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The Merrymaking Business of Balloons

Over 20 years ago, Allison Dunning had a life-changing experience—one that fit into the palm of her hand.

While at a family party in Washington, she watched her cousin casually manipulate balloons into shapes to entertain the kids. Curiosity piqued; Allison took a turn. She grabbed a balloon, and she began to twist.

“And it was like a chemical reaction in my body,” Allison says. “I knew I was having a life-changing experience.”

Allison has always considered herself a creative person, but it was in this moment she realized she had found her medium. When she got back to Colorado, she headed straight for the library, where she checked out every book and video that she could find on how to make balloon animals and art.

Just one year later, she became the go-to balloon installation designer in Northern Colorado, and she was hooked.

Today, Allison runs Balloon Art by Merrymakers—the art of making merry, she says, is what she does—and its associated downtown small-balloon and candy store, The Balloon Boutique (924 8th Avenue). This summer, she’ll tackle her biggest challenge yet: The Big Balloon Build.

The Big Balloon Build is a traveling, international festival where dozens of the world’s most gifted balloon artists donate their time and travel expenses to create temporary, magical wonderlands that raise money for local charities.

For the first time ever, it’s coming to Colorado, and thanks to Allison, it will be hosted right here in Greeley at Aims Community College. Every “build” is different, and the Greeley event will be space themed. Ideas for the balloon world are still in the works, but the team is discussing ideas like a crash-landed space shuttle, multiverse worlds separated by balloon worm holes, and lots of neon and rainbow designs.

The final effect? An immersive 150,000 balloon installation featuring four days of fun and adventurous special events. You can visit every day, Allison says, and you’ll still experience something new.

At the end of the festival, there will be an invite-only popping party (which is exactly what it sounds like), and all the balloon remnants will be donated to an eco-conscious company that will use them to make yoga mats.

All proceeds from The Big Balloon Build will go to Life Stories Child & Family Advocacy, an organization in Weld County providing support and resources to protect children from abuse. Allison hopes to bring light, energy and awareness to the organization’s mission in a way that is both fun and interactive.

“Our job is to bring joy. And what better way to do that than with a balloon?”

The Big Balloon Build will run at the Aims Community College Welcome Center July 20-24. Tickets are available through the Merrymakers website.