Kent Presents: An Ideas Festival About What Comes Next
Speakers include Jeffrey Toobin, Henry Kissinger, Mia Farrow, Soledad O’Brien, Siddhartha Mukherjee and Paul Krugman. Photo of Krugman: Frank R. Conrad, The New York Times.
By Jamie Larson
It is impossible to overstate the caliber of speakers, the depth of knowledge or the collective value of experience planned for display at the inaugural Kent Presents ideas festival, August 13th – 15th at the Kent School. Thanks to the philanthropic vision and deep personal rolodex of laudable locals Benjamin and Donna Rosen, the beautiful small town of Kent, Connecticut will host some of the greatest minds of our time as they speak on the conference’s heady theme—“What Comes Next?”
With the humble intent of increasing interest in their town and supporting local charities, the Rosens have put together a conference of 70 diverse speakers that include Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, economist Paul Krugman and director of the National Cancer Institute Harold Varmus, all three of whom happen to be Nobel Prize winners. The schedule includes presentations from experts in science, public policy, business and technology including Pulitzer Prize-winning doctor and author Siddhartha Mukherjee, president of the World Monuments Fund Bonnie Burnham, Bloomberg Finance executive editor Christine Harper, New York Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, director of the Iran Project and former ambassador William Luers and many more.
“They’re coming to a village they’ve never heard of for an event that never existed before,” Donna Rosen says with a laugh. “We hope to establish Kent and Litchfield County as a center for intellectual thought.”
The Rosens [photo, right] were able to manifest this laudable event out of thin air due to the connections they’ve cultivated during a lifetime spent in the upper echelons of business, policy, philanthropy and the arts. Benjamin Rosen is a former venture capitalist, chairman emeritus of Compaq Computer, chairman emeritus and current life trustee of the California Institute of Technology and currently on the boards of the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (emeritus) and the New York Philharmonic (emeritus). He is also a former Met Opera board member and Columbia Business School board chairman. Donna Rosen was a longtime contemporary art gallery owner in New Orleans, and is now active in philanthropy and the visual arts, and is a board member of the Whitney Museum of American Art, New Orleans Museum of Art, and American Friends of the British Museum.
With Mrs. Rosen’s connection to the art world, it’s no surprise the Kent Presents lineup also boasts many notables from the world of arts and media including actress and activist Mia Farrow, CNN journalist and author Fareed Zakaria, Tony-winning Broadway director Richard Maltby Jr., artist Xaviera Simmons, journalist Soledad O’Brien… the list goes on and on.
“We are fortunate to have great friends involved in many facets of life,” Rosen says. That’s a bit of an understatement.
It’s almost hard to parse the scale of Kent Presents with its casual catalyst. Last August, the Rosens were having a conversation with some friends about the Aspen Ideas Festival and how great it would be to have a similar event in Kent, close to New York City but also surrounded by a beautiful landscape.
“Ben said it would be a good project for him since he doesn’t play golf anymore,” says Rosen. “So we founded the non-profit to support local charities and asked (Kent School headmaster Richardson Schell) if we could use the school as a venue and he graciously opened his doors to us. We sent emails to various friends of ours and, to our delight, many said yes.”
Unfortunately, the nearly $2,000 passes to Kent Presents are all but sold out, with a number of seats having been comped to local residents so that the event could be diverse and accessible. The Rosens are pleased and encouraged by the interest and are already looking forward to next year when they may need to expand.
Though only in their start-up year, without any sponsors, Rosen expects to raise a six-figure amount for the local charities selected at a later date by a committee of local residents, not including the Rosens.
Thursday, August 13—Saturday, August 15
On the grounds of the Kent School in Kent, CT
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