Aspen Ideas

Aspen Ideas Festival attendees in a file photo. With events happening virtually as opposed to in person this year, attendance is free and registration has already surpassed 5,000.

Offered to anyone for free via an online platform and with additions to the lineup including the potential next vice president of the United States and the nation’s chief infectious disease expert, more than 5,000 have signed up to view Aspen Ideas Festival events, which take place June 28 through July 2.

Registration numbers are “growing rapidly,” said Jonathan Purves, media relations manager with the Aspen Institute, which puts on the annual celebration of discourse and curiosity.

Ideas Fest events normally take place in Aspen with attendance limited to those who purchase expensive festival passes or pay a fee to get into individually ticketed events. But the in-person festival was canceled in late March in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and the need to limit nonessential travel and gatherings.

Anyone who would like to take part in the online festival this year must register at There is no cap on the amount of people who may sign up and view the events online, according to the Aspen Institute.

“We are thrilled that so many new people can experience the festival with this new format,” Killeen Brettmann, manning director of the Aspen Ideas Festival, wrote in an email.

During each night of the festival, a 60- to 90-minute program will begin at 5 p.m., mountain time, with three featured conversations interspersed with shorter segments consisting of “big ideas” presented by experts on a variety of topics and short performances in partnership with local arts organizations like Aspen Music Festival and School, Aspen Santa Fe Ballet and Aspen Words, according to Brettmann.

“Programming will address the events shaping our world today, including the global COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing protests against systemic racism,” according to an institute press release. “The festival will also look to the future that might lay ahead, including opportunities for economic recovery, the future of democracy, and the latest innovations in technology and the arts.”

Aspen Institute Vice President and Ideas Fest Executive Director Kitty Boone will host the nightly engagements, some of which may be filmed here in Aspen, “but our expectation is that most will be from speakers’ homes from around the world,” Brettmann wrote in an email. “All sessions are being presented adhering to strict social distancing guidelines.”

With so many potential virtual attendees, the sessions will not include question-and-answer segments, though the Aspen Institute is exploring additional programming later this summer that may include live Q&A with speakers. Those who register for the festival will receive email updates about such future programming.

The daily schedule of events has not yet been announced but featured speakers and programming themes include:

• Politician and lawyer Stacey Abrams on voting and the future of democracy. Abrams, the former leader of the Democrats in the Georgia House of Representatives and a 2018 gubernatorial candidate, is said to be on the short list of potential vice presidential nominees on the Democratic Party’s 2020 ticket.

• National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci on vaccines and COVID-19.

• Former Secretary of the Treasury Hank Paulson interviewed by Financial Times journalist Gillian Tett on economic recovery and what comes next, including carbon taxation.

• Georgetown University sociology professor Michael Eric Dyson on overcoming racism in America.

• Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright interviewed by Ambassador Nicholas Burns.

• Playwright and actor Anna Deavere Smith interviewed by Ford Foundation President Darren Walker.

• Admiral William McRaven on leadership with NBC Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent and MSNBC anchor Andrea Mitchell.

• Talking Heads frontman and founder of Arbutus David Byrne in conversation with Ford Foundation President Darren Walker.

• Filipino journalist and Rappler co-founder Maria Ressa on freedom of the press.