What’s On Tap At The 2018 Aspen Ideas Festival, A Meeting Of Minds In The Mountains

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Photo: Aspen Ideas Festival (handout)

The Aspen Ideas Festival, an annual gathering of writers, artists, policymakers and other experts, returns to Aspen on Thursday for its 14th year. The festival schedule includes 10 days of panels and speeches on policies designed to create a better world, trends in technology and politics, and insights from cultural thinkers from around the world. Read the schedule here.

If you’re curious about the goings-on but don’t have a ticket, you still have options. The Aspen Institute organizes dozens of events that are open to the public. There’s also the Aspen Ideas To Go podcast, which distributes standout talks from previous festivals. Many past Aspen Ideas Festival talks are available on the festival’s YouTube channel.

Here’s a look at some highlights from the 2018 schedule, which runs through June 30.

Innovations In Healthcare And Public Health

The festival always includes discussions about the future of patient care and public health issues, including a “Spotlight Health” festival that precedes the main gathering. Sessions include a look at innovations in primary care, a talk about health problems likely to increase due to climate change and pollution, and U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams discussing how to address opioid abuse. For a taste of the festival’s offerings on healthcare innovations, check out this 2017 Aspen Ideas Festival speech by neuroscientist Kafui Dzirasa on how “brain pacemakers” may be the future of mental health care. Colorado Matters featured the talk in today’s show.

Inspirations from Nature

Several sessions explore the points where design and nature intersect. One talk focuses on “biomimicry” -- the practice of designing structures and materials based on designs that evolved naturally, such as a shark’s system for repelling bacteria. Other sessions examine the thoughts and brains of birds and dogs, and how to use genetics to save endangered species and possibly resurrect extinct creatures.

A More Perfect Union

Many sessions look at cultural divides in the U.S. and the future of American democracy. Discussions will explore the renewal of struggling rural communities, how to have more productive political disagreements, and how a surge of female candidates in recent years could change the political landscape. For a taste of the festival’s programming about politics and U.S. policy, check out writer and CNN host Fareed Zakaria’s 2017 talk, “The Roots and Future of Populism.”

America’s Role in the World

Many sessions include policy experts and writers exploring America’s impact on geopolitics. Sessions will examine the impact of the Trump administration’s America-first policies, how the international community might combat climate change after the U.S. withdrew from the Paris Accords, and how to address threats of cyberterrorism and conspiracy theories on social media.

Music and Culture

The Ideas Festival, whose campus sits next to (and shares venue space with) the Aspen Music Festival & School, offers several thought-provoking sessions geared toward music lovers. This year’s schedule include a performance and talk comparing the innovations of Ludwig van Beethoven and Kanye West; a panel on how music helps marginalized communities band together; and a talk with Frank Gehry on the art of designing a great concert hall. For a sample of the festival’s musical programming, check out this 2015 panel on “The Genius of Jazz,” featuring trumpeter Wynton Marsalis and pianist John Batiste.