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St. Louis balloon artist will help build a 125,000-balloon exhibition for charity

A woman holds black, silver and blue balloons of various sizes in her hands. Behind her is a shelf of not yet inflated balloons and a worktable with an air compressor.
Tristen Rouse
St. Louis Public Radio
Jules Perkovic demonstrates how to tie balloons together to form the base of a balloon wreath on July 10 at Balloon Theory’s studio in Brentwood. The base of the wreath is formed by bigger balloons, and sometimes weighed down by balloons filled with water or sand, for stability as medium and smaller balloons are added above.

Jules Perkovic is making the largest balloon art installation of her roughly 15-year career this week.

Perkovic, who owns Party Perks in St. Louis, was chosen as one of 75 balloon artists from St. Louis and around the globe to lend their talents to a one-of-a-kind event — the Big Balloon Build. Artists are creating a larger-than-life world out of biodegradable balloons to bring awareness to a local charity’s cause.

“Not only is it really fun to be a part of the install, because none of us are going to be selling a build this big on our own,” Perkovic said, “we get to make a big difference by handing it off to a local charity that gets to use it to raise awareness and raise funds for their cause.”

The Big Balloon Build got its start in the United Kingdom and later expanded its reach to the United States in 2022. There have been builds in Kansas City, Indiana and Wisconsin. The latest build is in Greeley, Colorado. Perkovic said she was eager to volunteer her time.

“I was just enamored with all of the builds done over in Wales and in England,” she said.

The balloon artists will transform the 50,000-square-foot ballroom of a community college into an immersive space-themed exhibit in less than four days. This world will have fire and ice dragons, giants, cowboy dinosaurs and countless extraterrestrial life forms — all made from balloons.

The artists will use more than 125,000 biodegradable balloons and roughly 20 different techniques to get the job done.

“We ended up with the idea of stranger worlds,” said Stuart Davies, the managing director of the Big Balloon Build. “[It’s] about a group of explorers looking to support these lost children. And they come across different types of people and aliens in each world, who are there helping them to find the stars in the area of the lost children.”

A diptych of two vertical images. The left image is of deflated green and teal balloons in jars on a shelf. The right image is of the back of a woman's head, focused on her dyed green and teal hair.
Tristen Rouse
St. Louis Public Radio
LEFT: Green and teal balloons are stored in jars on July 10 at Balloon Theory’s studio in Brentwood. RIGHT: Jules Perkovic’s green and teal hair, tied into twin buns, as she blows up balloons on July 10 at Balloon Theory’s studio.

Illumination of a 'really dark subject'

The nonprofit is working with Life Stories Child and Family Advocacy in Greeley to bring attention to child abuse.

"It is a really dark subject, but if we can't shine a light on that with the power and positivity of balloons, then I don't think anybody can," Davies said.

Just Balloons owner Ebony Chambers agrees. The Bridgeton business owner will be joining Perkovic on the build this week.

“I look at it, especially this theme, as being able to create a world for these kids who are suffering from abuse,” Chambers said. “And then being able to tell their story from the fire side and then from the ice side, there can be light at the end of the tunnel.”

A diptych of two vertical images. The left image is of a woman assembling a tower of balloons. The right image is of a bunch of balloons, tied together with a tail of clear balloons trailing out from behind them, resting on the floor.
Tristen Rouse
St. Louis Public Radio
LEFT: Ebony Chambers puts the finishing touches on a balloon wreath on July 10 at Balloon Theory’s studio in Brentwood. RIGHT: Small, clear balloons form the base around which a balloon wreath is constructed at Balloon Theory.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, roughly 4 million children were assessed for child abuse nationwide in 2021. Gwen Schooley, the executive director at Life Stories Child and Family Advocacy in Greeley, said she’s hopeful the build will bring attention to the issue in her community.

“It's more than just the balloons, and the fun, and the fanciful characters,” Schooley said. “It's also helping us and helping our community members make a difference. So for us that means raising funds to help us to continue to offer our services free of charge.”

The balloon exhibit will incorporate 4,000 star balloons that represent the 4,000 children in Weld County assessed for child abuse each year. People in Perkovic's life have been affected, and that’s why she’s using her art to bring attention to the problem.

“They did not have programs to help,” Perkovic said. “They had no way to talk about it. There just wasn’t the awareness. There wasn’t the bravery to speak up that there is now. We want people to pay attention. If kids are acting a little different around somebody, there is a reason why.”

Jules Perkovic, left, and Ebony Chambers tie smaller balloons into a larger balloon wreath on Monday, July 10, 2023 at Balloon Theory’s studio in the Brentwood neighborhood of St. Louis. Perkovic and Chambers will be traveling to Greeley, Colo. this month to participate in Big Balloon Build, where they will help create a “balloon world,” open to the public for a walk through charity event.
Tristen Rouse
St. Louis Public Radio
Jules Perkovic, left, and Ebony Chambers demonstrate how to tie smaller balloons into a larger balloon wreath on July 10 at Balloon Theory’s studio in Brentwood.

The installation will wrap Thursday afternoon. People in the area will be able to purchase tickets to experience the inflatable world with the proceeds going toward Life Stories Child and Family Advocacy. Melissa Fox participated in the Big Balloon Build in March in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. The Balloon Theory St. Louis owner said seeing the end result of countless hours of work was overwhelming.

“It would probably take 20 minutes to walk through this maze of all of these different outdoor scenes,” Fox said. “And it was overwhelming, you know, and I could have walked through it probably 20 times, because every time you walk through the next time I’d be like, ‘oh my gosh, I didn’t see those birds up there.'”

At the end of the festivities, attendees can participate in the ceremonial popping party — popping wand included. The Big Balloon Build has more builds in store. As for St. Louis, organizers hope to bring one of these massive installations to the area in the near future.

Marissanne is the afternoon newscaster at St. Louis Public Radio.