A previous Big Balloon Build. (Photo provided by Big Balloon Build)

Springfield balloon artist Dena Atchley, commonly known as Dena the Balloon Lady, was selected to lead a team of fellow balloon artists from around the world in building a balloon forest in Lake Geneva, Wis., a small town between Chicago and Milwaukee.

Was the word “balloon” used too much in that sentence? They’ll use over 100,000 of them to construct 10,000 square feet of balloon trees, RVs, waterfalls, a panda, bunnies, owls and other animals.

The project is being put on by Big Balloon Build, a Fort Wayne, Ind.-based nonprofit that has put on builds of varying themes around the world, supported by corporate sponsorships to help raise awareness — and money — for charities.

“The idea that I can be a part of something that can raise $100,000 easily for a group of people who absolutely needs it, it’s amazing,” Atchley said in an interview with the Daily Citizen.

With origins in Wales, Big Balloon Build brings together balloon art and artists from all over the world

Big Balloon Build got its start in Wales and expanded to the U.S. during the organization’s nine years of balloon building for charities around the world.

The balloon forest in Lake Geneva will be the ninth project of the nonprofit, which already has more lined up through 2023 and beyond.

Stuart Davies, the man behind Big Balloon Build, developed the business with experience as a director of a charity in the UK. After watching his family’s High Street business struggle amid the online shopping boom, he delved into the world of balloon art and found success.

“That’s where the Big Balloon idea developed from,” Davies said. “Looking to give back to the community and give back to the people who support us and demonstrating what balloon art can do.”

A previous Big Balloon Build. (Photo provided by Big Balloon Build)

Approaching almost 17 years as ‘Dena the Balloon Lady,’ Atchley’s become a well-respected artist in the balloon community

After spending much of her early career as a fifth-grade teacher, Atchley decided to stay home to focus on raising her daughter. It was during that time that she developed her passion — and skills — for balloon art.

She began by doing balloon twisting and animals, available for hire at restaurants and events like birthday parties. Atchley still does plenty of that today, in addition to building balloon arches and other décor for purchase or charity events around the Ozarks, and in other states.

As she grew her business, she began attending conventions and became more plugged into the balloon community, meeting fellow artists from around the world.

It was through this networking that she eventually got involved with Big Balloon Build, with whom she has been involved in two other projects, including one in Kansas City in December 2022 and the first Big Balloon Build in the U.S. in Vincennes, Ind. in April 2022.

“When Stuart decided to bring the Big Balloon Build to the United States, it became a big deal,” Atchely said. “…And so I was like, ‘Hey, that sounds like something I would like to do,’ because it’s totally different from a convention, where you go and sit and listen to somebody talk. This, you get to go and you are doing all of it.”

A previous Big Balloon Build. (Photo provided by Big Balloon Build)

Balloon forest to use tens of thousands of balloons to raise tens of thousands of dollars for charity

The proceeds from the balloon forest will go towards Inspiration Ministries and Inspired Coffee, both based in Lake Geneva, which support people with a range of developmental and physical disabilities through job training, coaching, mentorship and placement into fully-integrated work settings.

Davies said that Big Balloon Build worked with Sara Meyer, the owner of Wisconsin Balloon Decor, to select the local charities to be supported through this project.

“I love to work with causes like this,” Atchley said in a press release. “I have worked locally with DCO (Developmental Center of the Ozarks) and really have a heart for giving back to my community. And I am so excited to work with this team.  Sixty-five talented balloon artists from all over the world are coming together for this — all small business owners who want to make a difference in the world.”

Those 65 will work together using donated, biodegradable balloons and inflation equipment to build a forest that will eventually be open for ticketed events, of which the proceeds will go towards the selected charities. 

Davies said Atchley is an “exceptional” balloon artist, whose knowledge and skill will help lead a team of balloon artists who have different levels of experience.

While there will be plenty of room for creative freedom, which Atchley will play a big part in on the “specialist team,” some of the balloon structures will promote the corporate sponsors who contributed to the cause, according to Atchley.

The balloon building will begin on Monday, March 20, and will be completed by March 23 and will subsequently open for events and to the public for several days after. In addition to the contributions being made to the local charities, a food drive is being held on Saturday, March 25.

A previous Big Balloon Build. (Photo provided by Big Balloon Build)

Davies said the forest will host about 1,000 students from various school trips on March 24 after a ribbon-cutting ceremony. He is excited both to watch the balloon artists come together to make an “unbelievable” event and to see the joy on the faces of the children — and the adults — when they see the balloon wonderland for the first time.

“Realizing what we have done has provided joy, but also it’s going to make a difference to so many people with disabilities in the Lake Geneva area,” he told the Daily Citizen. “That’s what’s so good about the Big Balloon Build, because we work with so many partners, it has so many positive outcomes.”

Jack McGee

Jack McGee is the government affairs reporter at the Springfield Daily Citizen. He previously covered politics and business for the Daily Citizen. He’s an MSU graduate with a Bachelor of Science degree in journalism and a minor political science. Reach him at jmcgee@sgfcitizen.org or (417) 837-3663. More by Jack McGee