Aspen Institute President and CEO Dan Porterfield delivered these opening remarks at Aspen Ideas: On The Ground on June 27, 2021 in Aspen, CO. Follow him on twitter @DanPorterfield.
Hello, everyone! The voice you heard was Zinhle Essamuah, the host of this year’s digital Aspen Ideas Festival which is attracting 12,000 participants from around the world over the next few days.
In person, here in Aspen, our number is smaller, but the bonds of friendship, community, and democratic fellow-feeling that unite this audience, at this moment in time, is a force for good as powerful as the great mountains that surround us.
I want to start by thanking three leaders without whom we would not be together:
First, our Chairman, Jim Crown, who has given us unlimited time and wisdom—and, with his wife Paula, major financial support—as we have labored to steer the ship to safe passage through the choppy waters of a pandemic and a financial crisis. Thank you, Jim (and Paula).
Second, Walter Isaacson, the Institute’s second founder, who dreamed up the Aspen Ideas Festival and so much else that we do today to drive change toward a free, just, and equitable society. Thank you, Walter.
And our empresaria, a master chef who, for more than 15 years—with a terrific team—has been preparing food for the soul in the form of inclusive dialogue and actionable ideas—the one and only Kitty Boone.
I look around this tent at your faces and feel an overwhelming sense of appreciation, because each of you has supported the Aspen Institute when we really needed it. Because of your generous donations, and your steadfast faith in who we are and what we do, we have met every test that COVID-19 has thrown at us—from going virtual to keeping people safe to coping with funding challenges, and so much more.
We have kept all of our 450 employees around the country working and paid—thank you.
We have kept all of our programs running—many on the ground directly serving children, families, and communities—thank you.
We have launched important new work on interreligious dialogue, racial equity, inclusive capitalism, climate action, and public trust—thank you.
Rising out of the ground this past year, despite the pandemic, is our new entrance to this campus, our beautifully renovated Boettcher Building, and our visionary new Resnick Center for Herbert Bayer Studies—on time, on budget, and on mission to open up the Institute’s doors even more widely to the Aspen community while showing the world why the Bauhaus movement matters for the world we live in today—thank you.
And, thanks to you, our audience today includes an important group of local educators who see the spirit in every student’s eyes and know we must not let them drop—thank you.
Over the next few days, we will hear fascinating speakers on the defining theme of American Futures, and have the pleasure of being able to connect to one another—mind to mind, spirit to spirit, in person — just like Walter and Elizabeth Paepcke envisioned.
And I believe that Mr. and Mrs. Paepcke would feel that this gathering on June 27th is one of the most symbolically important in Institute’s history—because our tents are again up, our flags are again flying, our doors are again open, and we are again back together as a community of humanistic optimists.
This year’s Aspen Ideas Festival will be more intimate, but we’re here together because of the miracles of science and countless hours of agile, expert planning by our staff to ensure that all we do this summer will be engaging, important, and safe.
In 2021, summer is the season of gratitude. Thank you, and have a great festival.
We will now have a video tribute to a Roaring Fork Valley icon George Stranahan, who was beloved far beyond these mountains, after which the Institute’s Executive Vice President Elliot Gerson will introduce our first speakers.