DENVER -- Just before noon on the 16th Street Mall just outside the World Trade Center towers, passersby stopped in wonder as buckets of butterflies were released inside a row of netted cubes just set up on the sidewalk.
About 10 blocks down the Mall in Skyline Park, workers put the finishing touches on another installation of large "clouds" -- the blue canvasses stretched across steel beams look like upside-down umbrellas -- that's similarly designed to make people who encounter it stop and think.
"The 16th Street Mall is an amazing place, but is it really friendly inviting? These installations will really make you pause and think about the relationship between you and your urban environment," said Mike Fries, the CEO of Liberty Global and the board chairman for the Biennial of the Americas.
Taking art out of the museum and into the streets -- check out the colorful dragon statue outside the History Colorado Center -- is but one goal of the Biennial, the festival dreamed up by then-Mayor John Hickenlooper that first debuted in 2010.
"The Biennial is an opportunity to highlight the multicultural landscape of our great city; it is also an opportunity to learn from one another," said current Mayor Michael Hancock Tuesday as he and Hickenlooper and Biennial officials kicked off the two-month-long event at the McNichols Building in Civic Center Park.
The event aims to bring together CEOS, politicians, professors and artists from the 35 countries that make up the western hemisphere for a series of symposia, exhibitions, meetings and workshops.
"The networks that will be established by the cultural institutions, business institutions, academic institutions are invaluable," said Fries Tuesday.
The relationships formed over these next few weeks may well pay dividends for the individuals taking part -- and, more importantly, for Denver and the entire Rocky Mountain region.
"When you meet people once, you put more time in, you get a relationship and then you really invest yourself and you get trust," said Hickenlooper. "And that's where business transactions take place and that's how the world changes."
To the former brewpub founder -- the "draft" in the Biennial's "Draft Urbanism" theme is a nod to beer -- and consummate salesman, the event, underwritten by corporate contributions, is a chance to put Colorado on the world's stage, to get locals and foreign visitors alike to begin to view this place as on par with some of the world's biggest cultural, commercial and intellectual capitals.
"How many of us have had an old friend show up and spend some time in our community and say, I had no idea you had all this?" Hickenlooper said. "Part of what the Biennial of the Americas is going to do is open that knowledge to more people."
Starting Tuesday, some of the most prominent attendees are taking part in public symposia; tickets are available HERE.