A Year End Message from Aaron Stern

Academy Founder and President Aaron Stern shares an Annual Letter with updates on Academy events and projects for 2020.

Dear Friends,

As 2019 comes to a close here at the Academy for the Love of Learning I’m writing with news of our work this year and a look toward 2020.

You may recall that in 2018 we celebrated our 20th Anniversary Year – which coincided with the 100th anniversary of the birth of Leonard Bernstein, with whom I conceived the Academy. Throughout 2018 we celebrated with the theme “Reflection and Emergence” – all of our public programs and activities were opportunities to reflect upon our rich founding story while planting seeds for the future. At our big anniversary celebration, we announced several new initiatives that have begun to take shape in 2019 and will begin in 2020.

One of the initiatives is the Academy’s ‘Love of Learning’ Fellowship program. I’m excited to report that after a deep and collaborative design process throughout 2019, the Fellowship will begin formally in 2020. The Fellowship is to be an 18-month transformative learning program co-designed by the fellows themselves to support the growth, creativity, curiosity and awareness of leaders in New Mexico – all aimed toward community healing, learning and transformation. Each Fellow is already a remarkable cultural leader in their own right, and together will be exploring at the intersection of community arts practice, community healing and transformative learning.

Last year, I mentioned the study being conducted by the Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin-Madison on the Academy’s Foundational Programs. The aim of the study, several years in the making, is to discover and describe the impact of the Academy’s transformative practices on the experience of well-being and flourishing. Our combined research team is approaching the completion of a report about our findings. We’ve defined five key components present in our work that, when activated and supported, animate the learning spirit. Stay tuned for our article intended for the Harvard Educational Review coming in 2020-21. We will keep you posted!

Another initiative announced in 2018 was our intention to have an annual Leonard Bernstein birthday event to be held each year in August. Our inaugural event coincided with our 20th Anniversary. We had our second, on August 25, 2019, Bernstein’s 101st birthday. We were very happy to see so many of you present at this year’s celebration of Bernstein’s life and legacy entitled “Bearing Witness.” Together, we watched, listened and reflected upon Bernstein’s earliest masterpiece, his Symphony No. 1: Jeremiah. In a novel approach to ‘scaling intimacy’, over dinner, set in the remnants of Seton Castle, we experienced a classic performance of Bernstein conducting the symphony, projected onto the remaining walls of the castle. The last movement – the “Lamentation” – was performed live by mezzo-soprano Katherine DeYoung and pianist Grisha Krivchenia. In intimate conversations, we considered and felt deeply the human tendency towards destruction and chaos and shared our thoughts on how we can “learn ourselves” into a better world.  We practiced together what it means to bear witness to human destructiveness, without turning away. We deepened our capacities to stay present and learn, in community.

Multimedia viewing of “Symphony No. 1: Jeremiah” at Bearing Witness

With deep gratitude, this transformative evening was made possible by a gift from the Synàkos Foundation. This catalyzing and generous gift is intended to inspire greater support for our Friends of the Academy community.

Our Friends
 help us to solidify and broaden the network of thoughtful, curious people who engage with and co-create our work. As I watch so many projects begin to bear fruit, sense connections growing deeper within the Academy community, and see the potential for the learning spirit to broadcast to even larger audiences, I’m struck with the generative quality of this. As Lynne Twist has said – what we appreciate, appreciates! With this intention in mind, I invite you to join us in this deeper ongoing relationship.

If you elect to become a Friend of the Academy, your participation in ticketed Academy events and activities will be discounted and you will be the first to know about any upcoming opportunities to engage. One of these opportunities is our new “Certificate in Learning as a Practice. This certificate will recognize those who embody the spirit of learning through participation in Academy programs. Beginning in January 2020, all of our Evenings of Exploration and multi-day Foundation Studies programs offered in Santa Fe will be tied to the certificate, allowing participants to work through our programming in clear pathways with a faculty advisor and a community of co-learning peers, if desired, or continue participating in them as one-offs without the certificate option. Please get in touch if you’d like more information.

Another dream realized this year was the inaugural Future of Learning dialogue with my beloved friend, the incomparable writer, activist, and organizer Gloria Steinem. Our dialogue, theme was Learning in Community. We asked ourselves and each other, “What is the learning spirit? How do we cultivate and keep it alive in a colonized world? In this moment of unraveling, where is the intelligent life?” Our conversation was hosted at the Academy campus in Santa Fe in front of a lively multi-generational audience and broadcast via LiveStream to open these questions to the wider world. It can still be viewed on our website.

Aaron Stern, Gloria Steinem, and Tannia Esparza at The Future of Learning Dialogue: Learning in Community

As I write this, I’ve just returned from India, where I had the great honor to moderate an intimate conversation between the Dalai Lama and South African psychologist and social scientist Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela. Pumla’s groundbreaking work as a member of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, became the basis for her deeply moving book A Human Being Died That Night. Pumla’s book is an exploration of the experience and processes of forgiveness as she worked to understand better how to meet the echoes of the profound trauma in a post-apartheid society seeking to restore itself in the aftermath of such atrocities.

Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela and the Dalai Lama at Mind & Life Institute’s Conversations on Compassion, Interconnection, and Transformation moderated by Aaron Stern

Her work has grown from forgiveness – ‘forgive and forget’ – into what she understands to be a more accurate representation of what must happen in South Africa, having suffered such deep trauma and atrocity. It is the concept of ‘repair’ – the shared mutual human responsibility and accountability to the ongoing repair of the torn fabric of our mutual humanity that has resulted by such violence. This view and deepening insight lives within the framework of the Southern African concept of ubuntu, often translated as “I am because you are.” It’s a statement of the natural, inherently unavoidable interconnection of all beings, a concept that lives at the heart of what we try to do in all our work, as we believe it is learning that can lead us to more kind-hearted, peaceful, vibrant and connected communities.

Thank you again for joining us on this journey. There is something magical about showing up in community to question, reflect, and nurture one another through these uncertain times. Perhaps that alone makes an important contribution to ‘finding intelligent life’ in our universe! With your continued support, we are energized to continue this work in the coming year and beyond. We can’t rest on our laurels, we have so much more to learn and do!

With gratitude,

Aaron Stern
Founder and President
Academy for the Love of Learning