3 “Ideas” Festivals That Will Melt Your Brain This Summer

In a good way.

3 “Ideas” Festivals That Will Melt Your Brain This Summer

A summer seminar in a beautiful setting? Count us in.

Courtesy of Aspen Ideas Festival

Summer’s upon us, promising days by the pool, alfresco get-togethers, beach vacations, and backyard barbecues. Intellectual stimulation? Don’t say no just yet. Summer in the U.S. is prime time for academics, business owners, scientists, and creatives to get together and think big thoughts—and we’re invited to join them. Consider paying a visit to one of these ideas festivals in June (your noggin will thank you).

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The Aspen Ideas Festival has been celebrated for more than 15 years.

Kristi Blokhin/Shutterstock

Aspen Ideas Festival

When: June 22–25, 2022 (“Health” segment), June 25–28 (Festival 1), June 28–July 1 (Festival 2)

Where: Aspen, Colorado

Cost: $2,200–$5,000 for one festival segment pass

In 2005, the educational nonprofit Aspen Institute gathered leaders like Jane Goodall, Toni Morrison, and Jim Lehrer to talk about issues and ideas relevant to society at the time. More than 15 years later, the Aspen Ideas Festival has become a staple for intellectuals everywhere, with U.S. presidents, technology billionaires, and renowned journalists congregating in Aspen, Colorado, to participate. This year’s speakers include NPR’s “All Things Considered” cohost Mary Louise Kelly, Reading Lolita in Tehran author Azar Nafisi—who also has a new book out—and Yale psychology professor Laurie Santos, whose course “Psychology and the Good Life” became the university’s most popular course in its more than 300-year history. Attendees can enjoy debates, one-on-one interviews, and educational seminars throughout their time in the Colorado Rockies.

The nitty-gritty: The festival is divided into three segments, each selling its own individual pass. The health portion, which focuses on topics related to health, medicine, and science, kicks off the festival on June 22 and ends with a general interest segment on July 1. But don’t expect to spend the whole time there: You can buy a ticket to the Health festival no matter what, but the institute is limiting registrants to choosing between either Festival 1 or Festival 2 unless you have a Patron Pass.

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Learning is all the more enjoyable against the backdrop of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Courtesy of ExploreAsheville.com

Asheville Ideas Festival

When: June 14–18, 2022

Where: Asheville, North Carolina

Cost: $1,500–$2,000

Asheville has developed a reputation as a creative hub in the U.S. South, making it a no-brainer for the city to have its own festival of thought leaders. Hosted by the University of North Carolina at Asheville, the Asheville Ideas Festival is modeled after the Aspen Ideas Festival and focuses on significant issues and current events affecting the world. Speakers in this inaugural iteration include Fareed Zakaria, host of Fareed Zakaria GPS for CNN Worldwide, Pulitzer Prize–winning author Jon Meacham, whose book American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House revealed the story of a U.S. president who changed the American presidency, and Dr. Kizzmekia S. Corbett, who led the National Institutes of Health team that developed the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine.

Prepare to explore venues like the Biltmore Estate, Grove Park Inn, and the Wortham Center for the Performing Arts as you move through the festival’s event lineup. But if your brain needs to recharge with some peace and quiet, take advantage of Asheville’s Appalachian location and explore the Blue Ridge Mountains, which is a short drive from the city.

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Home of the country’s oldest university, Boston has historically been a hub for avid learners.

Kelly Sikkema/Unsplash

Embrace Ideas Festival

When: June 13–17, 2022

Where: Boston, Massachusetts

Cost: Free - $25 for one day, $75 for the week

Spend a week in the Northeast hopping from the Institute of Contemporary Art to Harvard Medical School, and around other Boston landmarks for the inaugural Embrace Ideas Festival this June. Hosted by King Boston, a program of the nonprofit Boston Foundation, this week-long gathering brings together leaders to amplify antiracism and a vision for a transformed Boston by 2030.

Don’t worry if you’re an out-of-towner. Attendees from all over the country can learn from sessions that tackle topics like the power of monuments, equity within a community, and upending the zero-sum game mentality when it comes to race and racism. The festival spotlights such community figures as former Boston mayor Kim Janey, Massachusetts College of Art and Design president Mary Grant, and Jon Abbott—the president and CEO of media organization GBH—to give keynote speeches and participate in panels. If you want to connect with a speaker or attendee, one plus for this five-day event is its daily “un-conference” time, which dedicates time for attendees to meet and network beyond the confines of a rigid programming schedule.

Throughout the week, musical performances from local artists like the Greg Groover Jr. Jazz Quartet and Amandi Music will keep the festival in high spirits and give you a necessary brain break. These afternoon and evening performances cap off each day, culminating with a free Juneteenth Block Party to mark the end of the festivities.

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Chloe Arrojado is the associate editor of destinations at AFAR. She’s a big fan of cafés, dancing, and asking people on the street for restaurant recommendations.
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