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More Institute Lite?

Aspen Times writer

Dear Editor:

Soon the first Range Rover with Texas plates will roll into town and the summer season will once again be upon us. When the Goethe Bicentennial inaugurated the cultural renaissance of Aspen over 50 years ago, who could have imagined the magnetism of the Aspen summers of today? Fortunately, some organizations, e.g. The Music Associates, have outperformed the pack. Others, e.g. The Aspen Institute, have been resting on their laurels, and I am afraid we are going to be in for another summer of Institute “Lite.”

Last fall, the new Institute president, Walter Isaacson, was feted in Aspen Magazine and on nine occasions in the article he exhorted the interest to support the “Executive Seminars,” which have historically been a prime source of Institute revenues. Since then, those seminars have been repositioned as “Great Books,” etc., and thankfully, Mr. Isaacson has eased up on promotion of his own book. To his credit, the Institute has published the first issue of a well-designed and informative journal.

As a former supporter and neighbor, I have been and still am concerned about lost opportunities at the Institute. What is needed is a diversity of new programs and new participants (not a repackaging of old ideas).

Consider this program idea, which I first submitted to Amy Margerum on Dec. 15, 2002 (and again on Jan. 25, 2004): Aspen Institute, as part of its summer programming, should sponsor provocative discussions between major players from Washington and elsewhere (and the series could be called “View Points” or “Points of View”).

For the first participants, I recommended Condi Rice and Madeleine Albright. Madeleine’s father, Joseph Korbel, was Condi’s teacher and mentor at the University of Denver. I pointed out that Condi, a concert pianist, could introduce the session with something from her repertoire. I suggested that a cross-section of the valley’s economic groups be represented in attendance. The pricing would be worked out on a sliding scale from, say $1,500 a seat to zero.

Ms. Margerum sent me a nice thank you note in 2002 and I have received nothing since. Is this because the idea was not a good one? Is it because it is a good one but was not invented here? Are summer Institute functions planned to entertain/massage the ego (and wallet) – in between golf or tennis at Maroon Creek – or to provide some substance?

I suspect some of the new trustees are following the lead of the incumbents – reluctant to rock the boat. What about it, McCloskey, Resnick and Greenwald?

Can you build bridges to the entire valley community with inclusive programming, or will the Institute continue down its historic elitist path?

Mr. Isaacson and Tom Friedman will share the dias early this summer. Friedman, by himself, can pack the hall three nights in a row. Is Mr. Isaacson administrator, innovator, resident intellectual, program designer or what?

Undoubtedly, Rice is now unavailable because of security reasons. Maybe Colin Powell is available. One would think the Institute’s split Aspen/Washington personality would enable Mr. Isaacson to find someone in D.C. to go up against Ms. Albright in the summer of this election year. Please not David Gergen!

I wish Mr. Isaacson and the Institute well. I sent in my check to support the Socrates Society (younger elites) in February and look forward to a broadening of the programming and membership very soon.

Jonas Weil

Aspen


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