“I think that the soul of Aspen really resides in the hearts of its residents, people who work here, people who visit here.” – Cristal Logan, Vice President of Aspen Community Programs and Engagement at the Aspen Institute
Successful destination management relies on positive stakeholder relationships. That’s why DMOs like yours often serve as crucial connectors in their communities by bridging people, organizations, and ideas, working to maintain the social license for tourism, and helping the travel industry work together for everyone’s benefit. The Aspen Institute in Colorado is a renowned gathering place with a similar ethos. It excels in bringing together people, ideas, and expertise from diverse specialities, and it has an outsized impact on innovations, both locally and nationally.
In this episode of Travel Beyond, we sit down with Cristal Logan, Vice President of Aspen Community Programs and Engagement at the Aspen Institute. Together, we’ll explore the core ideas that led to the founding of the Aspen Ideas Festival and delve into the institute’s rich history dating back to the 1800s. We also delve into how the Aspen Institute ensures diverse voices are heard and how the Aspen community created a values-based transportation system through a consensus-driven process.
Join us to discover how this influential platform for ideas, influence, and community engagement has shaped the future while embodying the spirit of Aspen.
In this episode, you’ll learn about:
- The ideas at the heart of the Aspen Institute and what led to the founding of the Aspen Ideas Festival.
- The fascinating history of Aspen, tracing back to the 1800s.
- The inclusive approach taken by the Aspen Institute to ensure diverse perspectives are represented.
- The innovative consensus-driven process behind Aspen’s values-based transportation system.
Featured photo provided by Aspen Chamber Resort Association.
The Aspen Institute – an international nonprofit organization that aims to drive change through dialogue, leadership, and action to help solve the most important challenges facing the United States and the world.
Aspen Ideas Festival – a week-long event held in Aspen that includes discussions, seminars, panels, and tutorials from journalists, designers, innovators, politicians, diplomats, presidents, judges, musicians, artists, and writers.
Bauhaus – an artistic movement originating from Germany. Its goal was to merge all artistic mediums into one unified approach and combine an individual’s artistry with mass production and function. Bauhaus design is often abstract, angular, and geometric, with little ornamentation.
Herbert Bayer – a celebrated twentieth century Austrian-American artist and polymath. One of the Bauhaus’s most influential students, teachers, and proponents, advocating the integration of all arts.
Cristal Logan: We talk about the Aspen idea. All the opportunities that you get to actually sit face to face, discuss ideas, all of it is so magical. I think inside rooms where people are actually talking about solving issues, that’s where the hope is.
David Archer: Hello and welcome to Travel Beyond, where we partner with leading destinations to explore the greatest challenges facing communities and the planet, surfacing their most inspiring solutions. I’m David Archer, Editorial Manager at Destination Think, and I’m recording as always from the coastal village of Daajing Giids, British Columbia, which is in Haida Gwaii, the territory of the Haida Nation.
Rodney Payne: And I’m Rodney Payne, CEO at Destination Think. I am speaking today from Revelstoke, British Columbia, where I live, a city on the territory of four First Nations, the Sinixt, the Secwépemc, the Sylix, and the Ktunaxa. On this show, we look at the role of travel and choose to highlight destinations that are global leaders.
We talk to the change makers in those places who are addressing regenerative travel through action in their communities, often from the bottom up.
David Archer: And we’re actively looking for the best most exciting examples of efforts to regenerate economies, communities, and ecosystems. So, reach out to us if you have a story to share.
Today, we’re going to hear from Cristal Logan, the Vice President of Aspen Community Programs and Engagement at the Aspen Institute and Cristal’s also on the board of Aspen Chamber Resort Association. Right now as we’re recording this the week of June 26th to 30, the Aspen Ideas Festival is happening and it looks like quite an exciting lineup.
This is an event hosted by the Aspen Institute that brings together experts from all sorts of different fields. They have the Pulitzer prize winning playwright from last year, there’s talks about neuroscience, astrophysics, spirituality, corporate responsibility. The CEO of Patagonia is there, other business leaders like the founder of Audible. There’s a lot of big names going to Aspen this week and as we’ll hear from Cristal, the Aspen Institute seems to be all about the power of face to face meetings in an environment where people of diverse backgrounds and expertises are treated equally and equitably.
