15 7 / 2012
I was really lucky to have been asked to attend the Aspen Ideas Festival this year.
It was an amazing experience and, quite honestly, I’m still processing it.
I had 3 primary activities:
1. We ran a Community Supported Art program, in partnership with the Knight Foundation and the Aspen Institute Arts Program. Andy did most of the work before I got there, so I mostly got to handle all the fun parts. When I arrived on Friday, the first thing I did was pack the shares with work from 6 Colorado-based artists. We held the pick-up event for the 20 Ideas Fest shareholders on Saturday and 5 of the artists were able to attend. This was truly a highlight of the weekend - so exciting to see the program in a different context, and yet, still very much the same as it is in St. Paul or any where else. For all my talk about “self-sustaining micro economy” and “relevance and connection of local food and local art” it really struck me that the main reason this program has taken off the way it has is pretty simple. It makes people really happy. Seriously, look at all these grinning people!
(Linda Girvin, Stanley Bell, Robert Brinker, Andrew Roberts-Gray, Jody Guralnick)
(Damian Woetzel, me, Dennis Scholl)
2. On Sunday I spoke at the first Aspen Ideas Festival Block Party - which was free and open to the public. I was really happy and honored to be a part of this event (along with Julie Taymor!) that was designed to make some of the festival experience more accessible to the community. I also really appreciated that even though people were sitting in the blazing sun, they had really thoughtful, interesting questions about our work.
3. On Monday I was on a panel with the most excellent Theaster Gates. The panel was moderated by the amazing Damian Woetzel and it was called “Community and the Arts: all art is local.” I’ve admired Theaster and his work for a long time, so it was wonderful to be able to compare notes, share ideas and questions about art, artists, placemaking and community. Another great, energizing conversation.
I also attended as many sessions as I could squeeze in and saw so many thoughtful, in-depth conversations by people whose work I so admire - some of the highlights were Richard Florida, Rocco Landesman, Dennis Scholl and Darren Walker on cities; Howard Gardner, Jonah Lehrer, Damian Woetzel with some really fresh perspective on Arts in Education; and Anna Deveare Smith and Oskar Eustis (and Michael Eisner from the audience) in heated debate about the value and place of public subsidy for art:
On Saturday afternoon there was a big event featuring conversations with Ehud Barak, Pervez Musharraf, Stanley McChrystal and many more - at the beginning of this event there was a wonderful “Random Act of Culture” featuring Wu Tong. It was an amazing performance - you can watch the video here (watch all the way to the end if you want to see my awesome sign holding skillz!)
In the last hour of our time there, we walked around the campus one last time (I definitely had that not-ready-to-leave-summer-camp feeling) and happened to meet the artist David Graeve, who had designed this great installation on the grounds of the festival and who, we learned, has some great Minnesota connections and history:
As I continue to reflect on the experience these are the main ideas I keep returning to:
-there is a joy that art can bring to an event that is undeniable and unmatched. The sense of care, passion and enthusiasm that Damian Woetzel brought to his direction of the arts conversation and programming at the festival was incredible.
-there is so much power in curiosity. It was exciting to see first hand the curiosity of big thinkers, researchers, academics, and celebrities - I was so energized by the collective desire and capacity to learn more, understand more, discuss, disagree, and celebrate. There was truly a quality to the depth of conversation that is unique among conferences I have attended, which I think comes from curation. Which brings me to:
-I am privileged. I thought a lot about the privilege of being in this space and who gets to have that opportunity, who is in the room, who isn’t, who should be, the power of wealth and influence.
-I am grateful. So grateful to have met amazing supporters, champions, colleagues and friends to help guide this work. People who make experiences like this possible. I’m also grateful to my husband, Levi, for accompanying me on this adventure.
Like I said, an experience I will continue to process and digest for a long time.
P.S. Rocco Landesman, chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts wrote a great, thorough recap of his experience at the festival and since we went to many of the same sessions, it’s really fun to see my experience reflected in his post.