Update on the 2015 Biennial of the Americas

savethedate_webbanner-830x460Last week a group of artists were called together by with Lauren Wright, the Artistic Director and Curator, to meet with the staff at the Biennial of the Americas to give feedback on 2013 and planning for 2015. The Biennial’s core purpose is to connect the Americas North and South instead of many other biennials that connect West to East. “The Biennial of the Americas provides an international platform for leaders in business, government, civil society, and the arts to examine the significant issues impacting life in the Americas.”

While staff was unable to commit to or announce any other the broader theme the opening week dates were announced, July 14-18, 2015 and continuing through September 7, 2015. The artists were asked to note both the positives and negatives of 2013. There was a boatload of negatives to be addressed. Hearing the critique is pretty necessary to get things if not right at least better for 2015. I think it must be like pushing a massive boulder up the hill.

While in past years McNichols Civic Center building has been used for exhibitions, in 2015 the building will be in renovations and unavailable. This may be an opportunity to go well beyond a traditional gallery style exhibition but there will still be a need for a main connecting space where artists, ideas and public can meet. Not that this was used to much great effect in years past. A large complaint voiced in Denver’s artist community in 2013 was that there was a large bifurcation and disconnect between the international and local artists.

The exhibition was handled as if two separate things from the standpoint of administration, marketing and advertising. The two sets of artists never formally met. The artists and leaders in “business, government and society” also never met even when in the same room. Honestly, when you ask artists to attend luncheons held amidst their artwork someone should at least thank or mention the work in the room and not use it to pile purses and briefcases.

Last year I quoted Carson Chan, Executive Curator, “Large scale platforms can be used to integrate the local and international.”  “and yet “#thebiennial has no (declared) central hub and is somehow split into two separate art events.” Chan introduced himself to me after the event [Cortney Lane Stell and Carson Chan introducing Draft Urbanism and First Draft at Lannie’s Clocktower] and brought up a discussion he’d had with the Biennial of the Americas organizers. He thought that the official curators and two main art events should not have been separated in programming, promotion, nor text. The exhibitions, Draft Urbanism and First Draft, commingle efforts and therefore should have been treated as such.”

The second largest input from the artists was that there should be more art and different kinds of art. While I believe that in 2013 there was more Biennial of the Americas sponsored art there were less satellite exhibitions. As a telling example, the local artists and curator Cortney Lane Stell were given less than three weeks (and an extremely small budget) to design, propose and have approved the works included in the First Draft exhibition at McNichols. Bringing out a non-local critic, Paddy Johnson, who runs ArtFCity was a needed outside source of reality.

Her searing critique was seconded by just about everyone around town.

“What does a biennial look like when it’s run by a group of businessmen and politicians? If Denver’s Biennial of the Americas (July 16-September 2) is any indication, like some awful, biennial-length franken-conference in the service of multinational corporations. Art, when it was given a place at all, was used primarily as a branding tool for the event; it’s not surprising then that it has little to offer art lovers or businesspeople. Even the Biennial’s expressed aims—idea exchange, and looking to booming economies in the north and south—weren’t achieved.

In the inaugural discussion forum “Unleashing Human Potential,” the only time anyone looked to the north was when Google’s Eric Schmidt observed that some snow was melting up in Canada, and that might reveal new sources of revenue. He later proclaimed that poverty would be eliminated thanks to mobile devices, and he cited The Huffington Post as a publishing model that might one day help writers get paid. (The Huffington Post does not pay most of its writers!)

Needless to say, I left that panel praying that the exchange of ideas would stop, and the Biennial did its best to make sure that it would. Whereas most such exhibitions would host contemporary art that could spark exchange, this one blew its resources on high-profile panelists like the Daily Beast’s Tina Brown and the Huffington Post’s Arianna Huffington. Art was so clearly an afterthought that half the audience had already left “Unleashing Human Potential” before we were told we should sit back down because the organizers had forgotten to announce the cultural programming.