Cryital will describe their philosophy, but they have this sort of round tables, round rooms, trying to provide access to people regardless of income. It sounds like a really good environment for destination management workshops, isn’t it?
Rodney Payne: I think we can learn a lot from the way the Aspen Institute brings diverse perspectives together to have really constructive discourse. And it’s baked into their processes and the way they work. And if you think about destination management, really what you’re trying to do is understand the various challenges and critical issues for a place, and draw out all of the different perspectives and solutions that exist within that place. So, I think there’s a lot that destinations and destination leaders can learn from organizations like the Aspen Institute.
David Archer: Yah and the Institute is hosting leaders from around the world. It’s also hosting some community planning events and trying to provide a platform for locals to make their community better. And I think that’s an inspiring part of this operation as well. The Aspen Institute also reminds me of how travel is great for spreading ideas and meetings are where those ideas can co mingle.
Rodney Payne: Yeah, I think the Aspen Institute is a really great example of how people, when they come together, can spread ideas quickly and it’s because of the very thing that the travel experience enables which is; the meeting of people and the clashing of cultures that results in transformational learning and that learning getting taken home with you and, and hopefully applied. I love thinking about that, because it’s one of the things that only travel can do in such an immersive way. To open people’s minds and spread ideas.
David Archer: Yeah, and we’ll hear more about that now from Cristal Logan, Vice President of Aspen Community Programs and Engagement at the Aspen Institute.
Rodney Payne: Can you tell me your name and what you do?
Cristal Logan: I’m Cristal Logan, I’m the Vice President of Aspen Community Programs and Engagement at the Aspen Institute.
Rodney Payne: And what is your favorite season in Aspen?
Cristal Logan: Oh gosh, I would say summer. Every season is great, but summer is my favorite.
Rodney Payne: And you’re obviously very busy right now getting ready for an important event coming up.
How do you like to spend your time outside of work?
Cristal Logan: I love hiking, biking, spending time with family, walking our dog.
Rodney Payne: And you actually grew up here in Aspen. I’ve found a local.
Cristal Logan: Yes, yes. Grew up here in the valley. I grew up in Basalt, a little town down the road from here.
Rodney Payne: What changes have you seen over your lifetime here?
Cristal Logan: Constant change. But since we have such strict growth controls here in the upper valley I would say a lot has actually stayed the same because we’ve preserved so much open space and all of that.
But, it’s a pretty dynamic community. A lot of people move in, a lot of people move out, so obviously I’ve met a lot of amazing people over the years and some have stayed and some have gone. I would say on the whole, everything is better. Progress is better.
Rodney Payne: And Aspen’s economy is obviously very closely intertwined with the tourism economy.
How do you feel about tourism?
Cristal Logan: I love tourism because we wouldn’t be able to function in a community like this without tourism. I feel like, to me, tourism is sharing the amazing abundance of natural beauty, abundance of snow, abundance of amazing arts and cultural opportunities that we have. Our restaurants, our amenities here are made possible because of tourism and I think it just creates a vibrant amazing community to know that we have a strong base of residents, a strong base of part time residents and a strong base of tourists. And also, the backbone of all of that is the workforce that makes the magic happen.
Rodney Payne: What are the challenges that come with being such a popular place for visitors to come?
Cristal Logan: Like every resort in the world right now especially, the challenges are the being overloved, over visited and I would say that we have done a great job of educating tourists, educating locals, educating everyone on how to love our community and love our resources most responsibly. We’re always trying to solve the issues to make it more livable for residents and also more easy to understand from the tourist standpoint. So, we as a community are constantly trying to work toward finding that balance.
Rodney Payne: Can you tell me a little bit about the Aspen Institute and how it came about?
Cristal Logan: That’s my favorite topic. I love the Aspen Institute. It was founded here where we’re sitting, in 1949, with a large convening of people from every state in the U. S., except for two. So about 2, 000 people came here to Aspen, which was basically almost a ghost town at that point. After the mining days, we went through the quiet years where the population dwindled to just 600 or so in town. So there were a lot of buildings, and the town was kind of in disrepair, and miraculously our founders thought about the idea of, after World War II, bringing people together to heal after that horrendous war. They wanted to, instead of convening people in Chicago or a large city, they wanted to bring people off the beaten path and convene in a place that is quieter and more connected to the natural beauty. So amazingly they chose Aspen, Colorado, which had been a booming cosmopolitan mining city in the 1880s; 12,000 residents back then, railroads, two railroads coming into town. We had bowling alleys and schools and you know, the first electric lights in the state.
