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Ideas Festival

The Aspen Institute

The Aspen Institute is a global nonprofit organization that ignites human potential to build understanding and create new possibilities for a better world.

History of The Aspen Institute 

For nearly 75 years, the Aspen Institute has facilitated convenings, workshops, and dialogues around the world far beyond Pitkin County to help solve some of the greatest challenges of our time, though the Aspen Meadows remains its home. The campus has hosted presidents, statesmen, ambassadors, Nobel laureates, thinkers, leaders, artists, musicians, and more to step away from their daily routines, reflect on the underlying values of society, and take action to help build a more free, just, and equitable society. 

In 1949, Aspen Institute founder Walter Paepcke wanted to make Aspen something more than a place for fishing, riding and skiing. He envisioned a location that allowed for “mental and cultural exercise as well,” as he put it. The Aspen Institute was founded to draw leaders far from the distractions of cities to discover and exchange world-changing ideas, and Aspen offered the ideal environment for this mission. Secluded, serene and inspiring. 

Paepcke’s vision started with a new way of developing leaders that still thrives to this day, the Aspen Executive Seminar on Leadership, Values, and the Good Society. Through an immersive experience of guided introspection and deep dialogue with others, the program enables leaders to better understand the critical human challenges facing the organizations and communities they serve. “The Executive Seminar was not intended to make a corporate treasurer a more skilled corporate treasurer,” said Paepcke, “but to help a leader gain access to his or her own humanity by becoming more self-aware, more self-correcting, and more self-fulfilling.” 

Paepcke’s mission and the place that inspired it are as relevant as ever, though the Aspen Institute has grown far beyond this original vision. Now headquartered in Washington, DC, and with over 70 distinct programs and a network of 13 international partners, the Institute continues to deliver on its mission to foster leadership based on enduring values and to provide a nonpartisan venue for dealing with critical issues. By bringing together thoughtful people with diverse backgrounds and points of view and cultivating and supporting values-based, purpose-driven leaders in many communities, the Aspen Institute helps turn ideas into action and impact for individuals and society.

Learn more about the history of Aspen Institute.


The Aspen Institute’s work is grounded in the humanistic tradition. This is the idea that one must be reflective in order to ensure that all human activity - political, scientific, economic, intellectual and artistic - will serve the needs of all humans to enrich and deepen their lives. It’s the Aspen Institute’s stated purpose to ignite human potential to build understanding and create new possibilities for a better world. 

When embarking on bringing the grand Aspen idea to life, Walter Paepcke tapped Herbert Bayer, one of the most respected students and practitioners of Bauhaus design principles, to not only market and promote Aspen, but also to design its new buildings as well. The result is a place inspired by the very ideas that so closely reflect the guiding principles of the Aspen Institute itself. Function, beauty and simplicity, are just a couple of the characteristics of Bauhaus that Paepecke and Bayer helped cultivate in Aspen to create a welcoming place for humans to reflect and to grow.


Get Involved

As a guest of Aspen Meadows, you are invited to connect more personally with Aspen Institute.

  • Attend a community event during your stay.
  • Enjoy free admission to The Bayer Center.
  • Join the Society of Fellows, and enjoy unparalleled access to Institute programs, including discussion receptions, luncheons, intimate dialogues, half-day forums, and multi-day symposia featuring experts on policy and current affairs.
  • Make a donation to Aspen Institute