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Biennial of the Americas is an abstract festival of ideas, art and culture. Its mission: connecting participants to the broader Latino culture and community across the Americas, in addition to promoting Denver as an arts and cultural capital.

Because the goals of the biennial are so lofty and abstract, the concept can be confusing to the general masses. One thing’s for sure: the arts community is engaged in this festival and the discussions it is trying to generate toward arts and culture in Denver and the rest of the Americas.

The centerpiece of the festival is the Pavilion located in one of the newly-constructed buildings down near Union Station at 1550 Wewatta. The empty space, which appears to be unfinished, has been temporarily transformed into an art zone. Large Styrofoam blocks have been cleverly used to provide seating and at the cafe you can order a poem along with your coffee. Keeping in line with the arts festival atmosphere, the pavilion features several art installations and intersperses panel discussions, with karaoke and poetry readings, from the official festival scribe Molina Speaks.

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A mother and her small baby sit bouncing on the Styrofoam seating. I ask her why she came.

“Obviously he won’t remember this event, but I want him to know more about the culture he comes from. I am Mexican American. The culture of the Americas is rich, and in cities like Denver we only get to see a small segment of that Latino culture.”

She’s right. The Biennial attempts to showcase some of the trends in the contemporary arts communities in Mexico City and creates transference with Denver artists working in the contemporary arts scene.

The income inequalities faced by the Latino world, which manifest in a local scale in Denver, are a global issue. Felipe Buitrago, from the Inter American Development Bank, spoke about some of the challenges facing the Latino community. Every year, there are over 10 million Latin Americans entering the workforce, half of whom did not finish high school.

Having access to technology can prove to be a hurdle for young people trying to compete for jobs in which experience with computers is a given. While many advancing and developing countries like China are rural and can use urbanization to spur growth, much of Latin America actually includes some of the most densely populated regions in the world. In addition, the economies of the Latino community are separated and disparate, not united under one economic system like the U.S.

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Buitrago is looking to the Orange Economy, a term for the complex economy which includes visual arts, culture and performing arts activities to create a unifying source of income for the Latino community. Although it’s difficult to quantify because the output of this economy can be intangible, Buitrago has estimated that if the Orange Economy were a country, it would be the fourth largest economy in the world. And this is where the Americas and Denver share one large commonality: both of us are trying to tap into this huge economic resource.

From Colorado Creative Industries, Margaret Hunt gave a response to Buitrago’s talk, speaking to the ways in which Colorado’s economy is orange. And it’s pretty remarkable to look at the numbers. Colorado is first in the nation in concentration of music venues, second in the nation in concentration of interior designers, third in concentration of architects, fifth in concentration of artists, and seventh in concentration of authors and writers.

With the formulation of Denver’s cultural plan, Imagine 2020, Rick Griffith, who also responded to the lecture, explained how Denver’s government and cultural community is seeking to support the ambitious creative people who come to Denver and value self-sufficiency.

“Creative people are the only people who want to take our problems,” he reflected.

Ultimately, the success of the orange economy can be tied to other economic sectors. In most cases citizens need to secure a steady income first before they’re able to give support to the creative arts. Buitrago notes, “Of course you need to have infrastructure in place and that’s important, but ultimately infrastructure and economies are there to support the people.”

This paradox is what the arts community in Denver and also Latin America are both hoping to tackle in the coming years: an embracing of the symbiotic nature of art and economy. And as one of the lofty and abstract goals of the festival, the event serves as a collaboration of two distinct economies looking for creative ways to exist at that intersection.

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By Emily Przekwas

Photos by Emily Przekwas