What You Need to Know About Denver's 2017 Biennial of the Americas

The celebration of art and ideas returns Sept. 12-16 with public offerings that range from "lunch and learn" panels on important international topics to a recreation of one of Havana's hottest nightclubs.
The Biennial of the Americas’ most familiar face reflects the art exhibits, concerts and broad conversations on social topics that it produces for the public every two years in Denver. But a lot of what the organization sets out to do happens in quieter ways.

Those programmed events serve more broadly as a way for people to simply introduce themselves, to meet across the political borders of the Western Hemisphere. The biennial is, at its core, a network builder, a matchmaker for folks in various countries who work in government, culture and business, and for those interested in solving global economic and environmental issues.

And for journalists, like me. I’ve built my own international network, due in large part to the biennial's existence. It started in early 2015, when I traveled to Mexico City to write about a biennial exchange program that brought two Mexican artists to Denver for extended residencies and, in return, sent two of our artists there.

This year's Biennial of the Americas runs Sept. 12-16.

In reporting the story, I developed solid sources, discovered new projects and generally learned my way around one of the world's largest cities. I’ve been back to Mexico six times since, producing stories for a variety of publications about cultural happenings.

“The network we're building is organic and growing,” says Erin Trapp, the biennial’s executive director.

Trapp offers a convincing list of biennial-inspired partnerships, formal and spontaneous, that includes new trading partners for both the state of Colorado and local businesses, and she credits her organization for sparking creative collaborations between artists here and in places like Brazil.

There’s no guarantee that folks attending this September’s Biennial of the America’s events in Denver will make deals — or friends — with their counterparts in Cuba or Argentina or Chile, but the opportunities do seem to exist. There are also plenty of chances to simply enjoy some good music, view world-class exhibits and watch government and business leaders on different sides of the equator talk about common concerns. The event runs Sept 12-16.

As usual, the biennial will be ushering some well-known, and respected,  people to town, including LinkedIn chairman Reid Hoffman, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Dave Eggers and international art curator Patrick Charpenel.

Attendees can get involved at various levels. There will be a  series of “lunch and learn” panels at the new Born Hotel that “allows member of the public to meet and interact with the leaders and artists visiting Denver.” Panel topics cover everything from sustainability to the future of cities.

A scene from the 2015 Biennial of the Americas.

There are also four major art offerings aligned with the biennial, including “Saber Acomodar,” featuring new works from artists in Guadalaja, Mexico, at the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver.

The central entertainment events are two Havana Nights concerts, recreating in Denver the popular Cuban music and dance hotspot, Fábrica de Arte Cubano, which will be curated by Cuban rocker, rapper and filmmaker Equis Alfonso. The attraction will take place in a warehouse space reminiscent of the original club.

The multi-pronged programming approach is meant to draw crowds across the biennial’s mix of serious discussion and border-free fun.

"Havana Nights was designed for our fantastic, active population of young, and young-at-heart, people who expect fun and sophisticated programs and want to stay out late,” says Trapp.

“For others with an earlier bedtime, lunch and learn is a better option.”

The 2017 event will feature panels as well as art exhibits. This is a scene from 2015.

Beyond that, the biennial will host an array of behind-the scenes events, not open to the public, that will have representatives from social, cultural and political agencies from across North and South America sharing strategies for social growth. In all, more than 20 countries will be represented.

This year’s biennial is a departure of sorts from previous editions. In past years, the organization itself has curated the connected art exhibits and other cultural programming in-house. This time around it has outsourced some of that to local organizations. For example, the Denver Art Museum’s Mi Tierra exhbit, which has been drawing crowds since February, is technically biennial event.

Each time out — this will be the fourth biennial — the event comes off differently as organizers shape things around current events and a refined mission. That’s lead to some confusion about what the biennial is and does and how people should interact with it.

Trapp believes the biennial’s evolution has brought ti closer to its mission, which, no matter how you word it, or filter it, leads up to it being “The most important gathering of top elected, business, NGO and cultural leaders focused on the Western hemisphere.”
“We’ve clearly articulated our vision, and we've grown into it,” said Trapp. “We're now very comfortable owning this vision, and our partners -- -particularly in the countries of Latin America -- really understand the value.
As for navigating the 2017 biennial, that should be easy. There are events at various locations around the city and at different price points. The official website has it all outlined clearly and features a tool for helping folks figure out how to find offerings that suit their interests.

Registration is open now and some things will likely fill up fast.


Here’s the schedule for the 2017 Biennial of the Amerca’s public program as it stands. Check the website for changes.

Sept. 12, Opening Day
Noon, Born Hotel: Mayors of the Americas Panel, “Entrepreneurial Cities,” featuring Michael Hancock (Denver); Federico Gutiérrez Zuluaga (Medellin)

Sept. 13, Innovative Americas Day
Noon, Born Hotel: Lunchtime Innovation panel featuring Alejandra Mustakis, Idea Factory Chile, Mike Fries, Liberty Global, former Mexican Ambassador Arturo Sarukahn and more

6 p.m. Opening: “Saber Acomodar”
The Museum of Contemporary Art Denver is presenting an outstanding exhibition with guest curator Patrick Charpenel. The exhibition features artists from Guadalajara, Mexico.

Sept. 14, Civic Americas Day
Noon, Born Hotel: Lunchtime Civic Innovation panel featuring Scott Sherman of the TransformationalInstitute on “How to Change the World”

7 p.m., Americas Symposium, Ellie Caulkins Opera House
Join top business and civic leaders from around the hemisphere for a symposium that explores The Long View: The Next 50 Years of Partnership in the Americas. Featuring CNBC’s Becky Quick, LinkedIn’s Reid Hoffman, Pulitzer Prize-winning author and Screenwriter Dave Eggers, and more.

Sept. 15, Sustainability Day
Noon, Born Hotel: Lunchtime Sustainability panel featuring Secty Tom Vilsack facilitator; Jim Lochhead,Denver Water; Bruce Karas, Coca-Cola

Evening: Havana Night concert. Join us as we feature the first U.S. outpost of the international spectacular “Fábrica de Arte Cubano” (FAC), curated by Cuban rocker, rapper and filmmaker Equis Alfonso. The FAC will feature performances and exhibitions of dance, music and visual arts.

Sept. 16
Day: Site visits featuring innovations in sustainability with Denver Water burn site; Rocky Mountain Wildlife Arsenal and Chatfield State Park

8 p.m. Encore performance of Havan Nights concert

This year’s  biennial will feature four significant art exhibitions:

• Mi Tierra: Contemporary Artists Explore Place: Site-specific installations by 13 Latino artists that express experiences of contemporary life in the American West (Denver Art Museum)
• Saber Acomodar: New works that showcase the unique artistry and craftsmanship of
Guadalajara, Mexico (Denver Museum of Contemporary Art)
• Gabriel Figueroa: Video and still photography selections by the renowned
cinematographer from the Televisa Foundation collection (Boettcher Cultural Pavilion at McNichols Civic Center Building)
• Penitents: World End Rituals of Faith: Brazilian photographer Guy Veloso captures a moment in time where faith, consciousness, and cuerpo become one through rituals. (Museo de las Americas)

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