Beakerhead festival offers something to everyone

Giant spiders, art cars, engineers, scientists and artists, all under one umbrella


When Lara Presber was a child, she spent afternoons in the garage building go-karts with her engineer dad, while sewing creations with her artist mom.

It’s no surprise, then, that she did not choose one career, but two.

The Boston-trained architect and Italian-trained fashion designer says, for her, the mixture of the two is simply a way of life — “I don’t think about the breakdown of art and science.”

The 40-year-old Calgarian, now with a studio in Victoria Park, is a clear example of what movement co-founders Jay Ingram and Mary Ann Moser were looking to highlight during the inaugural five-day Beakerhead event, which starts Wednesday.

Science journalist Ingram (a former host of CBC Radio’s Quirks and Quarks and Discovery Channel’s Daily Planet) says the pair had grown tired of all the talk about innovation and the melding of art, science and engineering.

“It was time for no more talk — show, don’t tell.”

Beakerhead, billed as “the most amazing convergence of art, science and engineering,” will do exactly that. While there will be a giant spider, graffiti-drawing robots, art cars, an engineering competition with teams from around the world, astronauts, i-Robot theatre, the Raygun gothic rocket, networking, an art walk — and more — there will also be people such as Presber, who live the creative mix of science and art every day.

“Architecture is simply art with rules. It is not a big shift to go into fashion design — especially when you realize there is a very technical side to creating clothing,” she says.

A building goes from a flat two-dimensional drawing into a three-dimensional creation. In sewing, there are scientific transfers of measurements onto paper and then to three-dimensional clothing pieces.

“Clothes are very much ‘engineered,’ ” said Presber, who will present Speakerhead on Building Fashion, Thursday at noon at the downtown public library as part of Beakerhead.

And just as buildings are all about structure, so, she says, is clothing — “That is what makes a woman look great in an outfit, no matter her size: the proper structure of the garment.”

Inaugural Beakerhead events start in Calgary on Wednesday (many are free), partly because both Ingram and Moser are based here, but also because the city is the centre of engineering in Canada, and could handle another top-notch event on its calendar.

And while any mention of science seems to scare some people off, Ingram emphasizes that Beakerhead is all about entertainment and “you don’t need third-year calculus” to enjoy it.

Events around Beakerhead are geared to every demographic: the Telus Spark Adult night (Thursday); a rock/opera performance featuring Chris Hadfield, the former commander of the International Space Station, who played his guitar in space, Ingram’s band The Famous Scientists, an opera singer/physicist and drummers all performing in the Tremendous and Curious World of Beakerhead (Friday night); and a catapult competition (Catharsis Catapults), which will see “love or hate” items hurtle through the air in a test of tension release (Sunday).

And there are opportunities to give young people an idea of what science, engineering and art can offer them as careers.

Native American and former NASA astronaut John Bennett Herrington will speak to Aboriginal youth in Calgary and at surrounding reserves about his time in space; engineering students from around the world will compete in the Shell International Engineering Competition; and students will be demonstrating their own art car and art bike designs.