The Academy for the Love of Learning was birthed from an intense ten-year collaboration between Academy President, Aaron Stern and his mentor, Leonard Bernstein. Stern, then Dean of the American Conservatory of Music in Chicago, was committed to using aesthetic experience as a pathway into the kind of self-knowing and discovery that motivates and guides the natural human desire to learn. Stern’s commitment to this approach to learning found its counterpart in Bernstein’s belief that the arts, and particularly music, could play a crucial role in cultural transformation. Their shared aspiration led them to explore how to awaken, nurture and fuel a lifelong love of learning as a means to becoming more fully human.
Following Bernstein’s death in 1990, Stern continued to experiment with, develop and refine this approach to learning peripatetically through his work as consultant and facilitator, educator and researcher. Among his many activities was his work with teachers, school administrators, and parents determined to provide a holistic, life-affirming education for their children, and looking to bring their schools into a state of health and consciousness. In a similar vein, Stern’s work with non-profit organizations supported a deep reconnection with values and the recognition that a collaborative learning environment is vital to the health of any group working to benefit society.
In early 1997, Stern saw that it was time to establish the Academy formally and to create a center that could engender a community of people committed to growing this approach to learning. He began the process by inviting a group of peers to join him in creating a vision for the organization. Over a two-year period this group, through a series of retreats, engaged in a creative reflection on Stern’s methodologies and a learning process that led to a firsthand experience and understanding of this approach to learning. Thus, the Academy rose out of their shared direct experience of its principles. From those beginnings through the present day, our deep commitment to practicing the change we want to see in the world is what sets us apart.
The Academy was formally incorporated as a 501C3 non-profit organization in late 1998, and during that first year we planned our initial set of programs. Between 2000 and 2002 the Academy began to offer its first workshops and trainings. During this early stage, workshops were designed with the intention of creating a shared field of knowledge and experience among both Academy staff and those most intimately connected with the Academy. Program presenters were people who had been influential in Stern’s personal and professional development and therefore, in informing the wisdom base of the organization. As this careful introduction of his work was engaged with and embodied by Academy staff and friends, the ‘field’ supporting the development of curriculum and programs intensified and deepened. The first public training program – the Consultant/Facilitator Training – provided a context for further experimentation and development of our approach to learning and facilitation.
In 2002 the Academy began moving into a larger context and growing a core group of staff and associates. Consciously moving into a new stage of development as a relational organization and drawing on what they had learned, individually and collaboratively, the Academy began invoking a new form to support its complexity. Stern’s consulting practice evolved into an advisory service and training program called Ventana and the Consultancy Training metamorphosed into an innovative new training program in personal leadership called Leading By Being.
In 2003, the Academy purchased an historic property in Santa Fe, New Mexico, planning to restore the house, standing on 86 acres of land, known as Seton Castle, named for its designer and former owner, the prolific author, artist and naturalist Ernest Thompson Seton. In 2005, when the restoration was two-thirds complete, fire consumed Seton Castle leaving only the stone walls and chimneys. After a year of reappraisal, the Academy decided to build a new home on the land adjacent to the Castle, and to restore the Castle remains sufficiently to be used as an outdoor amphitheater for performance, meetings and other outdoor activities.
In 2011 The Academy completed and moved into its new home. Constructed near the former Seton castle site, the new Academy is a beautifully conceived cluster of ‘green’ buildings that includes warmly furnished gathering rooms, a high-tech media center, a gallery devoted to the remaining Seton archives, artwork, books and artifacts, offices, an art studio, a small performance space and a gathering place for contemplative practices. The Campus, expected to be awarded, Gold LEED certification is a model of sustainability and home for the Academy’s offices original and expanding programs, which now include El Otro Lado, Lifesongs, an expanded Teacher Renewal Summer Institute and others. The beautifully restored remains of the former Seton Castle are used for outdoor performances and other related activities.