Charity brings a five-day “tasting menu” to Calgary 

“On the surface, Beakerhead looks like a week of spectacular fun every September. But it’s more than a schedule of mesmerizing events: it’s a time and place where engineers show their creative sides, and artists get technical, where science hits the streets, and everyone gets ingenious.”

Michelle Htun-Kay, market and communications director for Beakerhead, tells the Calgary Journal that there is something for everyone, that it will be very difficult to not attend the third annual event from Sept. 16 to Sept. 20.

“No one ever wants to go somewhere where they look stupid. So even the experience, we try to make it catered to everyone so that when you go there, we’re not going to bombard you with, ‘You must experience it this way, and you can’t touch it, and you can’t do this, and you must do that,’” said Htun-Kay. “It’s very much, ‘Here’s a sign that tells you you got to the right place.’”

“Here it is. Touch it, feel it, break it, do whatever you want to do with it. And then walk away.”

She describes the five days in September as a tasting menu for the full menu that Beakerhead offers throughout the year, a mandate to advance lifelong education, specifically in arts, sciences and engineering.

“From experience, there’s so many reasons people will find to not do something,” explained Htun-Kay. “Distance, so we’re trying to solve that problem. Cost, so more than two-thirds of the events are free. Age specifications, most of the events are open to all ages.”

With hundreds of volunteers that have been working hard since January, and around 180 collaborators, more than 24 venues will be hosting over 60 events throughout the five days. A 2.5-kilometer radius spanning out from the downtown core will feature Beakerhead activities, including in Cochrane, the University of Calgary, Mount Royal University, the Glenmore Water Treatment Centre, Inglewood and and TELUS Spark.

This won’t be an event that claims it is for all ages, but then mostly caters to children.

“You won’t see face painters or bouncy castles and seeing things that will draw families and children,” said Htun-Kay. “We want children to experience things out of their comfort zone, we want adults to experience things out of their comfort zones, and citizens. We try to make very little room for you to get out of it.”

What should Calgarians expect this year?

Because of the huge jump in attendees and students last year, Beakerhead cannot use the projections that are typically used in Canada for events such as these, which is normally a 15 per cent increase. In 2013, 4,620 students and 28 schools were engaged. The next year, the numbers quadrupled to 20,500 students and 168 schools.

“As an example, the Beakerhead school programs, there a number of activities that schools can participate in. Last year we had about 20,000 students engaged for all of the school programs. This year one program has over 10,000 students engaged, and that’s only one out of five,” Htun-Kay explained.

Last years Beakerhead featured this Flaming Octopus.

Photo courtesy of Flickr licensed to Creative CommonsBeyond that, there is now going to be a hub located at the spacious Fort Calgary site. Last year there was a ferris wheel, but this year includes a 30 foot claw, similar to the game in Toy Story. This one, however, is a three person game and clearly blown up to size. There will also be a 64 square foot sand box, and the creation of the largest temporary indoor and outdoor art gallery in a five kilometre circumference around the downtown core.

Htun-Kay also describes partnering up with artist engineers, such as the Aspire Food Group, that are solving some of the future world’s problems while also creating a viable business. This company goes to developing countries that cannot easily source food anymore to show how insects could a viable and more sustainable food source.

“And to not only show them, for example, how do you cook a cricket in your stir fry?” Htun-Kay said. “How do you create a flour from insects? What is the nutritional value behind a cockroach? And then, how do you supplement, how do you have a healthy lifestyle? They have turned something that other people consider a fad or a marketing ploy into solving a world problem, and making a viable business out of it.”

With this company and five other social entrepreneurs, there will be a panel discussion called, “How doing good for the world is good for business.” There will also be a “Bugs and Beer” happy hour at the Palomino Smokehouse where roasted crickets will be available instead of salted peanuts.

Last year, some activities were put on hold because of the massive amount of snow Calgary received in September. This year, Beakerhead is taking every precaution, and have been “best friends” with the fire department to ensure that safety is paramount.

At the very least, Beakerhead organizers want people to come and experience something, form an opinion about what is experienced.

“Do you want to take a picture with it? Do you want to sit and just stare at it? Do you want to interact with it? Is it just crap?! That’s your opinion, but were glad that you even tried,” said Htun-Kay.

She mentioned “Laser Cat,” a controversial piece at Beakerhead last year that was controversial all over the world. The huge inflatable cathead shot lasers out of its eyes, projecting sketches, illustrations and paintings from all over Canada.

“Some people thought, ‘What on earth has Beakerhead done?! This is a cat head.’ But we’re like, ‘We’re so glad you’ve made an opinion. Because that means you’ve at least given it 10 seconds and been there and formed an opinion.’”

And perhaps, Htun-Kay added, people will be more willing to try another thing and see artwork, whether it’s at Beakerhead or not, to form more opinions.

“We have a mission statement, but it will read just like any other corporate organization. We’ve always done things in mind with: we want people to see Beakerhead as their cool cousin who just does the coolest things, is a great person to hang out with, has no judgment, you get along better because you aren’t directly related, you admire, want to hang out with and share things with.”

ahardstaff-gajda@cjournal.ca 

Thumbnail of last year’s Laser Cat at Beakerhead courtesy of Flickr licensed to Creative Commons