Aspen Institute is a think tank focusing on leadership, common ground, and exchanging discussions in a non-partisan and non-ideological manner. Aspen Institute operates Aspen Strategy Group, a group for former lawmakers, journalists, academics, and business leaders to discuss foreign policy and national security; Aspen Center for Physics, a non-profit focused on physics research including a summer retreat for physics academics; and a Communications and Society program. Aspen Institute also hosts Aspen Music Festival and co-hosts Aspen Ideas Festival along with the left-of-center publication The Atlantic. 
The current CEO is Daniel R. Porterfield, former president of Franklin and Marshall College and former Georgetown University administrator. 
Aspen Institute was founded in 1949 as the Aspen Institute for Humanistic Studies by Chicago business leader Walter Paepcke. In 1945, Paepcke traveled to Aspen to visit the home of prominent architect Herbert Mayer. Inspired by the Great Books program at the University of Chicago for whom he served on their Board of Trustees, Paepcke and Mayer envisioned Aspen as a place for business leaders to run their companies based on higher values allowing “the human spirit to flourish.” 
In 1949, Paepcke launched the Aspen Institute with a 20-day celebration of the 200th birthday of German poet and philosopher Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Later in the year, he launched the Aspen Music Festival to showcase classical musicians and along with Herbert Mayer and oil tycoon Robert O. Anderson launched the International Design Conference. Alongside Anderson, Paepcke created the Aspen Institute Executive Seminar specifically for business leaders. 
In 1951, Aspen Institute sponsored a national photography contest conference attended by left-leaning environmentalist photographer Ansel Adams and left wing artist Ben Shahn. 
Throughout the 1960s and 70s, Aspen hosted countless conferences on topics ranging from philosophy, environment, race, business, foreign affairs, and numerous other topics. It was during this time that the Aspen Strategy Group and Aspen Center for Physics was founded. 
In 2013, Aspen Institute joined with The Atlantic and Bloomberg Philanthropies to develop the Aspen Ideas Festival which is hosted annually. The Atlantic and Bloomberg Philanthropies sponsor the website CityLab, which focuses on ideas to address concerns surrounding urbanization. 
COVID-19 Federal Small-Business Loan Controversy
In 2020, Aspen Institute obtained more than $8 million in federal small-business loans. Currently, the Aspen Institute qualifies to participate in the Paycheck Protection Program since the organization’s staff number falls below the 500-employee threshold. 
The Paycheck Protection Program is a program supported by the Small Business Administration that provides loans to small businesses to incentivize them to keep workers on their payroll. The Small Business Administration forgives the loans of small businesses if all employees remain on the payroll for eight weeks and the business’ money is used for rent, payroll, mortgage interest, or utilities. 
The organization’s decision to accept the loans created a division among the fellows and moderators who run programs at the Aspen Institute, since many other organizations that received money returned it with their executives admitting that they had spare funds that smaller businesses do not. Many have criticized Aspen Institute’s decision to keep the loan as contradicting the organization’s mission statement in fostering service-oriented leadership to serve the public good. They claim that Aspen Institute can draw its funds instead from its network of fellows, trustees, and philanthropists without relying on a government bailout loan during the coronavirus pandemic. 
Aspen Institute’s most recent tax filing indicates that it had an endowment of over $115 million in 2018. The organization stated that it received board approval to access its endowment fund for $7.5 million but that 80 percent of these funds are restricted and could not be used to facilitate the operation of the company.
According to the organization’s leadership board led by President and CEO Daniel R. Porterfield, the organization is projecting a loss of between $14 to $17 million for the year 2020 due to the cancellation of company conferences and forums from which it derives a majority of its annual income. 
The current CEO is Daniel R. Porterfield who joined the organization in 2017 resigning as president of Franklin and Marshall College in Pennsylvania. Prior to his presidency at Franklin and Marshall College, Porterfield was a professor of literature and senior Vice President at Georgetown University. Porterfield was previously a senior aide for Donna Shalala, Secretary of Health and Human Services under President Bill Clinton. 
Walter Isaacson served as CEO of the Aspen Institute from 2003 to 2018. Issacson was CEO of CNN from 2001 to 2003, where he was criticized for trying to make the network more open to Republican and conservative viewpoints. From 1978 to 1996, he worked for Time magazine eventually becoming managing editor. Upon leaving the Aspen Institute, Isaacson returned to his hometown of New Orleans to teach at Tulane University.