Awe-inspiring artworks, fire-breathing contraptions, contemporary curiosities and human ingenuity are just some of the fantastic creations we’ve come to expect from Beakerhead, and the Beakerhead Spectacle September 22 didn’t disappoint!
Beakerhead is a Calgary-based organization dedicated to sparking imaginations and advancing understanding of science, engineering and art. Suncor and the Suncor Energy Foundation (SEF) are founding corporate partners of Beakerhead. Our support stems from a commitment to foster innovation and spark the mindsets, new approaches and skills we’ll all need as we embrace an increasingly complex world and work to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow.
This year’s sold out Beakerhead Spectacle was bigger than ever (which also comes with its own challenges!), and again saw over 100 Suncor employees and family members volunteer their time. Looking back on this year’s festival and ahead through the next 12 months, we interviewed Jeff Popiel, Interim CEO at Beakerhead, to capture his reflections on this year’s event.
Q: What is Beakerhead going to do now that the Spectacle is over?
A: Beakerhead is actually much more than an annual festival. We are an educational charity that promotes STEAM learning (STEAM being Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics). STEAM education is critical to developing cross-disciplinary learning in youth today, and we help enhance this with our year-round programming. We have hands-on, out-of-the-box activities for schools throughout the year. Beakerhead’s vision from the start was to build a community of inspired youth, educators and spectators.
Q: Speaking of students, what’s the experience like for the school groups that come to witness the Spectacle?
A: The Engineered Spectacle Tours, this year presented and sponsored by Suncor for the first time, brought approximately 2,500 students in grades four to nine to learn from the mash-up of art and science. We use the festival as an inspiration vehicle, showing students what the end products of STEAM creations look like. Then we augment the Spectacle with specific age- and grade-related installations that offer unique learning that you wouldn’t typically find in a traditional classroom.
Q: Sounds like the students love the experience! What do the teachers think?
A: When we pair art and science together, we demonstrate that cross-disciplinary learning and design thinking can create innovations beyond our wildest imaginations. Teachers looking to inspire creativity in their students love Beakerhead, the festival and our repertoire of year-round programming. Alberta Education is one of the first school governing bodies to make STEAM learning a requirement in the provincial curriculum – they see Beakerhead playing the role of provocateur, intriguing students and teachers to delve into STEAM. We provide teachers with resources to incorporate STEAM learning and to develop the competencies outlined by the curriculum. We work closely with an educational advisory council to integrate our educational experience into support tools and help us design these materials.
Q: How is Suncor helping advance these educational tours?
A: Suncor’s additional sponsorship this year is a game-changer for Beakerhead. In addition to the year-round support the SEF provides us, the sponsorship helped us bring more students to the Engineered Spectacle Tours than ever before. We’ve been able to bring in more installations directly related to the Alberta curriculum and enhance the experience with more hands-on learning. We’ve seen a number of schools in the past express interest in Beakerhead that were unable to afford the cost of the field trip. It’s been really rewarding to work with Suncor to include students in the tours who might not otherwise be able to attend.
Q: We’re glad Suncor’s support has been helpful. What’s it like to work with us as a partner?
A: Suncor and the Suncor Energy Foundation have been supporters of Beakerhead since our inception. The funding we get allows us to deliver on opportunities and experiences year-round. Relying on government funding can mean waiting anxiously for a grant to come in, and then scrambling to plan last-minute. With Suncor’s support, we have the freedom to make long-term plans and work to inspire youth in a more meaningful and integrated capacity. The foresight and vision Suncor provides has allowed us to grow considerably over the years.
Q: What has Suncor’s role been at the Spectacle itself?
A: Beakerhead is a community builder, and the Spectacle wouldn’t be the same without Suncor volunteers! Every year, the fantastic group of volunteers donate their time to help ensure the event is a success. More than logistics and safety preparations, the volunteers are a key element of fostering interaction, building community and making everyone feel welcome at Beakerhead.
Q: How does Beakerhead decide what installations to feature at the Spectacle?
A: At Beakerhead, we work with local STEAM professionals for our workshops, year-round programs and Spectacle installations. More than 90 per cent of the installations at this year’s Spectacle were designed, constructed and showcased by Albertan artists, most local to Calgary. We are also expanding our presence to create opportunities for artists from across Canada to showcase their work.
Q: What was your favourite part of Beakerhead?
A: It’s impossible to pick a favourite! As a new addition to the Beakerhead team over the past year, I’ve been awed by the depth of widespread community support for our organization’s vision. So many people have described Beakerhead as a city-builder, as a new and innovative organization helping Calgary reimagine a new version of itself. More than that, I see Beakerhead bringing Calgarians from all different backgrounds together to learn about and celebrate the evolving future of STEAM. From the fire-breathing installations, to the interactive workshops, to the inspiration to continue learning, the entire experience has been incredible.