Follow-up to “Lenny’s Living Legacy: A Concert Celebration”

Academy for the Love of Learning Founder and President Aaron Stern shared this letter with participants after our 20th anniversary and Leonard Bernstein centennial birthday celebration on August 25th, Lenny’s Living Legacy: A Concert Celebration.

Throughout 2018, the Academy for the Love of Learning has been celebrating our 20th year through the themes of “Reflection and Emergence.” In true Academy style, we have been celebrating with a question – a key question that haunted Leonard Bernstein during the last decade of his life: “Don’t we never learn?” My response to Lenny then, as now: “Of course we do…We transform!” I had been exploring, by then, and teaching Lenny about transformative learning and experience, which brought him great hope in the last years of his life. Following Bernstein’s death in 1990, I went on to explore further those foundational learning practices that I had first begun to develop in the late 1970’s while serving as the Dean of the American Conservatory of Music. Eventually, these practices were to become the core of the Academy’s pedagogy. In 1998, eight years after Bernstein’s death, I formally established the Academy along with our founding board. The Academy stands now as a vibrant and vital organization that continues to be inspired by my and Leonard Bernstein’s shared vision for a better world. Through the sacred human capacity for learning, surrounded by love, we are indeed discovering how to become better at being human beings.

On August 25th, we hosted a moving celebration commemorating 20 years of the Academy on what would have been Leonard Bernstein’s 100th birthday. What an incredible joy it was to share an afternoon of dialogue, story, and music with a group of 200 friends and supporters. Some among you were long time relationships going all the way back to my first dreamings of the Academy, even before meeting Bernstein, and many of you are newer. I could never have imagined 20 years ago when I was hanging flyers on telephone poles that the Academy would grow into the organization that it is today: one that has moved into the future, substantiating the human capacity to transform – my answer to Lenny’s question. Of course, there is much more to do. It is one thing to know that we can transform ourselves individually. It’s quite another to transform ourselves collectively, our communities, our systems, which we see as our next great challenge, in our work at the Academy and as a society.

As I announced on August 25th, we will be launching several new initiatives in 2019, continuing and deepening our mission to “take the lid off learning.” The first of these is the launch of The Leonard Bernstein Fellowship for Arts and Transformation. This two-year program for catalytic creative practitioners will unite Community Arts practices with Transformative Learning practices and an inner commitment to heal personally and in community, the pervasive systemic trauma in which we are situated, this, in order to awaken and catalyze sustainable change. Fellows will join Academy faculty in a deep and experiential exploration of what it means to bring artistic sensibility and discernment into the realm of human growth and development. This deliberately curated blend of foundational study, artistic practice, inner work and independent inquiry will honor, support and amplify Fellows’ current and emergent work toward systemic, sustainable community change.

Second, the “Future of Learning” dialogues will follow themes similar to our May 20th event earlier this year, where neuroscientist Dr. Richard Davidson, founder of the Center for Healthy Minds, and I furthered the exploration of Bernstein’s burning question “Don’t we never learn?” Richie and I discussed the Center’s preliminary research findings into the Academy’s methodologies and pedagogy, and how these findings illuminate the connection we believe exists between learning that transforms us – and the experience of well-being.

Third, we will continue our exciting Partnership Platform, intended to increase research and implementation of what His Holiness the Dalai Lama calls Secular Ethics – a next step beyond Social Emotional Learning. The Platform brings together key professional relationships I’ve developed through my work as a Fellow and Trustee of the Mind & Life Institute, a research organization working to promote flourishing by integrating science with contemplative practice and wisdom traditions, co-founded by the Dalai Lama. The Partnership Platform has the intention of fostering collaboration and sharing resources leading to a greater expression of impact than our respective work can do alone. We have begun this work in earnest and it has rich potential.

We look forward to sharing more about these programs with you as we emerge – together – into the next phase of the Academy in the world. Finally, it is with special and great gratitude that I acknowledge all of those who contributed to our Anniversary Campaign. Back in the spring, we set an ambitious goal of raising $100,000 dollars by Lenny’s 100th birthday. We raised $104,713. Thank you from all of us at the Academy for your presence and support. Here’s to the next 20 years!