congress still solve problems?”
  • 1:15pm MT – virologist Nathan Wolfe on the hunt for the next virus, with The Atlantic staff writer Sarah Zhang.
  • 5:00pm MT – Plenary with H. R. McMaster, Fouad and Michelle Ajami Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University and former national security advisor to President Trump, and Jeff Goldberg, Editor-in-Chief of The Atlantic, on the China-U.S. relationship; Clint Smith, staff writer at The Atlantic and author of How the Word Is Passed, and Elizabeth Alexander, poet and President of Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, on the legacy of slavery; Jill Tarter, Chair Emeritus for SETI Research and Garrett Graff, director of cyber initiatives for Aspen Digital, on the search for aliens.
Thursday, July 1 
  • 10:45am MT – Chris Krebs, co-chair of the Aspen Institute’s Commission on Information Disorder and former director of the federal Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), and Yasmin Green, Director of Research and Development for Google’s Jigsaw, speak to Aspen Digital Executive Director Vivian Schiller on information disorder.
  • 1:00pm MT – Reflections on the Derek Chauvin trial with Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison and Neal Katyal, Paul and Patricia Saunders Professor of Law at Georgetown, speak to Joshua Johnson, Anchor of “The Week with Joshua Johnson” at MSNBC.
  • 5:00pm MT – Plenary with Lonnie Bunch, Secretary of the Smithsonian and Washington Post columnist and MSNBC anchor Jonathan Capehart on “Museums as a home for hope”; Tim Wu, Special Assistant to the President for Technology and Competition Policy, speaks with New York Times National Technology Correspondent Cecilia Kang; and Jane McGonigal, Director of games research at the Institute for the Future, speaks with Rohan Gunatillake, Head of Product at NDS, National Health Service, Scotland on how to be “mindfully present.”

Now in its 17th year, the Aspen Ideas Festival will return to a full slate of on-the-ground programming in Aspen, CO, in 2022. Last year, the Festival went entirely online during the pandemic and reached some 40,000 people directly, with many more engaging on social media and through press coverage. Aspen Ideas: Health, which typically opens the festival, took place this year from April 27-29.  

The 2021 Aspen Ideas Festival is generously supported by Allstate, IBM, the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth, Mount Sinai Health System, PayPal, Verizon, the Walton Family Foundation, and YouTube as Presenting Underwriters, and Prudential and the Rise Fund as Supporting Underwriters.

Editor’s Note: Press who would like more information about the Aspen Ideas Festival, the in-person programming, or to request permission to use content, please contact Jon Purves: Follow @aspenideas on Twitter and Instagram, and join the conversation with #AspenIdeas.


The Aspen Institute is a global nonprofit organization committed to realizing a free, just, and equitable society. Founded in 1949, the Institute drives change through dialogue, leadership, and action to help solve the most important challenges facing the United States and the world. Headquartered in Washington, DC, the Institute has a campus in Aspen, Colorado, and an international network of partners. For more information, visit

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