2012 Festival Overview

Aspen, Colorado
JUNE 27 - JULY 3


Entering its eighth year, the Aspen Ideas Festival will gather some of the most interesting thinkers and leaders from around the US and abroad to discuss their work, the issues that inspire them, and their ideas.  Presented by the Aspen Institute and The Atlantic, the Festival is unique in its dedication to dialogue and exchange, and in its commitment to bringing ideas to the public at large.  

Why an “Ideas Festival”?
For over 60 years the Aspen Institute has been the nation’s premier gathering place for leaders and individuals across the globe to explore the ideals and ideas that define a good society.  It continues to provide a neutral and balanced venue for discussing and acting on critical issues.  Since 1857, The Atlantic has shaped national debate on the defining issues of our times, and now, 150 years later, serves as the leading destination for brave thinking and bold ideas.  Both institutions are focused intently on ideas in the world of policy and politics, business and organizations, the arts and creativity, science and discovery, values and culture. Partnering together, we strive to convene a large and global public and foster a “commons” for the 21st century, a gathering for diverse, intellectually curious people to learn, listen, debate, and question what we can do to make our world — and our children’s world — a better place.

How might one participate?
The Ideas Festival is divided into two overlapping four-day sessions in 2012: June 27 – June 30 (Wednesday to Saturday), and June 30 – July 3 (Saturday to Tuesday).  Attendees register as pass holders for one session or the other, and are offered a substantial array of lectures, presentations, debates, and panel discussions that span a vast range of such critical topics as economics, policy, environment, science, education, arts, global affairs, and philosophy.  Individual tickets are available for any number of programs that are offered in the town of Aspen and at night on the campus of the Aspen Institute.  Additionally, talks and presentations, as well as corresponding interviews with individual presenters, are available at an array of broadcast and online venues during the Festival and thereafter, starting here on our website and theatlantic.com.
From early in the morning and into the evening, one will meet leading writers, public officials, artists, scientists, business executives, scholars, economists, foreign policy specialists, entrepreneurs, and leaders of all kinds.  Pass holders and other attendees will meet other concerned and curious participants on footpaths and sidewalks, over lunch on the lawn and at the coffee bar, in seminar rooms or larger venues.

The Months Ahead
As we plan the Festival and specific details emerge, we will share news and updates here on our website and through e-newsletters, and on Twitter and Facebook. We’ll introduce you to presenters, link the topics at the Festival to timely issues in the news, and offer insights to the Festival agenda. Please check your email in the weeks and months to come for news and program updates.

Aspen Ideas Festival 2012: BIG QUESTIONS

  • In an election year, who will we “choose?”
  • Is the economic crisis permanent?
  • What are the prospects for democracy around the globe… starting with the US?
  • How will we live in a world with seven billion people?
  • In the 21st century, what role does art play?
  • What do we believe and why?
  • How will radically disruptive technology transform society?

The 2012 Ideas Festival will address these questions and more as we bring thinkers and actors across a variety of fields to engage the audience and each other.  Tutorials, lectures, debates, performances, and other events
promise enlightening and robust intellectual exchange.

What’s New?

Traditional daily forums will combine with new presentation and discussion formats:

  • “The Best Ideas of 2012” A series of short presentation to wow and inspire audiences
  • The new world of …invention? Hear what’s coming from the next generation
  • Global Conversations: Tune in with audiences elsewhere in a variety of deep dives
  • Plenary sessions offered three times a day: panels, one-on-one interviews, and presentations
  • Multiple, concurrent tutorial sessions twice daily, where attendees pick and choose from a menu of discussions across the programming spectrum
  • Casual conversations, book signings, exhibits, and presentations on campus between attendees and speakers, offering further opportunities for exchange
  • Evening Exchanges and in-town events in venues around Aspen that will bring Aspen Institute moderators, Atlantic editors, and other prominent national journalists together with presenters for substantive conversation
  • Dine Arounds!  Are you hungry for ideas?  Eat in town with fellow attendees and share your own ideas!
  • Films and performances


Due to the breadth of certain topics, five program tracks will offer conversations across both sessions of the Festival, June 27 – 30 and June 30 – July 3. Additionally, focused attention will be given to three different subjects during each session of the Festival.  

Program tracks for Session 1, June 27 - 30:
American Agenda: The Choice 2012
Jobs and the Economy: Is the Crisis Permanent?
World Affairs:  Democracy on Trial
Arts and Culture: Art Matters
Our Planet: Life in a World of Seven Billion   
Radical Disruptions: The Transformative Power of Technology
Sports Taken Seriously
What We Believe and Why: An Exploration of Values

Program tracks for Session 2, June 30 - July 3:
American Agenda: The Choice 2012
Jobs and the Economy: Is the Crisis Permanent?
World Affairs:  Democracy on Trial
Arts and Culture: Art Matters
Our Planet: Life in a World of Seven Billion   
Raising the 21st Century Child
War & Peace in the Modern World
Cracking the Genetic Code

Read more about tracks.

Register for 2012 Festival.