Aspen Institute President and CEO Dan Porterfield delivered the below welcome remarks at the 2022 Aspen Ideas Festival opening session on June 25, 2022 in Aspen, CO. Follow him on Twitter @DanPorterfield.
Welcome, everyone. I’m Dan Porterfield, President and CEO of the Aspen Institute.
After three years, how thrilling to say: We are back!
And we have so many to thank…
Let me begin by acknowledging, on behalf of the Aspen Institute, that we are meeting here on sacred lands that historically belonged to the Ute Indian tribe, whose culture remains vibrant and resilient and determined today.
I also want to thank our extraordinary Aspen Ideas team, led by Kitty Boone, Killeen Brettmann, and Elliot Gerson.
And, thank you to our speakers, our underwriters, our trustees, our Patron Passholders, our Fellows, our contractors, our cooks, our servers, our communications teams, our facilities crews,our security offices, our interns, and our volunteers. Thank you.
Truly, it takes a village to make an Aspen Ideas Festival.
I’m excited that taking part again this year is a team of high school leaders from around the country who will apply insights gained at this Festival in their people-serving ventures back home—that’s our 30 2022 Bezos Scholars and their teachers.
And, it’s a special pleasure to welcome home two wonderful people whom we all consider to be founders of the modern Aspen Institute—Walter and Cathy Isaacson.
I look around this tent and feel an overwhelming sense of appreciation that we can be together again for this signature convening of the Aspen Institute.
Like every organization, we have faced more than two years of trials as we have worked to protect our people, hold our operations together, and serve the public good through one societal crisis after another.
Today, I’m proud to tell you that the Aspen Institute has not just survived this pandemic, but we have come out even stronger:
For example, we have grown our Institute budget by 30% during these two tough years. Why? Because our work is important and relevant and activating, and because our supporters are generous and public-minded.
During this pandemic, we have kept all of our staff working and fully compensated and insured.
Last year we faced the reality that our longtime Festival partner, The Atlantic, needed to de-emphasize major events. Today we honor and thank The Atlantic. And we are proud to announce that our new media partner is NBCUniversal News Group with its talented team of journalists and its many media platforms. Please join me in thanking NBCUniversal News Group and its Chairman Cesar Conde, who is also a member of the Institute’s Board.
During this pandemic, we decided to give this campus new energy and visibility as a destination for guests seeking a distinctive Aspen-Bauhaus experience. Today I’m pleased to announce that our new campus operator is Salamander Hotel and Resorts, founded by the businesswoman and philanthropist Sheila Johnson who is here with us tonight. Thank you Sheila.
During this pandemic, we also took another bold leap and constructed a gorgeous new museum—on time and on budget—dedicated to the art and aesthetic of Herbert Bayer—the Bauhaus master brought here by Walter and Elizabeth Paepcke in the 1950s, who went on to design this campus as a total work of art and to create an endless array of paintings, sculptures, buildings, tapestries, logos, and so much more—even a revolutionary atlas.
Please join me in thanking two visionaries who understand the power of art, design, and creativity, and who made this Center possible with an extraordinary founder’s gift—Lynda and Stewart Resnick.
I hope you’ll come see our sensational inaugural exhibition that shows some of Bayer’s greatest and most beautiful work, curated by Bernard Jazzar, who will give a talk and take questions tomorrow at 11:15 in the McNulty Room.
And, finally, despite the pandemic, we looked to create new major convenings. For example, just a few weeks ago, we hosted a new four-day solutions summit in the Miami area called Aspen Ideas: Climate. Supported by the region’s three mayors, we took over a convention center and a concert hall and created a spectacular set of programs. We’ll grow this summit and hold it again in Miami Beach for at least two more years—raising the flag of your Aspen Institute even higher.
All of this is to say, this Institute has not been defined or diminished by this pandemic—but instead we have defined ourselves and doubled down on our mission.
And, speaking of our mission, I’d like to close with a reflection on a core practice that runs through so much of what we do. That practice, going back to 1949, is dialogue.
Our founders believed that dialogue was essential to pull civilization out of the ravages of war, genocide, nuclear devastation, and more.
They couldn’t have known that the work they were doing more than 70 years ago to create this institution—which they called the Aspen Institute for Humanistic Studies—would result in the global force that we have become today.
Nor could they have anticipated the challenges of our often-tear-soaked times—like COVID-19, the cry for racial reckoning, the heating of the earth, the invasion of Ukraine, and the attack on American democracy.
While our founders could not have foreseen these challenges, they gave us a framework for finding solutions in these times and all times.
That framework, again, is dialogue, which may be the best resource we have to re-weave the social fabric and rebuild American trust.
And that’s why, over the past year, our Board of Trustees embarked upon a major effort to re-articulate, for these times, our commitment to genuine dialogue, the kind you will experience here this evening and this week.
Dialogue requires an openness to critique, to difference, to disagreement.
It requires the wide inclusion of perspectives and the need to tolerate being uncomfortable.
It requires mutual respect and it requires listening and engagement and inquiry and free expression.
These ideas are not new at the Aspen Institute. But by reasserting them in these times, where outrage and silencing and cancel culture are all too common, we remind ourselves, and we tell our many publics, that there is no problem that we cannot solve if we roll up our sleeves and engage one another across the supposed divides of difference. Disagreement is not a dirty word.
I hope this is a spirit you will feel here in the days and dialogues to come—and it is a spirit brought into beautiful existence by that gift to the world and gift to the Institute whom we lost suddenly in March—Madeleine Albright.
Secretary Albright was a twenty-year trustee who first visited the Aspen Institute as a child in an eminent family that had fled both the Nazis and the Soviets.
And that refugee child grew up to become the United States Secretary of State.
Only in America.
All of us who had the good fortune to be in her presence knew Madeleine to be a warm, caring, and people-centered human being, as well as a brilliant public servant with deep humanity and a megawatt wit that could light up rooms.
I suspect many of you can feel her presence and hear her voice right now.
If only we could just have one more lecture on history, one more insight about diplomacy or fascism or democracy or pins, one more walk through Anderson Park, one more moment when she would grace this stage…
We are blessed to have some members of her family with us this week, including Madeleine’s youngest daughter Katie who will speak during the Festival. Please join me in thanking Katie and the entire Albright family.
We will now show a short video tribute to Secretary of State, Madeleine K. Albright.