Shoes to Fill at Biennial of the Americas Festival

Interactive exhibit on 16th Street Mall lets you walk a mile in someone else's shoes, literally


Image of A Mile in My Shoes exhibition
by Rosie Powell

If you’re walking on the 16th Street Mall and find yourself between Wewatta and Wynkoop, you will probably notice what looks like an oversize shoebox. This is the Empathy Museum. When you step inside you’ll see little more than stacks of shoeboxes—all part of the current exhibit called “A Mile in My Shoes.” This interactive installation, created by British artist Clare Patey and philosopher Roman Krznaric, allows visitors to pick out a pair of shoes and walk around in them while listening to the original owner’s story. There are 24 pairs of shoes and accompanying stories, and the idea behind this exercise is to elicit empathy in the listener for the storyteller.

When I walked in and told the docents my shoe size, I was given a pair of five-inch heels, to my dismay. But when I finally got comfortable and started listening to Shawna’s (the shoe owner’s) story, I was drawn in. She told of the time she returned home after traveling the world for nearly 10 years and how reconnecting with her best friend was more difficult than she had expected. Although I have never experienced a homecoming like this, I could relate to feeling disconnected from loved ones. In fact, a lot of people can relate to this experience, which goes back to the point of the Empathy Museum: There is something in every story that can give us common ground.

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The Biennial of the Americas Festival will be adding even more shoes and stories to the exhibit, which will be open daily from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. through September 27. Stories are only about ten minutes long and encompass a wide variety of topics, from triumph to grief to passion, and more.

Check out for other programming by the festival, an international event of ideas, art, and culture striving to address shared challenges across the Americas. The festival itself runs Sept. 25-28, with a free, family-friendly event at Civic Center Park at its conclusion.