I mean, it was one of the largest cities in the state in the 1880s and when silver was demonetized, it was plunged into a recession and then began the quiet years. So in 49 to bring 2000 people here was an act of amazing vision and it was a festival of ideas, a festival of music, a festival of people coming together to talk about, how can we move forward after this devastating war?
And how can we move forward together, especially based on human values? So that was the spark, that was the seed, and the following year the Aspen Institute for Humanistic Studies was formed, officially. It has always been, but is now, a convening organization. We are now almost 75 years old and we’re an international nonprofit organization studying various topics, hosting leadership seminars, and now hosting just a dizzying array of events year round all over the country and all over the world.
Rodney Payne: Can you give me a sense of some of the topics that you cover and, and some of the places that you’re running events and types of events you’re running here?
Cristal Logan: Sure. So we kind of split it into leadership seminars, public programs and programs that are looking at various issues. There are about 35 different issues that we are studying using our very unique methodology of bringing a diverse array of opinions to the table to discuss various issues with the idea that we’re going to come out with recommendations on how to move the needle on those issues.
So energy and environment is one of our oldest programs. We have foreign policy programs, we have justice and society programs, communications in society which also morphs into all the digital technological advances that seem to change on a daily basis, education, higher education, poverty alleviation programs.
So there’s just as I said, about 35 of these programs that are studying various issues.
Rodney Payne: When you think about a lot of the big sort of crises that the world is facing at the moment, and you think about the time that spawned this institute, do you see any parallels?
Cristal Logan: Yes, some of the same issues are enduring and it comes down to humans being able to understand each other, respect each other, and work together. And that’s what makes us so unique. We’re a neutral convener. We don’t have a political angle to anything. We don’t have a preconceived idea of how various conversations should end. Our goal is to create platforms for people to come together with diverging experience, background and viewpoints and give them the opportunity to work together, find common values, common ground, and really be civil with each other.
So that’s the whole idea is to create the space where people can actually get things done while listening to all the various perspectives along the way.
Rodney Payne: Can you tell me about why we’re sitting in a round room?
Cristal Logan: Yes, so everything that we do goes back to our founding and the Aspen Institute when it was decided to start a formal organization, there was a discussion about should it be a university, should it be a – you know, what should it be? And our founders, again amazing vision, had contact with Herbert Bayer, the Bauhaus master that had just fled Europe in the thirties and had come to New York. And he came with all of those ideals of the Bauhaus – of interdisciplinary thinking around architecture and art – but also how we think about how space and architecture and art can serve a higher good.
He also wanted the buildings to serve what was going to happen inside the buildings. And so instead of making a building be the statement, he wanted the conversations and work inside the buildings to make the statement. So every building has a round room, round tables. Along with Mortimer Adler, one of our other intellectual founders, the idea was that Socratic method of dialogue; we’re all equal, there’s no leader who’s sitting in front of us lecturing. Everything that we will do in these rooms will be democratic and based on the fact that we’re all equal. We’re all coming with our unique backgrounds and perspectives and this kind of room and this kind of discussion methodology will honor that. All perspectives are equal, and all people are equal, and it’s our job to listen to each other and to start understanding each other so that we can actually make decisions for the greater good.
Rodney Payne: When you think about some of the challenges in discourse, not having enough diversity of ideas, what are some of the things that you do as an institute to ensure a diversity of perspectives? And also if you think about equity and inclusion, you have amazingly successful donors and brilliant leaders and people involved in dialogue.
How do you ensure those ideas get out into the world as well?
Cristal Logan: It is so important to us to have that diversity of perspectives and it doesn’t just automatically happen. We have to be actively always making sure that those perspectives are at the table and so whether it’s funding fellowships, funding scholarships, funding the actual ability to make sure that our discussions have diverse perspectives.
It’s all part of building relationships and building our networks to constantly be bringing in younger voices and voices from varying sectors of society. Obviously the most rich conversations will always take place with more people of color and more people of diverse ethnic backgrounds and especially with the economic, socioeconomic factors that are going on in our country and around the world that is a high priority.
