The Rural We: Ben and Donna Rosen
Ben and Donna Rosen.
Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, journalist John Pomfret, and Ambassador Christopher Hill speak at Kent Presents in 2017.
Ben Rosen and Christopher Hill at Kent Presents 2017.
Donna Rosen listens intently at Kent Presents 2017.
Ben and Donna Rosen had already accomplished much in their lives before moving up to Litchfield County and starting the KentPresents Ideas Festival, which will be holding its 4th-annual event from Aug. 16-18. Mr. Rosen is a former venture capitalist, chairman emeritus of Compaq Computer and chairman emeritus and current life trustee of the California Institute of Technology, among numerous other positions. Mrs. Rosen is a longtime contemporary art gallery owner in New Orleans, and now active in philanthropy, the visual arts, and a board member of the Whitney Museum of American Art, American Friends of the British Museum and Third Way. Together the couple now raise hundreds of thousands of dollars each year through the festival to benefit local causes. This year's festival features talks by dozens of renowned speakers including Lesley Stahl, "60 Minutes" correspondent; Henry Kissinger, former Secretary of State; Michael Pollan, author and food activist; Jeh Johnson, former Secretary of Homeland Security; Wynton Marsalis, renowned jazz musician and educator; and Lisa Bloom, nationally prominent civil rights attorney, just to name a few.
“We met by accident through Ben’s niece who was in New Orleans, where I had a gallery,” Donna said. “We all happened to be in New York at the same time and we had dinner together. Ben was putting together an art collection so we talked about that. He called me a year later. I thought it was about his collection. He invited me up to see his etchings.”
“Whatever works,” Mr. Rosen interjected.
“We were married in 2002,” Mrs. Rosen continued. “9/11 was just a year before and, in New York, it felt like the earth was still shaking under our feet. We decided to move to Litchfield County and never regretted it. We immediately began falling in love with Kent and Litchfield. It’s truly New England to me.
“In 2008, with the financial collapse, we began to become more acutely aware of how difficult life is for some of our neighbors within Litchfield and that’s why we decided to set up KentPresents as a way to help.”
“We were mulling over what to do besides just making contributions,” Mr. Rosen said. “So four years ago we decided that KentPresents was a way to generate revenue (for local causes) whether we were here or not.”
“There’s the ‘halo effect’ of it, as well. It becomes a draw for Litchfield,” Mrs. Rosen added.
“Four years ago we had an idea, but to make that idea a reality we had to get a venue and lodging and get people to come to an area they’d never been to before,” said Mr. Rosen. “We didn’t know if we could do it. We found out we could with the amazing help of The Kent School and so many businesses and supporters.
“The surprise is that the cookie cutter we made in year one has been able to stay in place. The challenge we create for ourselves every year is to keep it fresh and find new speakers. We change at least two-thirds of the presenters each year. There will always be talks on China, Russia and Iran, but when it comes to science and tech we try to focus on the major developments. This year we have presenters talking about the ‘holy grail’ of technology, which is energy storage. We are talking about autonomous vehicles and there are always new social issues to discuss every year. We are doing panels on gun issues, the ‘Me Too’ movement and post-truth America.
“[KentPresents’ legacy] is really up to the public. We think we’ve started something special but it’s not something we can do forever. None of this would have happened without the Kent School and the community that comes together around these issues and raise funds for great causes.”
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