The Aspen Institute is an international nonprofit organization founded in 1949 as the Aspen Institute for Humanistic Studies. The Institute and its international partners promote the creation of a free, just, and equitable society in a nonpartisan and nonideological setting through seminars, policy programs, conferences, and leadership development initiatives. The institute is headquartered in Washington, D.C., United States, and has campuses in Aspen, Colorado (its original home), and near the shores of the Chesapeake Bay at the Wye River in Maryland. It has partner Aspen Institutes in Berlin, Rome, Madrid, Paris, Lyon, Tokyo, New Delhi, Prague, Bucharest, Mexico City, and Kyiv, as well as leadership initiatives in the United States and on the African continent, India, and Central America.
|Type||Research institute, think tank|
|Headquarters||2300 N Street, NW, Suite 700|
President & CEO
|Daniel R. Porterfield|
|Expenses (2017)||$134.993 million|
The Aspen Institute is largely funded by foundations such as the Carnegie Corporation, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the Gates Foundation, the Lumina Foundation, and the Ford Foundation, by seminar fees, and by individual donations. Its board of trustees includes leaders from politics, government, business and academia who also contribute to its support. A report by the Center for International Policy's Foreign Influence Transparency Initiative of the top 50 think tanks on the University of Pennsylvania's Global Go-To Think Tanks rating index found that during the period 2014-2018 the Aspen Institute received the fifth-highest amount of funding from outside the United States compared to other think tanks, with a total of more than US$8 million from donors that originated primarily in Western democracies but also "sizeable donations from undemocratic regimes in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates."
The institute was largely the creation of Walter Paepcke, a Chicago businessman who had become inspired by the Great Books program of Mortimer Adler at the University of Chicago. In 1945, Paepcke visited Bauhaus artist and architect Herbert Bayer, AIA, who had designed and built a Bauhaus-inspired minimalist home outside the decaying former mining town of Aspen, in the Roaring Fork Valley. Paepcke and Bayer envisioned a place where artists, leaders, thinkers, and musicians could gather. Shortly thereafter, while passing through Aspen on a hunting expedition, oil industry maverick Robert O. Anderson (soon to be founder and CEO of Atlantic Richfield) met with Bayer and shared in Paepcke's and Bayer's vision. In 1949, Paepcke organized a 20-day international celebration for the 200th birthday of German poet and philosopher Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. The celebration attracted over 2,000 attendees, including Albert Schweitzer, José Ortega y Gasset, Thornton Wilder, and Arthur Rubinstein.
In 1949, Paepcke founded the Aspen Institute; and later the Aspen Music Festival and eventually (with Bayer and Anderson) the International Design Conference at Aspen (IDCA). Paepcke sought a forum "where the human spirit can flourish", especially amid the whirlwind and chaos of modernization. He hoped that the Institute could help business leaders recapture what he called "eternal verities": the values that guided them intellectually, ethically, and spiritually as they led their companies. Inspired by philosopher Mortimer Adler's Great Books seminar at the University of Chicago, Paepcke worked with Anderson to create the Aspen Institute Executive Seminar. In 1951, the Institute sponsored a national photography conference attended by Ansel Adams, Dorothea Lange, Ben Shahn, Berenice Abbott, and other notables. During the 1960s and 1970s, the Institute added organizations, programs, and conferences, including the Aspen Center for Physics, the Aspen Strategy Group, Communications and Society Program and other programs that concentrated on education, communications, justice, Asian thought, science, technology, the environment, and international affairs.
In 1979, through a donation by Corning Glass industrialist and philanthropist Arthur A. Houghton Jr., the Institute acquired a 1,000-acre (4 km2) campus on the eastern shore of the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland, known today as the Wye River Conference Centers.
In 1996, the first Socrates Program seminar was hosted.
In 2005, it held the first Aspen Ideas Festival, featuring leading minds from around the world sharing and speaking on global issues. The institute, along with The Atlantic, hosts the festival annually. It has trained philanthropists such as Carrie Morgridge.
Since 2013, the Aspen Institute together with U.S. magazine The Atlantic and Bloomberg Philanthropies has participated in organizing the annual CityLab event, a summit dedicated to develop strategies for the challenges of urbanization in today's cities.
Walter Isaacson was the president and CEO of Aspen Institute from 2003 to June 2018. Isaacson announced in March 2017 that he would step down as president and CEO at the end of the year. On November 30, 2017, Daniel Porterfield was announced as his successor. Porterfield succeeded Isaacson on June 1, 2018.
In April 2020, the company received approximately $8 million in federally backed small business loans as part of the Paycheck Protection Program. The company received scrutiny over this loan, which meant to protect small and private businesses. The Washington Post noted their large endowment and membership of billionaires made this problematic. Dele Olojede, a fellow at the institute, called it "contrary to the stated purpose of this institute", that "one of America’s most elite institutions thinks it is okay to take the money", going on to say "Those who purport to be values-based and public-spirited leaders cannot at the same time put self interest first, when there is so much human suffering and death". The day after Olojede and the Washington Post highlighted the funding, Aspen Institute announced they would return it, stating "Upon listening to our communities and further reflection, we have made the decision to return the loan".
- "Annual Report 2017" (PDF). Aspen Institute. 31 December 2017. Retrieved 22 August 2019.
- "About the Aspen Institute". aspeninstitute.org. Retrieved 31 March 2018.
- Freeman, Ben (January 2020). Foreign Funding of Think Tanks in America (PDF) (Report). Center for International Policy. p. 12. Archived from the original (PDF) on September 1, 2020. Retrieved September 6, 2020.
- "About - The Aspen Institute". Retrieved 18 October 2016.
- "Elizabeth Paepcke, 91, a Force In Turning Aspen Into a Resort". The New York Times. 18 June 1994. Retrieved 18 March 2016.
- "Herbert Bayer, 85, a designer and artist of Bauhaus School". The New York Times. 1 October 1985. Retrieved 18 March 2016.
- "ASPEN: A 4TH DECADE FOR ANCESTOR...OF A GROWING BUSINESS BREED". The New York Times. 31 August 1981. Retrieved 18 March 2016.
- "Cuban boy moves to Md. Shore". The Baltimore Sun. 26 April 2000. Retrieved 18 March 2016.
- Davidson, Joanne (June 17, 2015). "Need a few million dollars, 10,000 digital whiteboards or a shipment of sheep hearts? Don't ask for them". The Denver Post. Retrieved August 15, 2016.
- "CityLab: Urban Solutions to Global Challenges". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2017-10-04.
- "CityLab 2016". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2017-10-04.
- "Walter Isaacson to leave Aspen Institute, become Tulane professor". NOLA.com. Retrieved 2017-05-30.
- Platts, Barbara. "Daniel R. Porterfield named Aspen Institute's next president and CEO". Retrieved 2017-11-30.
- Jonathan O'Connell. "Aspen Institute think tank receives $8 million federal small-business loan". The Washington Post. Retrieved 13 May 2020.
- Jonathan O'Connell (14 May 2020). "Aspen Institute to return $8 million in small business funds". The Washington Post. Retrieved 14 May 2020.
“We believe that our application, which was made in the first week of the PPP, was consistent with the goals of the program. Upon listening to our communities and further reflection, we have made the decision to return the loan,” said spokeswoman Amy DeMaria in a statement. “The Aspen Institute is committed to doing our part to help the country and the world both recover from and rebuild after this global pandemic. We stand with all who are trying to make a difference in very difficult times.”