That was a missed opportunity. Denver’s art community, while not yet mature, is growing and ready for the kinds of challenges a national event can bring. The Biennial commissioned only four architectural pieces, two small art shows, and a smattering of billboards across the city. For context, Prospect One, the widely lauded 2008 biennale in New Orleans, showcased the work of 81 artists in 24 venues across the city while offering an array of cultural and educational programs to the local community. Though underfunded, the art program has its moments. The citywide billboard project curated by Paul Andersen, Carsen Chan, Gaspar Libedinksy, and Cortney Stell is probably the most successful, as it requires people to tour Denver in packs. You get to know the city, which is enjoyable. I spent the better part of a day looking for all 31 of these commissions, each by artists well-known (Michael Snow, Julieta Aranda) and emerging (Amalia Ulman).”

Read the full article here.

I’m grateful to Lauren Wright for reaching out to local artists for critical feedback and slightly hopeful that 2015 will push the biennial forward. Keep an eye on the website. In September a call for proposals and for financial support should be posted.

Jul 07, 2014   Press Release

Program Returns to the Mile High City with International Festival of Ideas, Art and Culture

July 7, 2014 – Denver –The 2015 Biennial of the Americas, an international festival of ideas, art, and culture announced today Denver will hold its opening week of events festival July 14-19, 2015. With over 20,000 participants who attended the innovative four-day program of events in 2013, the Biennial brought together more than 70 artists, speakers and international leaders from over 20 countries to Denver.

“The third iteration of the Biennial will attract and engage dynamic thinkers from across the Americas through public festivals, world-class symposia, innovative workshops, clínicas, art exhibitions, and cultural programming,” said Erin Trapp, Biennial CEO/Executive Director. “All of our Biennial events leading up to the 2015 festival will help to build momentum, excitement, and participation.”

Trapp, former Deputy Chief of Staff and director of the Denver Office of Cultural Affairs during Gov. John Hickenlooper’s term as Mayor, has expanded the Biennial team to include Lauren Wright, Artistic Director and Curator, Meegan Moszynski, Ideas Director, Monica Kurtz, Marketing Director, and Marilyn Hernandez-Stopp, Communications and Community Outreach Coordinator.

Denver native Lauren A. Wright returns to her hometown after nine years in the UK, most recently serving as Curator at Turner Contemporary in Margate where she curated solo and group exhibitions featuring a range of international artists. She was previously Assistant Director of Furtherfield.org, a London-based organization for art, technology and social change, and undertook independent curatorial projects for Tate, Hayward Gallery Touring, and the Institute of Contemporary Art.

Meegan Moszynski is an international policy specialist recently relocated to Denver from Aspen, Colorado. Her background includes studies in economic development, food security, and trade policy. Meegan has collaborated on clean energy initiatives in China, educational and vocational training programs for women and children in Pakistan, and rural economic development projects in Cambodia. In addition to directing the Ideas Program at the Biennial of the Americas, Meegan supports the Marshall Direct Fund in Aspen and Pakistan, and volunteers for The Aspen Institute.

Monica Kurtz has spent the last 20 years in Colorado advising cultural, tourism, resort, and recreational entities on marketing and communication strategies. Her clients have included Visit Golden, the Grand Junction Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, AAA Colorado, Telluride Ski & Golf, Crested Butte Mountain Resort, the SCFD, and the Colorado Wildlife Council.

Marilyn Hernandez-Stopp joins the Biennial team from Colgate University. A Colorado native, Marilyn completed the Denver Foundation Non-Profit Internship Program in 2012, where she worked for the Museo de las Americas.

About the Biennial of the Americas

The Biennial of the Americas provides an international platform for leaders in business, government, civil society, and the arts, to examine the significant issues impacting life in the Americas. The organization’s marquee event is an international festival of ideas, arts and culture hosted in Denver, Colorado on alternating years.

 

For more information:

Biennial of the Americas

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@TheBiennial

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Press Contact:

Regan Petersen

Fitzgerald Petersen for the Biennial of the Americas

Direct: 303-332-3896

Email Regan Petersen.

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