Q&A: Biennial of the Americas’ Erin Trapp Talks Festival Highlights

biennial of the americas

Courtesy Biennial of the Americas


For seven seasons, the Biennial of the Americas has been celebrating and addressing the cultures, challenges and successes of the Western Hemisphere at its Denver-held events. Executive director Erin Trapp calls it an “ideas festival and an arts festival with something for everyone,” and this year’s Sept. 12-16 schedule includes great food, fun music and stimulating symposiums with world-renowned speakers. We got the inside scoop on the event from Trapp; an edited version of the interview follows. 

What do you hope is the result of the Bienniel? 
Our goal is to build a network of leaders who will make real change in the Americas. We do that by bringing them together to share their successes and challenges, but also to gain a greater cultural understanding and mutual respect so that when it comes time to work together we do so from a foundation of mutual respect and understanding rather than one of miscommunication and misunderstanding. We know how important this is when you’re trying to do business with someone.

What topics are covered at the Biennial?  
We work with the University of Denver, Galvanize, The Nature Conservancy and Humanitas360 to bring in more than 50 speakers form countries across the Americas. Those folks will be speaking about entrepreneurship, innovative civic solutions to social problems and environmental projects that will hopefully be able to get a jumpstart at the Biennial. Reid Hoffman, who started LinkedIn is coming, and he’s going to talk about business and entrepreneurship and how business gets done today across borders; a fascinating conversation with a man who has revolutionized networking, basically.

This event has been around since 2010. What inspired its establishment?
The Biennial was inspired when Gov. Hickenlooper (then Denver’s mayor) was looking for a way to showcase Denver’s reputation as a place with an openness to new ideas. (It was) realized that there were no events focused on the Western hemisphere. Our biggest trading partners in this region are Mexico and Canada, and yet we always think about the Middle East, Europe, Asia. So his brainstorm was to focus Denver’s ability to bring people together in bipartisan and thoughtful forward-looking ways around a region that hasn’t received that much attention.

Are there any new features included in the event this year?
The biggest innovations this year are the partnerships we’ve built to put the event together, which is all culminating in the Havana Nights Series. It’s a two-night-only concert series on Sept. 15-16—we’ve never done anything like that before. In the past, the event was in the summer and we had more of a family-festival focus, but now we’re taking this opportunity to build a pop-up of the most successful nightlife spot in Havana, right here in Denver.

What are you looking forward to the most?
For me, its all about the people you get to meet when you come to the Biennial. There are fascinating people coming from Rio, and Santiago and Mexico City who are doing projects that are elegant in their simplicity in many cases, and that are something we could replicate here at home. There are people who are turning solid waste lots into beautiful parks, and they’re doing it in ways that aren’t kind of mired in bureaucracy the way we do. I just love the inspiration that I get when I meet with these exciting young leaders from all over the western hemisphere.

What do you expect guests to walk away with?
Two things. One: I would hope for them to leave with a greater excitement about Denver as an international city. We are really poised to become a global player and the Biennial wants to be a small part of that. The second thing is, I hope that they’ll be inspired by a new relationship or a new project to actually put that into action in their home community whether its Denver or someplace else. We really have a bias toward action and want to make sure we’re inspiring people to do something with what they learn at the Biennial.

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