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Beakerhead festival mixes science and art together on the streets of Calgary


By Jason Herring, September 3 2015 —

Beakerhead will return from September 16–20, bringing its signature mix of science, engineering and art back to a multitude of Calgary venues.

The festival holds over 60 events over the course of five days, most of which are free to attend. These events and exhibits will be presented at various spots around the city, ranging from the downtown core to the University of Calgary campus.

Marketing director Michelle Htun-Kay says Beakerhead’s main objective is to explore the possibilities of combining technical and creative disciplines that have historically been separate.

“Beakerhead was started as a charity mandated to start education at the crossroads [between engineering, art and science],” Htun-Kay says. “For so much time, those disciplines have been operating in isolation, but it’s been discovered that through collaboration of the arts and sciences, creativity and logical thinking combined can solve future world problems.”

But there’s little point in promoting this collaboration if the general public doesn’t pay attention. That’s why Beakerhead organizes events designed to draw in passersby who may not already know about the festival. One of these events is Four-To-Six, a “science busking” show held every day of the festival on Stephen Avenue that features impromptu science experiments.

Htun-Kay thinks events like these, alongside hands-on experiments and exhibits, help participants feel closer to the artistic and scientific ideas being presented.

“[Beakerhead] is more show than tell. Sometimes at museums, you get things put in front of you. Here, we want people to figure it out: touch it, play with it, break it and hopefully be totally delighted by it,” Htun-Kay says. “Down the road, what we’re hoping happens is that more and more people take in these hands-on experiences and think about not only finding out about what they just did, but about doing it themselves.”

One exhibition that encourages this hands-on participation is a series of art installations collectively titled the String (Theory) of Incredible Encounters. Pieces in the series include a collection of giant white rabbits situated throughout Central Memorial Park and an artificially-intelligent glass astronaut in Kensington.

Another event is Speakerhead, also taking place on Stephen Ave. Htun-Kay says the lunchtime event is Beakerhead’s take on TED Talks — but speakers are only given 6.28 minutes for their science-themed speeches.

For food fans, Beakerhead and 24 Calgary restaurants are presenting Engineered Eats, where chefs use the festival as an opportunity to create science-influenced meals. And the festival’s kick-off at Fort Calgary on Sept. 16 will feature a performance from founding Wu-Tang Clan member GZA and a talk from Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques, all presented to an audience sitting in a 6,400-square foot sandbox.

A few events will also take place at the U of C. On Sept. 17, the Taylor Family Digital Library will host a giant flying robotic dragonfly and the Nickle Galleries will bring a set of interactive art pieces to the university for the duration of the festival.

Beakerhead’s marquee event is Beakernight, held Sept. 19. Taking place on four blocks of 10th Ave by Sunalta station, it features music, art and interactive works from artists in Calgary and around the world. Htun-Kay says it’s worth going to see what members of the artistic community are getting up to.

“I do hope more and more university students attend Beakerhead at the various exhibits happening at the school,” Htun-Kay says. “We’re really keen on having the whole university involved, and cheering on their own who will be presenters during Beakernight.”


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