Aspen Ideas Festival opens to more ideas
The Aspen Times
A new year, a new CEO and president, and if all goes according to script — or maybe not at all — some new ideas.
The Aspen Ideas Festival’s kickoff Sunday to the Aspen Institute’s annual summer event included dashes of comedy, entertainment and most of all, some insight into where ideas originate.
“We work together to create a tapestry of ideas and issues that when it is all said and done, across the week, it actually does weave together into some compelling narratives for your consideration,” Kitty Boone, the Institutes’s vice president, public programs, and executive director of Ideas Festival, told the packed crowd at Greenwald Pavilion.
“We’re going to examine the ways that design can address challenges in climate change and sea-level rise,” Boone said. “We will discuss some important questions, the challenges, the ways we think about boys and girls in society, as well as men and women. What is feminism? Why are people talking about toxic masculinity? Are the brains of boys and girls actually different?”
This year’s Ideas Fest also will include discussions about topics including autonomous cars, distrust in media, art’s role in democracy, gun violence and a litany of other subjects. John Kerry will be here Wednesday for the “Afternoon of Conversation,” and Katie Couric will interview former FBI Director James Comey on Saturday.
Sunday’s audience heard from the Institute’s new CEO and president, Dan Porterfield, who has championed the effort to create affordable paths toward higher education for the less fortunate. Porterfield, in an interview with David Bradley, the owner and chairman of Atlantic Media Co., called on attendees to “empty ourselves of some of the assumptions that the advantages we have are shared by all.”
There were moments of levity, as well.
Porterfield’s academic accolades — he came to the Institute on June 1 following seven years as president of Franklin & Marshall College — include his being a Rhodes Scholar from Hertford College at Oxford University. Yet the interviewer didn’t seem star struck.
“Don’t be too impressed about that,” Bradley told the audience. “Here at the Aspen Institute, that’s like getting a driver’s license.”
Crowd members were allowed to participate in conversations with various industry leaders who were interviewed by Fred Dust, senior partner at the international design firm IDEO, including Jennifer Pahlka, founder and executive director of Code for America, a nonprofit that works with government on adapting better to the digital age.
The organization’s idea to improve government has evolved along the way, she said.
“We thought this was about fixing government technology,” she said. “But really it was about fixing government itself. … People have given up on government, and we really need a new narrative that shows government is definitely … improve-able.”
One audience member’s idea to improve government engagement is to change the location of legislative sessions, perhaps every four years.
“Could Congress meet in a different part of the country and be closer to the constituents?” she asked, rather that doing all of its business in Washington, D.C., where the “lobbying machine” wields major influence.
The Ideas Fest runs through Sunday.