When COVID-19 hit, the show could not go on for Kameron Messmer.

The 37-year-old magician, juggler, fire-eater and all-around children’s entertainer was at a loss. He moved to Portland from Billings, Mont., a little over a year ago. Before the pandemic, he was a regular at Portland Saturday Market, where he would tie balloon sculptures together for tips. He was starting to score birthday gigs and felt like he was finally making a name for himself.

“After the pandemic, my show was nonexistent,” he says. “Half of my show was funny because I was too close to the kids. I would just invade their personal space. So, I’m like, ‘There’s no way I can do a show now.’ For years, possibly.”

It wasn’t until he came across a Facebook post for a balloon enthusiast group that he figured out his next step. The post urged out-of-work balloon artists, like Messmer, to create a sculpture made entirely out of balloons. He had never done anything like it before, but thought it could be a good way to get rid of the hundreds of 8-year-old balloons sitting in his garage.

Using twine and fishing line, he crafted a colorful series of inflatable arches all in the front yard of his aunt’s house, where he lives, displaying the message, “Be safe, be kind.” He posted his creation on Reddit, and soon after, dozens of passersby, online and on foot, were inquiring about how they could get a sculpture in their own yards.

Since April, Messmer has been commissioned to craft garlands for drive-by graduations, rainbows and cupcakes for birthdays, and 6-foot-tall topiaries made from over 500 individual balloons.

The success he’s seen recently not only gives Messmer a sense of security, but the process of building such elaborate displays has proved to be meditative for him—an added bonus in the midst of so much uncertainty.

“I think there’s a lot of sadness in the world, there’s a lot of stress, a lot of anxiety,” he says. “It’s hard not to smile when you see a balloon.”

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