The Biennial of the Americas: It’s a Celebración!

Sydney Hodgson | @SydneyLHodgson

On May 19th the City Hall event center filled with people to celebrate the launch of this year’s Biennial of the Americas Festival with their preview event Celebración! The nonprofit has assembled a fascinating schedule of events, culminating in a week long festival of ideas -Biennial Week- taking place September 12th-16th at various spaces across the city. This year’s theme is The Long View: Innovating for the Future.

But what exactly is Biennial of The Americas? I spoke to people who have lived in Denver their entire lives and only knew the Biennial from the light pole signs strewn across downtown. Turns out, it is about much more than themed parties. The Biennial is an organization seeking to connect Latin America and Colorado by bringing together art, music, and ideas. It also brings together innovating leaders from across the Western hemisphere to consider the way we do business and interact with one another. Particular emphasis is placed on cultural connection and the power and possibility of learning from one another’s past in order to build an amicable, more productive future.

The May 19th event, Celebración!, was targeted at getting young people more involved in the organization and its activities and featured an incredible salsa dance troop, a spirits tasting, and a Cuban cigar lounge. Guest of honor Governor Hickenlooper addressed attendees, and taking a cue from the emcee--Jonny 5 of the Flobots--even tried his hand at rapping. People of all ages danced enthusiastically into the night to the sounds of a Brazilian band.

The Gov gettin' his groove on while addressing the crowd. 

The Gov gettin' his groove on while addressing the crowd. 

NextGen: Speaking to a Young(er), Diverse Audience 

Despite this worthy cause and support from big political players, the Biennial is not without controversy. The overwhelming whiteness of board has spurred ample criticism. While this is a common criticism--and issue--concerning leadership boards, this case is even more problematic considering the subject matter and purpose of the Biennial. The organization is actively trying to diversify, and the launch party was a prime example of this. A task force of young professionals, called the NextGen committee, put on the launch event, which seemed to pull from a broader pool than the regular attendees of political-tinged functions.

Art can, at times, be an exclusive and elitist space, creating a barrier of entry for younger populations who may feel uncomfortable and like they don’t belong. The NextGen committee was created to change that. Afterall, who better to plan a party for millennials than fellow millennials? The intention of Celebración! was to celebrate art in a variety of forms that resonate with the broader Denver population. Music, dance, food and drink took center stage, allowing guests to get a sample of Latin American culture as well as aspects of the upcoming week-long festival.

Alexis Crews, a member of the planning committee, believes Biennial of the Americas can bring people together in unexpected ways and expose the city’s residents to diverse cultures and connections. “I think there is something that can be said to have almost 300 people across socio-, ethnic and cultural backgrounds to celebrate Latin America through art, dance and music. It shows that we in Denver are open to exploration, to inclusivity and to breaking down the barriers that have prevented people from enjoying the benefits of art in all its forms.” The goal is for people to walk away from Biennial Week and the events leading up to it with a new perspective on how we, as Coloradans, engage with others across the Americas to thoughtfully and intentionally address some of the most pressing issues of our time. Developing a respect and understanding of the cultures in the region is where we start.