On March 16th, our 85% events-driven balloon business experienced a 24-hour cancellation of all events through the summer of 2020. What was set to be a banner year, evaporated over night. In a Hail Mary attempt, I asked our small community to support local and keep us afloat.
We paired down our signature balloon installation art into something more compact - the OG SMILING RAINBOW BURST. Made of 75 bright yellow, smiley faces balloons, it brought instantaneous joy. Since balloons are the universal medium of nostalgia and youth, they seemed to provide a sense of calm and a sense of hope during the quarantine. We then morphed the OG into the ANYTHING BURST, offering a way for neighbors to visually connect about celebrations they were having at home; from birthdays to babies to engagements and more. During the cold, dreary Chicago spring, we installed over a thousand BURSTS, brightening up one city block at a time.
Given our ability to adapt and grow unlike most of the world in March, it was imperative to figure out how to give back. Pre-pandemic, we made big, bold, balloon installations for events of all sizes and kinds, inside and out. And like that, it occurred to me: this is exactly what we needed to do for our COVID-hit hospitals.
So I put together this GOFUNDME. And we raised money to support four other artists to help us create a package of love for the hospitals. Not only would the employee entrance to the hospital be adorned with 2500 balloons with inspiring messages calligraphed on the balloons but they would receive photos and videos of themselves, pausing, smiling. To date, we’ve done FIVE hospitals: Loyola Medicine Hospital on April 28; Illinois Masonic Hospital on April 30th; RUSH Hospital on May 15th, Christ Advocate Hospital on May 27th and Schwab Rehabilitation Center on June 30th.
These installations are compiled of 2500 balloons. Which is a lot of balloons. Normally, we would bring our team and blow up all the balloons on site but given the pandemic, we had to blow up in our shop and transport. So I rented a van from OHare Airport to deliver the balloons. We asked volunteers to help transport the remainder but quickly realized that you can fit 100 balloons, on a good day, in a typical SUV. We asked the hospitals to send their shuttles to help make the trips of balloons.
Then the month of June brought the Black Lives Matter movement to the forefront. And during this time, I realized that we had ballooned primarily well-known hospitals that benefited from an outpouring of funding and endless networks of donations. But they were not located in neighborhoods hit hardest by COVID. And as I started to search for those hospitals, I found that they were the ones you didn’t hear about on the news. They weren’t big but underfunded and under-resourced. And they didn’t have fancy marketing departments. Or a fleet of shuttles. How could we get them 2500 balloons without making 4 trips?
Divine intervention/manifestation is a funny, neat thing. When I was explaining this transportation dilemma to a friend, someone sent me this link. Needless to say, this Sprinter van could help us bring a lot of joy.
*In addition to hospital installations, LUFT has chosen the lane of art activism by printing BLM on balloons and dispersing 1000s of balloons for free: from protest bunches to BLM BURSTS to balloon sticks for kids to foster continued conversation. We are/have offered free balloons for many protests, rallies and community engagement programs, like the Englewood Arts Collective where we will be doing a big BLM balloon installation on August 8th.