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 Company , Great 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.