Aspen Ideas: Damian Woetzel’s last dance in Aspen |

Aspen Ideas: Damian Woetzel’s last dance in Aspen

Aspen Institute arts program director Damien Woeztel at the Ideas Festival poetry slam on Monday. He begins as president of the Juilliard School on Monday.
Courtesy photo/Aspen Institute

In his final days leading the Aspen Institute’s arts program, Damian Woetzel reflected on his work at the nonprofit and the concept of the “citizen artist” that he has championed through his post since 2011.

Woetzel, formerly principal dancer at New York City Ballet, will begin his tenure as president of the Juilliard School on July 1.

In an Ideas Fest conversation Tuesday morning with Eric Liu, director of the Institute’s Citizenship and American Identity program, Woetzel spoke about the community of artists he’s convened in Aspen and the civic projects those artists have spearheaded, ranging from Yo-Yo Ma and MusiCorps to Jon Batiste and his “social music” mission, Camile Zamora’s Sing for Hope and Wynton Marsalis’ call to bring down Confederate statues in New Orleans to the high school-aged poets in the Institute’s Creative Young Leaders program who led a poetry jam on Monday.

It all started, he recalled, by showing up uninvited at an Institute event.

“I actually crashed this place,” Woetzel said with a laugh.

His brother was taking part in an Aspen Strategy Group session on Chinese energy policy and encouraged Damian to tag along.

“He said, ‘There are some people you know, why don’t you come over?’” he recalled. “I said, ‘I don’t think you can just walk into this.’ Somehow I did.”

That day he met the Markle Foundation’s Zoe Baird and Institute artist-in-residence program co-founder Sidney Harman. They asked him to come on board as a resident artist, which soon led to Woetzel leading the Institute’s arts wing. Those kinds of cross-disciplinary connections and encounters became a guidestar for his tenure at the Institute.

“The iterative process of meeting people, sharing values and finding ways you overlap has been an overarching theme,” Woetzel said.