Aspen Institute Names Damian Woetzel to Lead Arts Programs

May 31, 2011

James Spiegelman
VP/Communications and Public Affairs
The Aspen Institute
Tel. 202-736-3849;


Washington, DC, May 31, 2011 –– The Aspen Institute has named Damian Woetzel to direct the Aspen Institute Arts Program and Harman-Eisner Artist-in-Residence Program. A retired ballet dancer turned director of international renown, Woetzel will assume his new role in June 2011. He becomes the program’s second director, following Dana Gioia’s departure at the end of 2010 to serve on the faculty at the University of Southern California. Woetzel will be based out of the Institute’s New York offices.

In accepting this position, Woetzel said, “I have long been interested in exploring and advancing the valuable relationships between the arts and society. The Aspen Institute is uniquely suited to these endeavors, and I’m honored to be working with such an outstanding organization.”

Elliot Gerson, executive VP for policy and public programs at the Institute, said, “It is the Institute’s great fortune to have Damian Woetzel take the reins of this exceptional program that connects back to the origins and very soul of our organization. While an extraordinary figure in the world of dance, Damian’s interests and passions reach across the full range of artistic expression. He also shares our commitment to bring artists’ perspectives to all of the Institute’s work.”

Gerson added that the arts program under Damian “will provide exciting synergies with the ongoing and independent work of the Institute’s Global Initiative on Culture and Society led by Damien Pwono and that of the Aspen Writers’ Foundation led by Lisa Consiglio.”

In addition to his new role at the Institute, Woetzel will continue his work as producer and director of dance and music performances, including the artistic directorship of the Vail International Dance Festival, where he presents dance performances and commissions. He also works with Yo-Yo Ma and his Silk Road Project in the New York City Public Schools, and he is the founding director of the Jerome Robbins Foundation’s New Essential Works (NEW) Program, which gives grants to enable the production of new works. Among his other recent projects was the direction of the first performance of the White House Dance Series hosted by First Lady Michelle Obama, and an arts salute to Stephen Hawking at Lincoln Center for the World Science Festival. 

Woetzel was a principal dancer at New York City Ballet from 1989 until his retirement from the stage in 2008, where he had works created for him by Jerome Robbins, Twyla Tharp, and Christopher Wheeldon, among others. During his career, Woetzel frequently performed internationally as a guest star and was a visiting artist with numerous companies including the Kirov Ballet and American Ballet Theatre. He has choreographed a number of ballets for New York City Ballet, among other companies.

Woetzel serves on the artists committee of the Kennedy Center Honors, the Knight Foundation’s National Arts Advisory Committee, and was a member of the recent Harvard Task Force on the Arts. He served as the 2008 Harman-Eisner Artist-in-Residence of the Aspen Institute, and is a frequent speaker on the arts and arts policy. Woetzel holds an MPA degree from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. In the fall of 2010 he was a visiting lecturer at Harvard Law School where he co-taught a course on performing arts and the law. In November 2009, President Obama appointed Woetzel to the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities.

Woetzel’s predecessor at the Institute, Dana Gioia, was named Judge Widney Professor of Poetry and Public Culture at the University of Southern California and begins teaching there in the Fall of 2011. Gioia will continue his affiliation with the Aspen Institute as the Harman-Eisner Senior Fellow in the Arts.

The Aspen Institute Arts Program and Harman-Eisner Artist-in-Residence Program were established to support and invigorate the arts in America and to return the arts and artists to the center of the Aspen Institute’s “Great Conversation.” These programs bring artists and art works to the Institute, and also bring together leading artists, arts managers, sponsors, and patrons to generate, exchange, and develop ideas and policies to assure vibrancy and dynamism in all artistic realms, and to enrich civic culture in ways only the arts can do. These programs draw upon the Institute’s long-established convening power, and its well-known association with ideas, values, and leadership. They take advantage of the Institute’s fertile nonpartisan and interdisciplinary foundations and integrate arts and artists across the full breadth of the Institute’s programs.

The Aspen Institute mission is twofold: to foster values-based leadership, encouraging individuals to reflect on the ideals and ideas that define a good society, and to provide a neutral and balanced venue for discussing and acting on critical issues. The Aspen Institute does this primarily in four ways: seminars, young-leader fellowships around the globe, policy programs, and public conferences and events. The Institute is based in Washington, DC; Aspen, Colorado; and on the Wye River on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. It also has an international network of partners. 

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