Thousands of children walked around downtown Colorado Springs on Saturday wide-eyed and eager to take on puzzles, an American Ninja Warriors obstacle course, arts and crafts tasks and space-related questions - all in an effort to expand their minds and test their bodies.
The eighth annual What If ... Festival of Innovation isn't all about fun and games, said organizer Deborah Thornton. It's a way for kids and parents to connect with the community through activities related to science, technology, engineering and math as well as art and design.
"If we want to make sure that we're an innovative nation, we need to raise some people that know how to think creatively and think critically and not just give us answers on tests," said Thornton, executive director of Imagination Celebration, which hosted Saturday's event and provides art programs for kids throughout the region. "And so, that's very much what this festival is about, is to cross-pollinate."
She said she remembers a 2010 Newsweek article titled "The Creativity Crisis," which concluded that creativity scores among kids were declining. Thornton wants her annual inventions and innovations festival to encourage more creative output from the youth.
"The whole point of the festival is to show that we're all creative and push us to be even move so," she said.
Covering six downtown blocks and featuring about 120 experiences for all ages, the daylong event had plenty to do, see and eat. Last year, it drew more than 25,000 people.
Outside the Pikes Peak Center, a hip hop dance crew performed and invited spectators, old and young, to join in. Inside the building, kids and parents were encouraged to finish the "What If ..." statement and post their thoughts on white boards.
Examples included "What if Bob Marley never died?" and "What if we didn't need money?"
Visitors used chalk to draw animals and cartoons on the sidewalks and pavement of Cascade Avenue, as they also watched local robotic teams show off their work, took part in a number of murals and walked through a mobile Earth and space observatory.
Another festival highlight was a gold shipping container parked outside the Pioneers Museum. It's an interactive public art installation project by Amar Bakhi, which uses an immersive audio-visual technology to connect people in cities across the world.
Claudia Llano and her 7-year-old daughter Vanessa enjoyed every aspect of the festival, especially activities involving arts. Claudia works as a teacher at Vista Kids Preschool, and she said she understands the importance of arts to children.
Without art programs, she said, children won't be able to grow into their own.
"I think we are limiting their creativity and their ability to solve problems and the building of their potential," Claudia said.