Every other year, Denver hosts the Biennial of the Americas Festival, where dozens of countries in the Western Hemisphere are brought together via leaders in art, culture and business. It was created in 2010 by the Denver mayor at the time, John Hickenlooper. Now in its fifth iteration, the festival’s focus will be on “empathy in action” from September 25 through 27.

Before the Biennial begins, an interactive art exhibition is coming to Denver in order to go more in-depth about empathy. Opening August 9 in Tail Tracks Plaza (on 16th Street between Wewatta and Wynkoop), Empathy Museum’s A Mile in My Shoes will allow participants to literally walk a mile in someone else’s shoes while listening to that person’s story through audio recordings.

‘A Mile in My Shoes’ in Worcester, England, 2018. Photo by Andy Burton

Conceptualized by British artist Clare Patey in collaboration with philosopher and author Roman Krznaric, A Mile in My Shoes is a haunting, beautiful and deeply personal approach to changing your perspective. Shoes aren’t just accessories for most of us — they signify the freedom to move, to walk away from situations and places in search of better ones. At other times, shoes are symbols of our status, our style, our personalities. And, especially in the context of the Biennial, shoes can teach us about other cultures and ways of life.

But, without the audio recordings linked with each pair of shoes, A Mile in My Shoes would fall flat. Stories originate from sex workers, war veterans, neurosurgeons and Syrian refugees, to name a few. And each time the exhibit travels to a new city, the stories and collection of shoes are added to a growing database.

‘A Mile in My Shoes’ at the Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts, Brighton, England 2018. Photo by Rosie Powell

The exhibit is housed in a container that resembles a giant shoebox, and 30 to 40 pairs of shoes await inside in different sizes. Visitors choose a pair and then they walk, listening to a story recorded by the original owner of the shoes. “With a focus on storytelling and dialogue, our traveling museum explores how empathy can not only transform our personal relationships, but also help tackle global challenges such as prejudice, conflict and inequality,” Patey explained.

A Mile in My Shoes is part of a larger project of Patey’s called the Empathy Museum. Each installation the Empathy Museum organizes is a participatory art experience, “dedicated to helping us look at the world through other people’s eyes,” said Patey. Aside from A Mile in My Shoes, the museum has organized A Thousand and One Books — a traveling library filled with books donated by people who love them and want others to read them — and Human Library — where instead of borrowing a book, you borrow a person for conversation. All three of the exhibits are designed to travel, and after originating in the UK have journeyed through Europe, Australia, Brazil and Siberia. Last year, A Mile in My Shoes landed in New York City and this year Denver is the host.

This will be a truly unique opportunity to live the old adage, “before you judge a man, walk a mile in his shoes.” Ultimately, it’s a lesson we could all learn from, no matter what shoes we are currently wearing.

A Mile in My Shoes will be on view August 9 through September 28, 2019 

All photography courtesy of Biennial of the Americas