Imagine a 15-foot sculpture of an owl wearing a top hat and playing the violin, or a tiger leaping through the air, claws extended, ready to pounce. Now conjure the smell of latex, and remember the squeaky softness of an inflated balloon. Mix up those elements, the fantastical and the familiar, and you have the makings of the family-friendly wonderment that will be offered at the Festival of Balloons this weekend in New Orleans.
The Festival of Balloons caps off the biannual World Balloon Convention in which artists from all over the world compete in several categories, creating their best large- and small-scale balloon sculptures. The convention’s fourth biannual iteration arrived in New Orleans on Tuesday, and artists are at work creating air-filled art in the Hilton Riverside Hotel.
On Sunday, organizers will flip the switch from a private trade show to a public festival, inviting locals to witness the amazing, and amazingly temporary, spectacle.
Expect to see life-sized balloon cars, balloon superheroes, balloon haute couture and balloon sculptures brought to life with lights and animations. The festival’s three rooms are themed: the first will be balloon art that guests can touch and photograph; the second will feature large sculptures; and the third hosts live entertainment — or in the words of a balloon artist, “twisters.”
Stephanie Morace has been twisting for about 2 1/2 years. The Baton Rouge-based artist will be competing with Team USA in the large sculpture category. She has attended national balloon competitions before but not the WBC.
“Being that it’s my first time, I was excited just to be going,” Morace said. But when she was recruited by Scott Nichols to join Team USA, she was eager to bring her talents. “To get to compete, it’s really changed the way I’m looking at it. ... Now I kind of hear the ‘Rocky’ music playing in the background.”
Individuals and international teams will compete in a host of timed categories. For example, Team USA will have 27 hours to create its large sculpture, measuring approximately 15-by-15-by-15 feet. And then, they wait, as all sculptures and balloon installations remain in place until the Festival of Balloons on Sunday.
“The stuff that these artists are going to make for the World Balloon Convention, this is first-time stuff,” said Matthew Willard, of Schulkens Communications. “Everything that’s made for the World Balloon Convention and all the competitions, that’s what everybody gets to experience Sunday at the Festival of Balloons. These people are literally going to get a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see this balloon art.”
And the sculptures are only part of the draw. “The way this balloon entertainment industry breaks down is they have … the more introverted artists who strictly do these sculptures and the fashion and the delivery pieces and what-not,” Willard said, “but then you have the more extroverted people that actually put on performances.”
The live entertainment room will feature four hourlong performances by balloon artists, plus free-range twisters and entertainers. Bring your camera to take photos in four different balloon-themed scenes.
There’s a lot in it for the participating artists, too. “Not only will we be doing competitions,” Morace said, “but I’ll also be going to all these classes and learning from the best instructors in the world. ... Not only do we get to compete and show our skills, but we also get to learn from all of these teachers from all over the world, these new techniques. And that’s how this art form just continues to grow, is because as a global community everybody is constantly advancing the art form.”
All of that training and craft will manifest in the painstaking sculptures and creations on display at the Festival of Balloons. But it won’t last long, as every balloon will eventually be popped.
“These huge sculptures, to see them reduced to this little pile of balloon scraps, and all the time and all the energy, and then to see everybody pop it and within a couple of minutes,” all that remains is air and a few scraps of latex, Morace said.
The Festival of Balloons will be held at the Hilton New Orleans Riverside Hotel from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $10, free for children age 12 and younger.