AIF Blog

Behind the Scenes: Producing Aspen Ideas 2018

May 17, 2018
Kitty Boone is the director of the Aspen Ideas Festival, which starts with Spotlight Health on June 21.
What We’ve Been Up To
It's our 14th year of programming the Festival, and we're excited to bring remarkable experts and deep thinkers to our stage once again. The speakers and conversations change every year, but our goal stays the same — to continue to highlight what's important now and what will have far-reaching consequences in the future. As we develop the Festival, I learn something new, and sometimes utterly inspring, every day. For example, Shark Tank’s Kevin O’Leary advocates for investing in women-led companies. And Patagonia’s CEO Rose Marcario is a leader we know we can trust. Other times, frankly, the discoveries are depressing, like how should we grapple with “deep fake”? If the term conjures up episodes of the science fiction television series "Black Mirror," I understand!
Still, I tend to err on the side of optimism. Despite our collective challenges — at home and abroad — I share a fundamental belief in the capacity of the human mind (perhaps even the animal mind, but we’ll get to that later) to unravel complexity and make progress. That is why my colleagues and I enjoy this Festival so much. We are privileged to get a glimpse into the marvelous minds of problem solvers, thinkers, and change makers.
What Matters Most?
I am frequently asked this time of year, ‘Who are you most excited about?’ or ‘What is the best thing at the Festival this year?’ Surprisingly, I find these questions difficult. It is all interesting to me. Perhaps I should take a cue from a maestro who shared with me that when asked what piece of music he most loved, he responded, ‘The last piece we performed.’ In my research today, for example, I spent time with Rebecca Blumenstein, deputy editor of the New York Times. Her ideas and expertise about China (she served as the Wall Street Journal’s bureau chief in Beijing) are illuminating. I also worked with colleagues on a discussion we hope to convene in the Benedict Music Tent with journalists at the top of their fields who have been reporting stories across America. For a Festival session at the Maroon Bells, we imagined how unique and inspiring it would be to interpret a piece of poetry (perhaps Emerson or Wordsworth) that touches the natural world with Harvard poetry professor Elisa New.
We are in the midst of scheduling a variety of smart, thoughtful, and progressive CEOs who will address leadership. We are plotting debates about the impact of social media on our democracy. We will present the insights of an art historian, ethicist, anthropologist, linguist, and philosopher for our Aspen Lecture series — a series of talks we delight in presenting to our audiences, both live and later, online. 
A Focus on Festival Tracks
This year we’re bringing fresh concepts and insights to our stage: a track on The Genius of Animals, where scholars and experts across the globe will share surprising lessons from crows, elephants, and, of course, the amazing canine. Turns out, we can learn a lot from birds, mammals, and fish, if we just look and listen. Attendees will be able to explore, through the lens of playwrights, how theater interprets and impacts our national dialogue. And, we’re examining the issues both women and men face in society today with our track The Sexes. Another track — Design for the New Normal — will explore how we design our way to resilience, in light of flooding, sea level rise, fire, and mud. Around technology, we’ll explore how tech addictions and artificial intelligence challenge our humanity. Globally, we’ll ask critical questions about a path forward with Iran and North Korea. Will the result of these global choices bring peace or more complexity?
In conclusion, there is no one speaker or topic that excites me most. The Festival is a feast for the curious. No one idea or issue gets our team more excited than another. Except, perhaps, bringing these thinkers to all of you, and sharing the conversations with as broad an audience as possible online.
Written by Kitty Boone, vice president of Public Programs at the Aspen Institute.