That is really what my program does. We raise money to highly subsidize everything that we do so that there’s no barrier to entry and it’s really gratifying to do that work and it’s really at the core of what we do.
Rodney Payne: In a few weeks you have your sort of marquee event, the ‘Ideas Festival.’
Can you explain what happens and why it’s so unique?
Cristal Logan: Yes, so really the Aspen Ideas Festival was formed to pay homage to that initial convening that we had in 1949. The Goethe Bicentennial in 49 was really called an intellectual Mardi Gras. It was a dynamic, exciting sharing of ideas with people from all walks of life. So we were really trying to replicate that. So it is a massive event – 400 speakers, hundreds of events, concurrent events taking place – and really the idea is to, again, give a platform to various leaders and experts on a variety of topics, but give the audience the chance to interact with those speakers and have lunch or walk across campus or go to a book signing or go to a dinner. It’s all about interaction and sharing ideas. We have fellows coming from all over the world who we scholarship into the festival, and it’s hard to really explain how large this event is.
Rodney Payne: What’s the feeling like in town when you have all these people from all over the world here?
Cristal Logan: It’s really exciting. It’s very celebratory. It kind of breathes new life into us and to people who come as audience members to just be able to feel like you’re back in an immersive educational environment, but there are no tests. [00:20:00] So how great is that, that you just get to immerse yourself?
Rodney Payne: Would it be possible if people couldn’t meet in person?
Cristal Logan: Well, during the pandemic, our team did a fabulous job. I mean, I was in tears watching it from home when we were all under lockdown. There was magic in seeing the campus and hearing all the speakers, even though we couldn’t convene. But obviously when we were able to come back in person and convene in person, there’s nothing like that. There’s nothing like all the opportunities that you get to actually sit face to face, discuss ideas, see the audience reaction to various ideas, listen to the questions that the audience members ask. All of it is so magical and nothing can replace face to face.
Rodney Payne: Of all the reasons that you could travel, it seems like coming together to talk about the most pressing issues facing humanity is a very justifiable and noble one.
Have you seen examples of things that have been generated through your work and the institute’s work that have been applied in different parts of the world?
Cristal Logan: There have been examples of a physicist and a medical doctor listening to each other and being able to use that kind of interdisciplinary approach to solving issues. So, I definitely know that ideas have been sparked where it has changed people’s thinking about various intractable issues or solutions that have come from thinking about things differently.
Rodney Payne: What impact does it have to pull people out of their regular environment and bring them to a different place?
Cristal Logan: That is part of the magic. It kind of, I don’t know if disarms is the right word, but it disarms people to be in your sandals or your athletic shoes and just comfortable walking across campus, and you run into someone that you know from D.C. You find people walking together and having conversations that they would not have in D.C. The other magic about our campus and this was by design, the seminar buildings are across campus from where the restaurant is. So after having a roundtable discussion you walk out into this natural beauty and you’re walking over to lunch or the restaurant for dinner and that kind of interaction as you’re walking and looking at nature creates its own special platform to really see each other in your humanity instead of as your necessarily your formal role in government, for example.
Rodney Payne: Hosting so many people in one place at one time, are there any challenges around capacity or pressure it puts on the destination and how do you sort of think about that and deal with those?
Cristal Logan: Definitely challenges especially now with workforce issues, just finding enough employees. It’s a bustling valley, and we have all the amenities that we need here, but they are all under stress during the summer because everyone wants to be here during the most magical months of the year. So definitely challenges and while we face those challenges it’s also important to make sure that we’re taking care of our natural environment and making sure that we have as light a footprint on the environment as possible.
So that’s both at the Aspen Institute but it also in Aspen as well. We, as a community, really find those values important and we want to make sure that our residents and visitors adhere to those values as well.
Rodney Payne: Your experience with seeing people come together to learn and share ideas what does it tell you about the potential of travel as a force for positive change?
Cristal Logan: I think number one when we travel, we leave behind our routines, our responsibilities, the laundry, we kind of are able to live and be in a different headspace, a different mindset. It changes your perspective when you travel.
I think it’s important to take ourselves out of our daily routine, our daily responsibilities, so that we can rest, relax, rejuvenate, experience new things, but also think differently and bring those ideas back to where we live.
Rodney Payne: What do you think the Aspen Institute and Ideas Festival can teach other places?
