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Given Institute Leaves Behind Memories

From Scientific Inquiry to a Limbo Contest


 

The Given Institute

One of the distinguishing features of the Given Institute over the past few decades has been its ability to attract star power.

Not the flashy kind that comes so easily to the Aspen Institute just a few block away. There, marquee names like Colin Powell, the Clintons, and Madeleine Albright have been normal fare in a town accustomed to celebrity.

No, the worth of the Given is the ability to attract leading international scientists - including many Nobel laureates - who have been hashing out decisions and discoveries in the Given conference rooms, gardens and patios overlooking Hallam Lake for nearly four decades.

Dr. Bruce Paton, chairman of the Given Institute, recalls a Toxicology Forum held a few years ago. The head of the Food and Drug Administration was the keynote speaker.

“They spent a whole day talking about how to control contamination,” from BPH, lead in toys and dog food, says Paton. “They made recommendations that affected the public at large, millions of people.”

But there, he adds, is the rub.

The Given encouraged conferences to be a part of its public lecture series, but the conference schedules were often so packed that there was no time.

“Maybe,” he says, sadly, “if the university had been able to push a little harder, we could have changed things.”

By that, Paton means the sale and closing of the Given, owned by the University of Colorado and managed by the School of Medicine.

The School of Medicine says it can’t afford the upkeep in these hard financial times with big budget cuts and hefty tuition increases. And the sale would help the school long term with its primary mission of educating students.

The idea behind the Given can be traced to a seminar held in the Aspen Middle School gym in 1964. The subject: Advances in Molecular Biology. It attracted an international who’s who in the field, and subsequent seminars underscored the need for a more permanent facility.

Cue Elizabeth Paepcke, who donated two acres of her garden to CU in 1971. Her generosity was followed by donations from the Irene Heinz Given and John LaPorte Given Foundation to build the institute.

One of the "Given bears."

Originally intended as a biomedical science hub, it expanded in scope to include all types of scientific meetings and eventually embraced public lectures and private events, like weddings and parties. John Denver held his annual summer parties there, and stars like Will Smith booked the Given for New Year’s Eve bashes.

The beautiful setting is known for inspiring an intimate, collegial atmosphere and creating breathing room for new ideas.

 “It’s hard to describe the feeling you get on the property,” said Given Manager Janet Ferrara, who has been with the institute for 16 years. “It happens to everyone, and it happens quickly. It’s serene, but high-powered. And the property is yours when you come here. That’s why people return every year. This is their time and place.”

It hasn’t been all work and no play. Given staff told the Aspen Times a few years ago that they’ve encountered dancing, cocktail parties and even a limbo contest on the grounds. A bunch of scientists partying? According to one longtime observer, “Well, the physicists, yes. The doctors, not so much.”