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How One Canadian Event Series is Supporting Local Restaurants, Artists, and Production Pros During the Pandemic

Calgary’s Pop Up Series is creating art-filled dining experiences around the city—and providing some much-needed work to event production pros.

Pop Up Series is an ongoing, Calgary-based event that brings together local artists, restaurants, and production industry pros to create an immersive, art-filled dining experience. The events take over shuttered eateries and fill them with whimsical props and decor along with a rotating selection of food and beverages.
Pop Up Series is an ongoing, Calgary-based event that brings together local artists, restaurants, and production industry pros to create an immersive, art-filled dining experience. The events take over shuttered eateries and fill them with whimsical props and decor along with a rotating selection of food and beverages.
Photo: Courtesy of Pop Up Series

CALGARY—When the pandemic shut down the live entertainment industry last March, longtime concert producer Justin Huculak quickly began brainstorming ways to help. "It left so many of us without jobs: musicians, stagehands, riggers, technicians, designers, catering companies, servers, bartenders, decor suppliers—all without a place to work," says Huculak, who has been producing music festivals and tours across Canada for the last 12 years.

His solution? Pop Up Series, a Calgary-based event series that brings together local artists, restaurants, and production industry pros to create an immersive art-filled dining experience. The pop-up events take over shuttered eateries and fill them with whimsical props and decor along with a rotating selection of food and beverages. The locations, theme, and menus change regularly, and the spaces follow all COVID safety guidelines established by the city. 'It has been exciting seeing different artists get out of their comfort zone to build something beautiful in here,' says Huculak."It has been exciting seeing different artists get out of their comfort zone to build something beautiful in here," says Huculak.Photo: Courtesy of Pop Up Series

"The main goal of this was to provide work and projects again for all of our event staff to survive and pay bills," explains Huculak. "We want to create a safe environment for our patrons, and give them a therapeutic and immersive experience through art."

At the end of August, Huculak and his team launched Pop Up 1.0 in a shuttered restaurant space on 17th Avenue in downtown Calgary. It ran for 30 days, and the team is currently hosting Pop Up 2.0 in a venue on the city's 10th Avenue. A variety of local restaurants and food trucks—including Zilford’s Chicken, Taiko Taco, The Park, Tropical, and Diner Deluxe—are tapped to plan the rotating menu, and fresh produce comes from Calgary-based farms such as Wildcat Farms. Each pop-up has unique decor created by a variety of local artists. The spaces follow all ongoing COVID safety guidelines established by the city.The spaces follow all ongoing COVID safety guidelines established by the city.Photo: Courtesy of Pop Up Series

While attendees pay for food and drinks, there's actually no additional cover charge for the experience. â€śCorporate partnerships and various relationships with like-minded suppliers provide an opportunity to reduce financial risk and create fair equity for artists and workers alike,” explains Huculak. “Our main focus is doing something to get our friends back to work, support local artists and restaurants, and do something exciting and different for the city. Anything on top of that is a bonus.”

Huculak hopes the series can showcase a safe way to bring back live events while also respecting all COVID-19 guidelines, and he hopes to continue expanding the series for the foreseeable future. â€śSocial and physical connection is a must in the art entertainment world, especially more now than ever," he says. "Mental health, community interaction, and a safe social environment are paramount to Calgary right now, and Pop Up is a way we can adapt to difficult circumstances without sacrificing those things.”“Our goal is to continue this into the unforeseen future and keep giving staff and artists a chance to work and express themselves in these stressful times,' Huculak adds. 'We want to keep coming up with different concepts that can include more workforce elements as we move forward.”“Our goal is to continue this into the unforeseen future and keep giving staff and artists a chance to work and express themselves in these stressful times," Huculak adds. "We want to keep coming up with different concepts that can include more workforce elements as we move forward.”Photo: Pop Up Series

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