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TELUS Spark Science Centre embraces Barbie fever with new exhibit


As the Barbie movie continues to dominate the box office, a new exhibition celebrating the iconic doll has opened at the TELUS Spark Science Centre in Calgary.

Barbie: A Cultural Icon looks back on the evolution of Barbie from 1959 to now, showcasing how pop culture and fashion trends have shaped the global phenomenon.

“Everybody can connect and relate to some kind of piece of Barbie,” said Megan Tackabery, manager of creative experiences at TELUS Spark.

With 300 artifacts and more than 260 dolls, the exhibit takes people behind the scenes to see how Barbie is made, highlights the many careers Barbie has had, and shows the brand's efforts to be more diverse and inclusive.

“You will see a wide variety of inclusivity throughout the Barbie evolution, from accessible Barbie, to plus-size Barbie, to Barbie with Down syndrome,” Tackaberry said.

Corinne Mason, a women’s and gender studies professor at Mount Royal University, says the six decades of Barbie document major moments in history.

“So many of our cultural conversations about social inequities, about gender, about beauty, about racial justice, we can really point to where Barbie is and has been in terms of her transformation, and really map some of the kind of cultural shifts that are happening in the real world,” Mason said.

One part of the exhibit celebrates women in space. In fact, Barbie went to the moon before Neil Armstrong.

Tackaberry says it’s one of the reasons why this exhibit is a perfect fit at the science centre.

“We really believe in the power of play and imaginative play and Barbie explores all things STEM,” she said.

People can even hop in to a real-life 1984 Corvette, customized in Barbie’s favourite colour, and drive to wherever their imagination takes them.

“This car is just so fun and it’s amazing that they were able to do that and to generate that and to have your picture taken in there,” said Karen Dunn, an attendee.

Dunn’s son Trevor added, “I just love that movement, that it’s not just about men, and women are a big deal and they can do everything a man can, so it’s awesome.”

Barbie fever continues to grow as the doll moves away from toy shelves to the silver screen.

Barely three weeks into its run, the Barbie movie, starring Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling, has raked in an astounding $1.3 billion at the global box office.

Rebecca Sullivan, a gender and sexuality studies professor at the University of Calgary, says the film opens up important conversations about the complex relationship many have with Barbie.

“What Greta Gerwig has done for us is given us that little feminist gap in there. It’s an imperfect feminism, it’s a playful, consumerist feminism, you know, it’s not a radical protest feminism, but it’s a way in to remember that we used to have a lot of fun with Barbie,” she said.

That’s exactly what some are doing as they embrace this Barbie resurgence.

“Barbie was just like teaching you that you could be whatever you want to be or learning that girls can be doctors, girls can be scientists,” said Makayla Driedger, who attended the exhibit.

The collection was curated by Illusion Projects and Mattel, the toy company behind Barbie.

It launched in Las Vegas in 2021 and is now being brought around the world, with Calgary being the first stop.

The exhibit opened on Saturday and runs until Sept. 10. Top Stories

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