Preview: Biennial of the Americas

July 11 2013, 9:19 AM

If we're being strict about it, Denver's second Biennial of the Americas should have happened last year (the first edition was back in 2010). Thankfully, we're OK with a little rule breaking. 

The international festival is split into two parts: a four-day ideas symposium and an almost two-month-long public exhibition of art and installations. The former (which kicks off Tuesday, July 16) is based on the theme of "Unleashing Human Potential: Reinventing Communities, Business, and Education." That equates to talks—open to the public—led by well-respected businesspeople, philanthropists, government workers, and more. Some of the more presitigious visitors include Eric Schmidt, chairman of Google; Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Education; and Arianna Huffington.

The arts and culture portion includes various exhibits and programs at local institutions (check out the lineup; many are free) as well as the unveiling of Draft Urbanism, a citywide series of outdoor installations that will stay up through September 2. Covering 10.5 square miles, the exhibition includes four large-scale pieces crafted by architecture firms in response to specific urban challenges in downtown Denver, as well as various artwork and text by 30 creative-minded folks (artists, a philosopher, a novelist) to be displayed on billboards and signs. 

Artists are free to interpret "Draft Urbanism" as they want, though the title is rooted in specific ideas. "Urbanism is always in a case of becoming. The urbanism we experience now is a draft of a later version," says executive curator Carson Chan. "Denver’s urban history is also intimately tied to the history of bars, taverns, and beer—and it still is. We’re saying that urbanism is a future-looking process, but it’s always a version of something else, a process that’s always rooted in a city’s past. The past we chose to highlight is beer."

What's that mean in terms of actual art? Head to the Tattered Cover's LoDo or Colfax locations to pick up a free guide book to the exhibition and then drive the entire thing—kind of like a sober pub crawl (though there are some bar stops along the way). Or, just walk around town.  "It’s a very non-scary art show," says Chan. "The city itself becomes one big exhibition."

There are plenty of other happenings tied to the Biennial. Two highlights:

Denver Night! Music and art come together in various energetic and surprising performances (Soundsuit animals by Nick Cave, an acoustic show by members of the Fray, an interactive exhibit from artist Jen Lewin) for a fun night on the town. Free; Friday, July 19, Civic Center Park, 7-11 p.m.

Craft Urbanism: Beer Gardens in the City Fabric. Four beer gardens will pop-up along a one-block radius of downtown. Each will feature beer from one of the four participating breweries: Denver Beer Co. (which actually crafted the Biennial Maya Nut Brown Ale specifically for the festival), Wynkoop Brewing CompanyGreat Divide Brewing Co., and Strange Brewing Company. Entry is free, though beers are not. Purchase a Craft Urbanism Tab in advance for $12 and get four 12-ounce beers for the price of three. Saturday, July 20, 4-8 p.m.

Image courtesy of Pezo von Ellrichshausen, renderings by Ignacio Piedras; made of beetle-kill wood and boulders, Mine Pavilion, will be on display at Speer Boulevard and Larimer Street

Follow associate editor Daliah Singer on Twitter at @daliahsinger.