Aspen Institute Arts Program Statement on the Passing of Michelle Smith

October 2, 2020  • Arts Program

In every way, Michelle Smith sought to help the Aspen Institute live more fully into its mission. Her philanthropic engagement stretched across the Aspen Institute. Captivated by the idea that we should take programming into various cultural venues and engage local citizens more, Michelle generously underwrote “Aspen Around Town,” which invited Washingtonians to explore pressing topics of the day, as well as our nation’s enduring values and ideas, through open, rigorous conversation with D.C.’s brightest minds and most creative thinkers.

When Walter Isaacson asked for her support in a roundtable series featuring foreign policy experts, Michelle supported the program because she believed in our mission. In 2017 she gave the lead gift that allowed the Institute to move into its new Washington headquarters. Despite her protests, the Institute board of trustees decided to name the main conference room after her.

The Aspen Arts Program at the Aspen Institute, Thursday, October 6, 2016. Credit Photo: Erin Baiano.

A true champion of the arts in every aspect of her generous life, Michelle most recently supported the Arts Program’s Arts and Culture Series to foster a deeper understanding of the work of artists and their importance as leading voices and innovators. One of her greatest joys was working with Michael Eisner, chair of the Arts and Culture Committee of the Institute’s board, and Erika Mallin, executive director of our Arts Program. “While Michelle was relentless in her support of the Aspen Institute Arts Program,” he said, “it was far from the only organization she supported philanthropically and with her time. She was one of the most generous people any of us will ever meet, and thanks to her benevolence, her legacy will live on for decades.”

“We had a beautiful friend in Michelle,” says Eric L. Motley, Institute executive vice president, “strong and totally committed to living life to its fullest. We are all fortunate to have so many fond and adventurous memories with her. She was all about moving forward resolutely.”

Erika Mallin sums up the feelings of her longtime colleagues and friends at the Institute: “We will miss her great spirit and passion. For Michelle, if you put your mind to it, anything is possible.”