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Barbie exhibition brings splash of pink to Calgary’s Telus Spark science centre

Click to play video: 'Out of the box, into Barbie’s world: new exhibit hits Telus Spark'
Out of the box, into Barbie’s world: new exhibit hits Telus Spark
WATCH: Telus Spark is painted pink for the 'Barbie: A Cultural Icon' exhibit. Cami Kepke takes us behind the scenes of the most comprehensive private Barbie collection in the world – Aug 4, 2023

The ever-popular, iconic Barbie doll continues to pave its own way into new frontiers within society and is now the centre of a travelling exhibition that has arrived at Calgary’s science centre.

Telus Spark will host the Barbie: A Cultural Icon exhibition from Aug. 5 through Sept. 10.

The exhibition’s Calgary debut comes amid Barbie’s reinvention away from the toy aisles, with the blockbuster live-action Barbie movie starring Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling.

Kyle Corner, Spark’s director of creative experience, says the centre had been “looking for something great along these lines” before reaching an agreement to host the Barbie exhibition earlier this summer, and the partnership isn’t as unusual as some may initially think.

“There happens to be a movie out there that’s taking hold culturally but Barbie’s here because Barbie is a great representation of connections to science, inspiring young imaginations in play,” explained Corner. “It’s just the right thing for Spark.”

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Corner says there are more than 300 vintage and historical artefacts on display, including roughly 260 dolls who serve as snapshots of previous times.

“It’s pretty remarkable, actually, when you step into the exhibit, and you see, going back to 1959 through present day, you start to realize Barbie’s been a reflection of society and cultural moments change throughout the six decades, and also projected careers particularly for girls and those who identify as girls, for opportunities across a variety of fields. And we’re excited about the fields in STEM which Barbie has been on the forefront of.”

Tim Claudia, the producer of the exhibit, says Barbie has been constantly breaking ground over the decades.

“Sometimes she’s ahead of the curve,” said Claudia. “Things like going to the moon before Neil Armstrong got there. You’ll see the Space Barbie. Space and Barbie is an interesting thing because it has been revisited multiple times over the years, starting in the ’60s and coming all the way through to today where you’ve even got Mars Explorer Barbie now.”

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The exhibition was curated by Illusion Projects in collaboration with Mattel, the toy company behind the Barbie phenomenon. It initially launched in Las Vegas in 2021 and, after a successful 14-month stay, plans were made to take the collection around the world, with Calgary serving as the first stop.

All of the items in the travelling collection belong to a single fan.

“There’s a guy that has been collecting since he was five years old,” said Claudia. “This is his passion and he has this absolutely fantastic collection of dolls. So when we decided to produce the exhibit, we started looking (at) what it was going to be all about.

“We really needed a wholesome collection of dolls that we could use that really covered that sort of full spectrum of time. So Barbie started in 1958; we wanted to go from ‘58 all the way through to now. A lot of collectors have certain areas they’re interested in this collection is very, very comprehensive. So it was perfect for us.”

The Barbie: A Cultural Icon exhibition is included with Telus Spark admission or annual memberships, and guests are encouraged to come all dolled up.

— with files from Global News’ Cami Kepke

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