Imagine: you’re walking around Calgary and you see a massive display of lights, sounds and interactivity in the form of a giant human body. It’s certainly not what you’d typically find in Calgary’s downtown core, but extraordinary sights like these are just the tip of the iceberg during Beakerhead’s annual festival.
Since 2013, Beakerhead has been celebrating all things weird, wonderful and fascinating, most notably through giant installations throughout the city that bridge the gap between art and science. The festival of science and engineering, now in its 10th year, is something uniquely Calgarian, bringing immersive exhibits and performances to stimulate interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) through a creative, artistic and sometimes jaw-droppingly pyrotechnic lens.
According to Executive Director Parker Chapple, at the heart of Beakerhead is a mission to make STEM accessible to everyone. After its inaugural year, Beakerhead quickly became one of Calgary’s premier festivals — from 2014 where more than 73,000 people attended the nearly 70 installations, to 2018 where exhibits had nearly 150,000 people visit. Beakerhead joined forces with Telus Spark Science Centre in 2022 to expand programming even more, and continues growing its reach today.
“[In the tech sector], we’re on the precipice of seeing some really amazing and innovative change here in Calgary. Beakerhead, as a free event and one of the only events of its kind in North America, is really centred on amplifying that narrative of STEM through a creative and artistic experience that is accessible,” said Chapple.
“Not only are we able to fortify and inspire those cross-sector experiences [between art and science], but it ultimately ends up being a calling card to Canada, North America and the world about frankly how rad Calgary is,” they said.
This year, Beakerhead runs from September 14 to 17, with the core programming taking place around Contemporary Calgary and Millenium Park. With more than 100 separate installations and events happening over the four days, there are some exciting things in the works. One of the exhibits Chapple is most excited about is the North American premiere of UK installation group Walk the Plank’s Body, a nighttime experience that brings you through six different zones based on the human body. There’s also an Alien Talk Show that theorizes what life might look like on another planet, a video-projected look into an octopus den and more.
“Beakerhead is an icon in the science community because it creates an approachability to the STEM narrative that isn’t always available to a broader audience,” Chapple said. “It presents these artistic creative events in a way that you become so enamoured in them, you don’t realise you’re learning.”
And when the learning is as awe-inspiring as what you see at Beakerhead, it’s kind of hard not to pay attention.