Cristal Logan: You know, from the simplest ideas of bike sharing, we make sure that every attendee has a pass so that they can use the bike share program. And what we’ve heard from many people is, ‘I know my city has a bike share program, but I’ve never used it, or never even considered using it. But after using it in Aspen, I went back and contributed and started using my bike share program in my community, and that has really been amazing, and I’m so glad I got to try it there.’ So I think that those are ideas where we want to have people learn from our values and take them back. We also want people who move here to realize that we have a set of values in our community and when you move here, we want you to adhere to our values and not bring values from elsewhere that don’t quite fit here. So, from riding public transportation to walking instead of driving, those are kind of the values that we all want to live up to. That we as a community want to live up to, and we want to kind of spark others to find how enjoyable that is and take that back with them.
Rodney Payne: How does the Aspen Institute contribute to sort of, Aspen as a community and the vibrancy and livability and connectivity.
Cristal Logan: Well, since we were founded in 1950 and we have a hotel on our campus, we’ve actually been one of the larger employers steadily through the almost 75 years of being here in the community.
I head up a program that is a hundred percent dedicated to creating programs for the Aspen community to take part in Aspen Institute convenings. So, whether it’s access to something we’re already doing or tailoring something that we think that the community wants, we work year round to create those opportunities for the community to take part.
We also have just launched a program where we’re applying a lot of our policy program methodologies to our local region. So, when I say community, we’ve got a valley wide community of residents and visitors, people who commute to Aspen or people who support the economy, who live in this 40 mile valley and beyond.
So, with that, we also have the same issues that you’ll find anywhere in the country; extreme wealth and extreme poverty, racial divisions, issues around childcare, finding childcare, it’s again, it’s a rural area and we have to create the underpinnings of a workable society to make this all work.
Rodney Payne: Obviously the travel industry is built upon moving people around and when a place is loved like this one, congestion can occur and it’s very energy intensive to move people around. You’ve done some thinking on mobility here with the local community. Can you tell me a little bit about that and some of the outcomes?
Cristal Logan: Sure. So, we got together and we decided there are so many issues that we have to solve today, but can we look down the road and make some changes today that will help get to the future that we all want to see? So, we convened a group of community members to think about what that might be, and we decided to focus on transportation and mobility.
We had a methodology that we wanted to use, but we also wanted to bring in outside thinking. So, we decided to convene a task force of local residents up and down the valley from diverse backgrounds to study the issue. But also, to inform that process, we decided to bring in experts from outside the community to talk about what is working in other communities, kind of some disruptive ideas, not necessarily disruptive, but just new ideas that maybe we hadn’t thought of.
So, that was really an amazing process because I have to tell you that when we would host these public events with transportation experts from around the country, we got huge audiences of community members coming to listen to people talk about ride sharing and ride hailing and how technology can really help us. It doesn’t have to be this capital intensive, infrastructure intensive solution. We could actually have technology help us and it’s working in other cities and we would hear from other experts saying if you widen the highway and add more lanes to reduce your congestion, those lanes will be filled up because of induced demand. So, it was really a fascinating learning process for us as a community and as this task force we were able to meet with those experts and talk with them in a round table discussion about could some of those ideas work here? One of the first things that we did was create a framework based on our community values. So, we wanted to create a values based transportation system for our community because we wanted everything to filter through our values.
We have a value of equity, we don’t want anything to happen here that doesn’t have a social equity component. We obviously want to help the environment, we don’t want there to be a solution that fixes the problem, but then causes a worse problem for the environment.
We wanted to retain our small town character, so we created these values that we could use as a rubric to run all of the various solutions through. And then at the end of the day, through a ranking order, it was pretty fascinating to see that here are the solutions, and here are our values, and then to see what solutions come out on the other side.
What came out on the other side was an integrated mobility system where if you implement all of the five pillars of that program, it will get you to your goals; to reduce congestion, to reduce carbon emissions, to increase social equity. So, it’s a pretty fascinating process, all community based, and miraculously, we came out with consensus on how to move the needle. So now we’re kind of chipping away at making that plan move through the policy decision making process.
Rodney Payne: Have you seen any early signs of adoption or things being implemented from the plan?
