Cities Summit of the Americas brings music, art, shopping to Denver

The Cities Summit of the Americas, which comes to town this month, makes real a vision of Denver that many of us here have been working hard to manifest: cultured and consequential, leading, diverting and global — or at least hemispheric, since the event brings together politicians, artists and innovators from North, Central and South America.

There are rising stars in that mix all around, including mayors of major cities who are embracing the rapid political and technological changes taking place in the world while looking toward the future. Americans tend to focus inward, but the lineup of 250 mayors coming here — including Bogota’s Claudia Lopez, Rio de Janeiro’s Eduardo Paes and Tijuana’s Monserrat Caballero — are intercontinental superstars leading the charge for tens of millions of people who want the same things we do: quality education, healthy citizens, a robust planet.

That said, they also want to have a good time, and that is probably what makes the summit interesting for non-mayor-types, like Denver locals who can avail themselves of the summit-affiliated music, art and party attractions presented by the Denver-based Biennial of the Americas. These mostly-free events, which run April 24-30, are not sideshows to the government and business themes; they are a crucial part of the sharing that is meant to take place over the week.

In that way, organizers have programmed them with enthusiasm and lured participants with reputations equal to the civic CEOs who are on board. The Biennial, which works year-round to connect cross-border dots, has a knack for assembling programs that are both clever and well-curated, and this one is especially promising.

From Cuba, the famed Havana nightclub and gallery Fábrica de Arte is bringing its legendary show on the road, presenting a pop-up venue with musicians, DJs, artists and dancers. The event, which also features food and drinks, takes place April 26-30 at downtown’s Slate Hotel.

There are major visual arts presentations, including the unveiling of “Pipelines,” an outdoor art installation by Canadian artists Julia Jamrozik and Coryn Kempster, organized by Denver’s Black Cube Nomadic Art Museum. The interactive piece (you can climb through it) stretches a considerable 115 feet by 22 feet and debuts at an opening reception called “Canada Night,” with music and food, set for April 25 at the newly named Plaza of the Americas on Wewatta and 15th streets.

There is a closing night concert featuring two well-established acts known for updating the traditional sounds of their home countries with pop trends. The April 30 event at Mission Ballroom features Colombia’s Bomba Estero and Gabito Ballesteros, from Sonora, México.

Then there is the shopping, for which the Biennial lured one of the more innovative operations in the region, Caravana Americana. The Caravana brings together top designers from across Latin America for events that are part trade show, part temporary fashion markets open to the public. Its events are highly anticipated and roundly popular in Mexico City. Caravana Americana will set up inside Fábrica de Arte Américas April 26–30.

The Caravana works with 300 brands — from clothing and jewelry to furniture and home accessories — from places like Colombia, Ecuador, Brazil and Argentina, and it has narrowed that down to 24 for its U.S. debut in Denver, said Gina Barrios, who co-founded the operation in 2016 with her business partner, Alessandro Cerutti.

While Caravana trades in Latin American wares, it prides itself on not being stuck in the cliches that many people apply to the region’s fashion. Designers do use local materials and local artisans, but their goods have an international flair. The wares are closer to what you might see in a Paris boutique than in a Peruvian tourist market.

But customers shouldn’t come looking for South of the Border kitsch, said Barrios.

“They are not going to see any Frida Kahlo T-shirts,” she said. “They are going to see a great mix of modern design, made by modern craftsmen and craftswomen.”

Caravana creates its own brand by attaching itself to new names on the maker scene. Its shows give designers a place to introduce themselves and experiment with new ideas and, in return, the designer’s presence keeps Caravana’s offerings fresh. It’s proven itself to be a win-win, grassroots fashion business.

Among the more high-profile brands coming to Denver will be Guadalajara-based Cuata jewelry, founded by twins Isabel and Elena Moncada, which works with natural materials, including antlers shed by animals in the wild.

There is also the up-and-coming brand Maz, from Colombia-born and Milan-trained designer Manuela Álvarez, which works with local artisans who make 90 percent of the products by hand.

It’s not all fashion. For example, the brand Taller Maya, a collective that works with 42 artisan workshops in the Yucatan Peninsula, will bring an assortment of hammocks.

The artful events surrounding the Cities Summit are sprawling — day and night, and in various locations — but they come together in a compact way. The summit’s website is a helpful, and organized, place to start checking out the various opportunities.

They accomplish a lot, not only creating links between the countless cultures that inhabit the Americas, but also integrating the things that artists, dancers and designers have to say with the pronouncements and platitudes of bureaucrats and social entrepreneurs.

And, for one week, diverting Denver is at the center of it all.

For more information: Most events are free.

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