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Beakerhead’s first ever permanent art installation a business step toward year-round Calgary presence

It’s a plan that’s been in the works for some time – how to make the Beakerhead experience a year-round adventure in Calgary.

And now the city’s collision of arts, science and engineering is taking steps in that direction.

Beakerhead’s first-ever permanent art installation Homeforest is nearing completion at Calgary developer Battistella’s INK building in the East Village. An artistic team consisting of Beakerhead Creative Council members Mary Anne Moser and Paul Magnuson, Calgary-based illustrator Mary Haasdyk, artist and engineer Jon Bichel, and their technical team, Kaylee Novakovski, Steve Boucher and Chad Shier have been working on the project for the past several months.

Homeforest, the interactive tree of colour, was aptly named for the innovation taking root in Calgary, a Battistella July news release on the project read.

Moser, Beakerhead’s co-founder and president, said it’s a foray into a world where Beakerhead meets business – so they can continue to grow and build on the marriage of the artistic and scientific worlds.

“Honestly, it’s to be a smarter business,” Moser said of the new initiative.

“As a charity we have to find ways to pay the rent. To do the work we do.”

Don’t worry – this isn’t going to change the wonder and excitement of the five-day extravaganza that’s grabbed a hold of the city every September for the past six years. Truth be told, ideally, Moser said, partnerships like this give Beakerhead the chance to make an impact 365 days a year.

“The spectacle will always be the spectacle. The spectacle accomplishes certain goals that can only be done in a burst of inspiration, a burst of energy,” she said.

“What else is going on in Calgary year-round is what we’re trying to work on.”

Part of the inspiration for the Homeforest art installation. CONTRIBUTED

The Canada 150 project last year was a prototype to see how they could execute a more permanent exhibit for the public realm. It was a semi-permanent game of snakes and ladders that created a destination experience that connected Calgarians in a public space.

“We’re investing so much time into these five days, some of these things should be able to be left behind,” said Moser.

“There’s certainly an appetite for that and we have quite a few of our community partners who’ve said, ‘You know, does this have to come down after five days?’”

Problem is, Moser said, it can’t really be done on public funds. While attendance continues to skyrocket – this year they’re expecting more than the 145,000 that attended last year’s event – government and corporate funding hasn’t.

And there’s much more to consider with semi-permanent structures, which means the cost is considerably more. Especially if they’re outdoors – long term stability, safety, weatherproofing – the cost adds up quickly.

“So, having partners like Battistella means that we get to dip our toes into that territory and see if we’re good at it,” Moser said.

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Battistella’s sales and marketing director Chris Pollen said this partnership was a natural one for them. He said it fits with the kind of vision the developer has for a reinvigorated Calgary.

“We really love Beakerhead because we see so many parallels in what they do and the kinds of things that we believe in,” Pollen said.

“Especially when it comes to activating spaces and just building a better city.”

Pollen said they jumped at the chance to create something more permanent in one of their developments with Beakerhead as the conduit for that creation. Supporting that ongoing creative vibe was an important city-building exercise for them.

While this particular project is a private commission for INK residents, it sets the stage for broader public discussion about how the entire community – citizens and businesses – can be a part of creating vibrancy, Pollen said.

“We’ve always had a fondness for the arts and supporting local arts groups,” Pollen said.

He said by citizens, businesses – and yes, politicians – supporting endeavours like Beakerhead, programs like this can reach their full potential.

Moser didn’t shy away from the fact they were paid for this installation. That’s how it works.

“I hope they (public) see it as us being smart. I hope they think, ‘Yup, those guys are smart. Of course they’ve gotta figure that out,’” she said.

“These things aren’t free. Nothing’s free.”

They’re responding to a variety of requests (she said they get asked to “Beakerhead-ize” all sorts of community events), but this was the first paid contract. Hopefully not the last.

They’re looking at opportunities similar to ones like the indoor Battistella INK project, but are open to invigorating any space, public or private. Moser said there’s no shortage of ideas around their creative council table.

“We’d love to be able to have one project every year that was a leave behind – and then after 10 years the city would feel different,” she said.

“Nobody wants to live in a place with no art. Nobody. Even if they don’t realize it.”

Right now, the city’s in the middle of the whimsy we know as Beakerhead. It began Sept. 19 and runs through Sept. 23.

Click for a full listing of Beakerhead events.

And then imagine a year-round reminder of the magic.