Photos courtesy Trevor Lalonde

Beakerhead to turn Calgary into playground of science and art

By Thomas Johnson, August 30 2018 —

With the school year rapidly closing in, students are once again flocking to Calgary, clutching their protractors and abaci with the sciences in mind. As a traditional changeover from the festival season, Beakerhead looks to combine the closing months of summer fun with Calgary’s arts and technology circles. The four-day initiative will take place Sept. 19–23, with a multitude of interactive installations scattered across the city, encouraging collaboration and play across a number of mediums that promise “tentacles, fire and science.”

“All around the city there will be 12 beacons and they are the free installations that you can stumble upon and discover at your own pace in different neighbourhoods. There’s a couple in Fort Calgary, one in Marda Loop, one in Kensington,” said Mary-Anne Moser, Beakerhead’s president and co-founder. “They’re big and small, meditative, spectacular. All different shapes and sizes.”

In 2016, Beakerhead brought in over 130,000 people. That number increased to over 145,000 last year. This year’s Beakerhead, its sixth iteration, looks to expand attendance via addition by subtraction. While 2017’s Beakerhead hosted over 65 events, this year it’s been reduced to just under 60, though the overall scope of the festival continues to trend upwards.

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“We deliberately tried to reduce the overall number of things we were offering and tried to amp up the attendance of the ones we were [already] doing,” said Moser. “The big thing that we hope everyone will turn out to is Beakernight on Saturday night [Sept. 22] at Fort Calgary. We do recommend getting tickets in advance. It will be a magical evening.”

Some attractions of note this year are a set of monolithic Tesla coils emitting powerful bolts of energy that can be musically manipulated via an attached piano, craft-made ‘Beaker Beer’ with a very on-brand label — painted like a lab coat — that’s sure to be a hit with the student population as well as  a giant dung beetle built using vinyl recycled from old billboards that will be making sneak appearances across town in the weeks leading up to Beakerhead. Several installations, like the Beakernight suspended crane rides and various DIY workshops, will be back by popular demand. Like the city itself, Beakerhead rewards curiosity, and a direct correlation can be found between the time you put in and what you get out.

“Take in a few things and withhold judgement. What we’re hoping people do is, for a few days, not judge each other. Let’s just explore, like a scientist. It’s an experiment, there’s no good and bad — just results. All of these experiments artists and scientists have created. We don’t know exactly how they’ll turn out. I’m always wary of isolating one [event] or the other,”  Moser said. “Explore a little bit, and use that explorer’s attitude. In that way, everything can be a bit of a curiosity.”

Activities on campus include A Matter of Mettle on Sept. 19 in the EEEL building, which explores the deep-space audio discoveries of physicist Jocelyn Bell and Move Over, Jurassic Park, a dinosaur themed workshop, also in the EEEL building Sept. 22. The Taylor Family Digital Library will also host several technology workshops on Sept. 19 and 20.

While Beakerhead is a free experience for the most part, some of the more grandiose activities require ticket registration. Moser recommends buying tickets in advance to prepare for the influx of people attending the festival. Tickets can be purchased for $8 in advance or $10 at the door.

A full list of attractions, as well as a downloadable program, can be found at beakerhead.com.

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