Aspen Ideas Festival cancels 2020 event because of coronavirus |

Aspen Ideas Festival cancels 2020 event because of coronavirus

Ideas Fest from Monday, June 25, 2018.
Ideas Fest from Monday, June 25, 2018.


Sessions from previous years of Ideas Fest are available free online as video recordings, on the “Aspen Ideas to Go Podcast” and on the Ideas blog. The Aspen Times has a curated selection of those offerings online HERE.

A survey about the virtual version of Ideas Fest 2020 is now public HERE.

The Aspen Institute announced Wednesday the cancellation of the 2020 Aspen Ideas Festival and Aspen Ideas: Health, which had been scheduled to run June 24 to July 3 in Aspen.

The announcement cited the ongoing impact of COVID-19.

“The Aspen Institute is prioritizing the health and safety of attendees, speakers, staff, and volunteers, and this decision was made with their well-being in mind,” the announcement stated. “While organizers are hopeful that the current situation will have stabilized by the summer, the Institute does not want to ask participants to plan on visiting Aspen before it is considered safe to travel.”

Aspen Ideas Festival executive director Kitty Boone and her team are already in the process of producing a virtual Ideas Fest.

“We are going to pivot to produce content from the festival in other ways,” Boone said in a phone interview Wednesday morning. “It’s going to be different, but with a lot of the same players, I think.”

When the team informed speakers of the cancellation on Wednesday morning, Boone said, they heard back immediately from many who are willing to still take part.

“Some are reaching out and saying, ‘Hey, I can do anything you want,’” Boone said. “But we need to make sure the public wants that.”

The Institute sent a survey to passholders and past attendees on Wednesday morning to gauge interest in programs at an alternate virtual festival for 2020.

Boone and her team spend the full year working on the Ideas Fest and its programming, which was expected to include more than 300 speakers and some 400 panels, talks and events.

Given the ongoing public health crisis and the cascade of canceled events worldwide, from Aspen’s Food & Wine Classic to the Summer Olympics, Boone said it was clearly the right thing to do and the right time to make the call for the Aspen Institute.

“I don’t think it’s appropriate for us to try to create a festival,” she said. “Even if we get past the peak (of COVID-19 infections), which I seriously hope we do, in our effort to flatten the curve we have to make this call. It was not an easy call to make, obviously.”

The Institute’s event insurance will not cover the financial losses from cancellation due to pandemic. Boone declined to give an estimate of those losses.

“It’s big,” she said.

Boone and Institute officials explored avenues for postponing, rather than outright canceling, Ideas in recent weeks. They looked at late July – in the slot traditionally held by the previously canceled Aspen Action Forum – but found that Aspen hotels are still booked up for that period, meaning the massive room blocks required for Ideas guests were unavailable. In September, likewise, they found, the town is nearly filled with advance bookings.

Later in the fall, Institute officials decided, simply didn’t fit the Ideas model.

“Our conclusion was that the Aspen Ideas Festival is a summertime, on-the-ground event that isn’t easily transferable to a different season of the year,” Boone said.

Produced in partnership with The Atlantic – which on March 10 published a widely circulated piece “Cancel Everything”  calling for public events to shutter to stem the spread of coronavirus – the 2019 lineup included Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, the rapper Common and U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan. Aspen Ideas: Health last year included National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director Anthony Fauci.

The nonprofit Aspen Institute, founded in Aspen and based in Washington, D.C., expects to announce plans “in the coming weeks and months” for the alternative programming.

“The Aspen Institute would also like to express its appreciation to its partners, staff, sponsors, volunteers, and attendees who support the Aspen Ideas Festival and Aspen Ideas: Health,” the statement concludes. “Organizers look forward to staying in touch during this challenging time as they make new plans for 2020 programming.”

Events and festivals scheduled for later in the summer on the Aspen Institute’s West End campus have not yet been canceled. The Aspen Security Forum (Aug. 3-6) as well as the McCloskey Speaker Series, Hurst Lecture Series and Murdock Mind, Body Spirit Series are still on the books.

“We’re taking that day-by-day,” Boone said. “We really hope that this social distancing people across the country are being asked to do works, and that this passes. If so, people may be at ease to come together. It’s going to depend on the public mood to come together as this pandemic moves through the world and our valley.”

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