Cristal Logan: Well, one of our first recommendations was structural. There was not really one entity who had responsibility to fix the problem because we’ve got towns and counties and various other entities kind of working on the issue. Our first recommendation was to have the government hire a transportation planner so that this responsibility actually is someone’s job. That was done pretty immediately, and then we do have an organization where all the government officials come together to make these decisions and so they are using our plan as a blueprint to what they’re working on.
So there have been a lot of parts of the plan that have already been implemented. We’ve seen some ride hailing options come to the market, which has been great. There has been a lot that have come from our report, so we’re really, really happy about that.
Rodney Payne: I’ve seen a lot of free electric vehicles driving around for people to ride hail and the bike sharing program is pretty impressive as well. How did the arts help Aspen to keep in touch with itself?
Cristal Logan: When we talk about the ‘Aspen Idea’, which was our founder’s idea that they wanted to create Aspen as a place where its residents could nurture their minds, their bodies and their spirits. The idea was to create the Aspen Institute so that people could have an opportunity to, throughout their lifetime, exercise their minds in our round table discussions and events. That’s the mind part. The body part is pretty obvious with the skiing and the hiking and the rafting and all the things that you can do to nurture your body in town.
Then the spirit I think is, you know, music and art and culture and we have an amazing abundance of free opportunities for people to interact with art in our community; whether it’s the art museum or our new Bayer Center here on our campus, to all the art that’s in town that you’ll find. Arts and culture has been a major backbone of the community since the Goethe Bicentennial, since the mining days. We have this beautiful opera house, which we all cherish as a community treasure. You can sit on the lawn and listen to world class music every Sunday afternoon or during any of their concerts. So, it really has woven its way through Aspen, our quality of life here and it’s really key to why Aspen is so special.
Rodney Payne: What advice do you have for other destinations that have something to teach the world?
Cristal Logan: You know, making sure that you have an ethos of what you stand for and have that ethos be manifested in a diversity that can create a diverse economy, really. I mean, our arts and culture organizations are a huge driver to the economy both for jobs and for economic vibrancy in town and that is an amazing counterbalance to all the other things that have to happen in a town.
From government services, to construction and real estate, to the tourists; it all works together. So, the most diverse that the economy can be, the better.
Rodney Payne: There’s so many big issues and complex issues that communities and, you know, global civilization are facing at this moment.
You’re a parent with your son going off to college soon and you probably had the chance to be a fly on the wall for a lot of very fascinating discussions. Are you hopeful or frightened for the future?
Cristal Logan: I am hopeful. I believe that the difficult things that happen in our world, it gets people’s attention and I see hope.
We work with a lot of teenagers, a lot of teenagers come through our seminars and they value the chance to get to hear from their peers in a civil moderated setting. And it opens their eyes to how important it is to have a diversity of perspectives when you’re trying to solve issues. So, I think inside rooms where people are actually talking about solving issues, that’s where the hope is because they meet each other, they can understand each other, they can understand the various perspectives being shared around a table and they can understand the points of view and how the diversity of perspectives can actually make for better solutions.
Rodney Payne: What do you hope Aspen will be like in 10 or 20 years?
Cristal Logan: I think that the soul of Aspen really resides in the hearts of its residents, its people who work here, people who visit here – that the soul of Aspen manifests in person to person contact, our ability to spend time in nature, our ability to solve problems and not just give up. So, I hope that spirit and I know that spirit, will live on, and I just feel like people can’t give up. They have to keep that spark of what makes our valley wide community so special and to keep fighting for it.
David Archer: This has been Travel Beyond presented by Destination Think. We’d like to thank Aspen Chamber Resort Association for sponsoring this season. You can find previous episodes of Travel Beyond and more information about this one at destinationthink.com/blog. My co host is Rodney Payne. This episode has been produced and has theme music composed by me, David Archer.
Danny Garropy recorded this season’s interviews with Rodney on site in Aspen. Sarah Raymond DeBooey is co-producer. Lindsay Payne, Annika Rautiola, Katie Schreiner, and Kaylee Wallis provided production support. You can help more people find the show by subscribing and by leaving a rating and review on Spotify or Apple Podcasts.
Next time, we’ll speak with Steve Skadron, Vice President and Campus Dean at Colorado Mountain College, who is also Aspen’s former mayor.
Steve Skadron: Aspen decided what it wanted to be and it got it done. Some things are great, some things didn’t work, but at least Aspen did it.
David Archer: See you then.