The Biome Ball: Celebrating Two Years of Fine Art, Community and Inclusivity

Grasslands HQ
Carlos Fresquez, photo courtesy of Grasslands: A Journalism-Minded Agency

In 2022, Biome: A Queen City Biennial was launched, with a mission to “celebrate fine art through community, inclusivity and biennial exhibition.” A Biennial refers to an exhibition held every two years, and as Biome was founded in 2022, the first cohort of seven artists is set to “graduate” this month.  In celebration of the inaugural exhibition, Biome is hosting The Biome Ball on January 12, 2024, to be held at Grasslands HQ in Denver’s Baker neighborhood. 

At Grasslands HQ, guests are greeted by a 26-foot mural by Denver-based artist, Carlos Fresquez. Titled, Un Abrazo, or “a hug,” this striking mural serves as a land acknowledgment to the ancestral land of the Cheyenne, Ute, and Arapaho people; a poignant reminder to all of where we are standing.

“A mural is a wall with a tongue, it speaks to one and all,” says Fresquez of Un Abrazo. “It is a gift to the community.” Fresquez was the first artist presented from Biome: A Queen City Biennial’s 2022 cohort. His mural, now a permanent installation in the space, represents the clear philosophy and sense of collective responsibility that Biome and its co-founders, Ricardo Baca and Jason Diminich, aim for.

Grasslands HQ
“Un Abrazo” by Carlos Fresquez, Photo courtesy of Grasslands: A Journalism-Minded Agency

Since 2019, 100 N Santa Fe Drive, once a nightclub/brothel, has been home to Grasslands; A journalism-minded agency, with the addition of Biome: A Queen City Biennial, in 2022. Grasslands, a marketing agency representing brands and organizations in cannabis, psychedelics and other natural product categories, is the current sponsor and host of Biome.

Located in the historically Hispanic and indigenous neighborhood of Baker, the space itself is informed by Latino and indigenous design traditions, taking cues from the arts and culture of mid-century Mexico City, Guadalajara, and ancient Oaxaca. Ricardo Baca, Founder and CEO of Grasslands and co-founder of Biome says of the space, “My wife and I center our vacations around art, and we’re constantly adding to our collection.” Baca and his friend, Jason Diminich, founded Biome together back in 2022. Currently, the Grasslands HQ serves many functions; a workspace for the Grasslands team, a gallery space for Biome’s 2022 cohort of artists and a venue for a variety of workshops.

Photo courtesy of Grasslands: A Journalism-Minded Agency

This first cohort of artists at Biome was selected from over 150 applicants worldwide with the assistance of three additional jurors. The chosen artists – including Fresquez, Sarah Darlene PalmeriMarissa “Revery” NapoletanoMario ZootsMadelyn HadelElle Hong, and Jasmine Holmes– have their work currently on display at Grasslands HQ.

The prompt for this exhibition was “Set and Settings,” a term coined in psychedelic thought based on two principles: a “set” or mindset, and a “setting” or the social and physical environment. The artists, selected by Denver-based jurors, present diverse works, pushing the boundaries of psychedelic art across various mediums. The diversity of mediums and approaches articulates not only a new modality for psychedelic art but also challenging notions of fine art as a monolith, as each artist takes a unique approach to the prompt. 

“Biome” by Marissa “Revery” Napoletano, Photo courtesy of Grasslands, A Journalism-Minded Agency

Behind Biome stands the remarkable duo of Ricardo Baca and Jason Diminich. Baca is a Colorado native, who, after earning his B.A. in journalism became Denver Post’s first-ever cannabis editor in 2013 and founded news vertical The Cannabist.  Despite his remarkable 20-year journalism career, and success as founder and CEO of his marketing agency, Baca says, “I’ve always found my muse in art… as my tastes have evolved, I’ve been more drawn to fine art – and I’ve oriented my life around this expansive medium.”

Baca and Diminich share a love for the arts, and their collective experience makes them the perfect pair for such an undertaking. Diminich is a native New Yorker, who worked for 10 years in the public school system in Queens as a theater teacher before moving to Denver in 2016, where he transitioned into his role at Arts 360. Now, he currently works as a manager at Wish of a Lifetime alongside his role at Biome.

The origins of Biome can be traced back to a couple’s camping trip with Baca, Diminich and their wives a few years earlier. As Baca puts it, “That’s when I approached my good friend Jason with this crazy idea.” As the two were reflecting on lost moments of togetherness during the pandemic, they discussed those big questions such as, “Where do we go from here? What do we miss?” According to Diminich, the answer was clear.

“We miss being together, we miss making people feel safe and comfortable sharing. You know, those nights with your best friend where you are at a dinner party, and next thing you know it’s 3 a.m. Those moments people lost during the pandemic.” Diminich reflects on the privilege he feels that people choose to spend their time at Biome, whether it means getting a sitter or taking time off from a night gig. He says, “It is such an honor, and such a responsibility, and I think that’s what motivates us.” 

Biome cohort member artist Zoots, at right (in hat), leads his Interactive Collage Workshop in Nov. 2022. Photo Courtesy of Ricardo Baca

Biome aims to serve the community through art and engagement, and in their open call back in 2022, applicants were asked to both pitch an artistic vision and a workshop idea. While the cohort’s art is on display full-time at Grasslands HQ, over the past year, each artist also hosted a workshop that aligned with their project. The workshops included a dance class, meditative painting and even a dinner party.

All workshops are free to the public, highlighting Biome’s commitment to inclusion and accessibility. As Diminich says, the idea of taking a dance class at a professional studio might feel inaccessible to some, but in Biome they welcome people of all skill levels, at no charge.

The ethos of Biome is also clearly defined in the name itself. Denver, often referred to as the “Queen City of the Plains,” occupies a unique position in the ecosystem: “Denver literally being where two biomes meet. The convergence, one supporting the other,” says Diminich. In many ways, Biome’s name signifies the symbiotic relationship between Grasslands and Biome; the convergence of art and community.

Biome workshop
Biome cohort member artist Sarah Darlene, standing at right, leads her Biome workshop, The Feeling Body, in Nov. 2023. Photo courtesy of Ricardo Baca

So, what next? According to Diminich, there will be a period of reflection and transformation in 2024, with plans to announce the next cohort of artists in 2025. The team plans to survey their 2022 cohort, to see what went well, and what they could work on for next year. When asked why this period of reflection felt necessary, Diminich says that the idea of a biennale aligns with a personal philosophy that he’s developed over his long career in arts in education, something that he used to share with his students. The acronym is ART: Action, Reflection, and Transformation. 

Baca expresses pride in Biome’s creation and anticipates its growth in subsequent years. “I’m so proud of what we’ve created with this new fine art biennial and this new addition to Denver’s cultural landscape, and as we close our first-ever cohort’s exhibition at The Biome Ball, I can’t wait to see how Biome grows up for the second and third cohorts ahead.” In the meantime, be sure to put on your most fabulous cocktail attire, warm up your dance moves and check out the Biome Ball this Friday!

Tickets for the Biome Ball are available here; $20 in advance and $25 at the door.

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