Beakerhead expands the chemistry between science and art

Monday 01st, September 2014 / 16:27
By Sara Elizabeth Taylor
Photo: Neil Zeller

Photo: Neil Zeller

CALGARY — We live in a time where scientists like Carl Sagan, Neil Degrasse Tyson and Bill Nye are practically household names. Where the most-watched entertainment television show in Canada revolves around the lives of a group of physicists and engineers. Where, in 2013, searches for the word “science” saw such an increase that Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary named it its word of the year.

Yet, despite this surge in popular interest, science – along with similar fields like mathematics and engineering – still has a certain public image it has been unable to shake: it is seen as strictly the domain of analytical and logical processes, rather than creative or imaginative ones.

The idea of science and art co-existing harmoniously is, for many, a concept so foreign it’s hard to believe.

“In many ways, they are very different pursuits and don’t work all that well together – in that science and engineering want to reduce uncertainty, whereas art sometimes wants to open up or probe uncertainty,” agrees Mary Anne Moser, Beakerhead president and co-founder. “But there is a whole realm where they work beautifully together: in the creation of entertaining spectacles, or the delight in problem-solving, and, more and more, where design and technology come together.”

It is in this realm that Beakerhead, dubbed “an unprecedented collision of art and engineering,” was born.

In 2007, Moser developed the idea for a festival of science and human ingenuity. Like so many creations, it required many minds to bring it to life: Jay Ingram, who steered the idea of the festival towards engineering; Colin Jackson and Terry Rock, who helped coordinate town halls with arts organizations to see if there was interest; Jasmine Palardy, the full-time staffer hired to execute the plan; and Suncor, who provided game-changing seed funding to make the idea a reality.

Five years after that first idea, Beakerhead debuted in 2012. “We learned that this desire to brings these worlds together runs deep,” Moser says, reflecting on that first year. “[We learned] that there is enormous capacity for creativity in everyone, especially in the areas that are not widely considered to be creative, such as science and engineering.”

“We hope that people will give each other the social license to create without judging.” – Mary Anne Moser, Beakerhead president and co-founder. Photo: Neil Zeller

“We hope that people will give each other the social license to create without judging.” – Mary Anne Moser, Beakerhead president and co-founder.
Photo: Neil Zeller

Now, after a one-year break, Beakerhead is returning this month, with more than 50 events from over 100 collaborators spread over five days.

From September 10-14, our city will be transformed into a veritable science playground. Science buskers will roam the streets. A massive inflatable cat head will project artwork through its laser eyes. A Stampede parking lot will be reborn as a whimsical neighbourhood.

“I am really excited about the opening performance, The Tremendous and Curious World of Beakerhead,” says Moser. “It’s Beakerhead in a nutshell for the people who just want to get a taste of Beakerhead from the comfort of a theatre seat – although we hope that it doesn’t end there!

“I am [also] a big fan of some of the workshops,” she continues, “like how to build your own drum out of household objects, how to make your own high-quality make-up (and understand the chemistry behind it), and several that help you understand your own body. The thing is, we bring together both artists and scientists to understand these things.”

And though these activities, and the others that make up Beakerhead’s events, seem like a week of fun, Moser’s vision of the impact is much further reaching.

“We hope that people will give each other the social license to create without judging. We want to build a cultural climate where everyone feels welcome, so that people afterwards feel inspired to build and create themselves, and to delight others in the process. We hope that the motivation is so strong that people will go out and find the skills or partners they need to build spectacles and experiences at the crossroads of art, science and engineering.

“The art world will get to know and embrace engineering more broadly, and the engineering world will see the value in art and creativity.”

Beakerhead runs September 10-14 in various venues.

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