Denver biennial will open hemispheric dialogue

By Katy Schultz
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

In less than a year, Denver will host its first Denver Biennial of the Americas, welcoming innovators, artists, politicians, scholars and others to a cultural festival and open dialogue about the issues that face the Western Hemisphere.

In launching the event, Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper said Denver is the perfect site for a hemispheric dialogue because it sits on the spine of the continent, an allusion to the Rocky Mountains.

The first Denver Biennial of the Americas, designed to celebrate culture, promote innovation, inspire action and explore the endless potential of North and South America, will officially kick off on June 24, 2010, and run through Aug. 12, 2010.

Bruce Mao, inaugural creative director of the event, said exhibits, activities and discussions will center on seven themes: economy, habitat, energy, health, environment, education and technology.

Hickenlooper called the Biennial a “world fair of ideas.”

The event is being funded by a $2 million gift from the Boettcher Foundation.

Ambassadors Hector Timerman, of Argentine; Jose Goñi, of Chile; and Arturo Sarukhan, of Mexico, participated in a “kitchen table” discussion this week on topics varying from poverty, the global recession, political turmoil in Honduras, the role of women in the Western Hemisphere and advancements in the production of green energy.

The conclave, held in the Sharp Auditorium of the Denver Art Museum, also included Hickenlooper; Federico Peña, former mayor of Denver and secretary of Transportation and Energy in the Clinton administration; Sally Hamilton, a professor at the University of Denver’s Korbel School of International Studies; and Luella Chavez d’ Angelo, president of the Western Union Foundation. It was moderated by Jim Polsfut, president of the Biennial.

“I feel very proud for many things in my country,” said Chile’s Goñi, who noted that his country, like so many others in South America, experienced political turmoil in the late 20th century. “The most important aspect is to respect democracy — the most important lesson for any people.”

Timerman agreed.

“Latin America has come to accept that nothing is more important than to live in a democratic society,” said Timerman, who spoke later about the many problems created by Argentina’s 1976 military coup.

All three ambassadors, dubbed “the three Amigos” by Sarukhan, lamented the current political crisis in Honduras.

“If a military coup succeeds, every country in Latin America is at risk,” said Timerman, who noted that the crisis in Honduras will be a challenge for President Barack Obama.

“The position of the Obama administration is extremely important,” said Sarukhan, who observed that there are many similarities between his country’s president, Felipé Calderon, and Obama.

As representatives from across South America converge in Denver in 2010, Argentina and Chile will be celebrating the 200th anniversary of their independence from Spain, underlining the importance of a discussion on democracy.

One of the many purposes of the Denver Biennial of the Americas is to present an opportunity to explore and learn about the potential resources and cultures of the Western Hemisphere.

“I have a love for Latin America that has only grown as I’ve gotten older,” said Hickenlooper, who asserted that Americans underappreciate Latin America’s culture and resources.

Peña offered statistics to back up Hickenlooper’s assertion, noting that the United States imports more oil from the Western Hemisphere than from the Middle East and trades more within our own hemisphere than with China, but that such statistics are often overlooked as the world focuses on China’s economic potential.

“We’ve had an up and down relationship with our own hemisphere,” said Peña. “[The Biennial] is an opportunity for us, as Americans, to learn more about our hemisphere. Only good can come of that.”

DU professor Sally Hamilton and Luella Chavez d’Angelo, president of Western Union Foundation emphasized the important role women will play in shaping the future of the Western Hemisphere. Hamilton said women in the Western Hemisphere possess unbounded economic potential when it comes to alleviating poverty.

Timerman and Goñi were quick to point out that the presidents of their countries are women. President Cristina Kirchner of Argentina became the country’s first elected female president in 2007, and President Michele Bachelet was elected Chile’s first woman president in 2006.

“In the history of Argentina, women always were important,” said Timerman, who added that women and men in his country fought together for freedom and prosperity.

Sarukhan said successful micro-lending operations in Mexico often focus on the female head of the household.

D’Angelo agrees that when women in the Western Hemisphere accept a role of responsibility, the return is often positive. In many countries in the hemisphere, she said, women migrate in order to work and send money back to their homes. Such remittances, she said, make up 25 percent of the gross domestic product of Haiti.

Such weighty issues will be part of the discussion in Denver next summer.

Mao gave a presentation in the Sharp Auditorium, saying the Biennial also will offer presentations from Jaime Lerner, urban planner and architect from Brazil; Amory Lovins, chief scientist at the Rocky Mountain Institute; and Julio Ottino, dean of the Robert R. McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Sciences at Northwestern University, among many others.

The central exhibits will be housed in the McNichols Building in the heart of downtown Denver. However, said Hickenlooper, various cultural organizations around the city will participate by contributing artwork and hosting cultural celebrations.

Katy@coloradostatesman.com