Sunday, August 9, 2015

Blogathon on the Intersections of Art and Science - Day 1

Good morning.
"And the beat goes on………………"

NOTE:  I got a number of feedback emails from the announcement last week of this week's Blogathon Forum on the Intersections of Art and Science, and I would like to ask those people if they would share the news of efforts and projects already underway in our field in this area - with which they are familiar - by clicking on the blog logo, going to the site, clicking on the Comment line and entering a comment with descriptions and links to these projects.  AND I would like to encourage others out there who know of further efforts being made in the area to likewise share that information and those resource links. Thank you.

Here are the bios of the panelists participating in the week long blogathon forum on the Intersections of Art and Science:

Note:  Kamal Sinclair will not be participating as previously announced.

Rieko Yajima is a biochemist with interests that lie at the intersection of science and society—which include design and policy.  She has organized national symposia on these topics, from New Concepts in Integrating Arts and Science Research for a Global Knowledge Society, to Synergy in STEM + Arts:  Catalyzing US Innovation and Competitiveness.  She has given talks on the nexus between scientific research and design thinking at Stanford University’s and the Design Principles and Practices Conference.  For the past eight years, she has worked for the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), in Washington, DC, where she advises the scientific community on ways to strengthen research and innovation and in the use of informed decision-making for funding research.  In 2015, Yajima was elected to the Global Young Academy, a rallying point for outstanding young scientists from around the world to come together to address topics of global importance.  She holds a doctorate degree in integrative biosciences from Penn State University and served as a science policy fellow at the National Academy of Sciences.

Julia Buntaine's work is inspired by and based on Neuroscience, the scientific study of the brain. Born in Massachusetts, Buntaine attained her BA and Certificate in Cognitive Neuroscience from Hampshire College, her post-baccalaureate certificate in studio art from Maryland Institute College of Art, and her MFA of Fine Arts from the School of Visual Arts. Buntaine has exhibited nationally and internationally including shows in Amherst, New York City, Baltimore, Seattle, Madison, and Toronto. Buntaine is also Executive Director at SciArt Center, and founder and editor-in-chief of the online science-based art magazine, SciArt in America. Buntaine currently lives and works in New York City.

Youngmoo Kim is Director of the Expressive and Creative Interaction Technologies (ExCITe) Center and Associate Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Drexel University. He received his Ph.D. in Media Arts and Sciences from MIT in 2003 and also holds Master's degrees in Electrical Engineering and Music (Vocal Performance Practice) from Stanford University as well as a B.S. in Engineering and a B.A. in Music from Swarthmore College. His research group, the Music and Entertainment Technology Laboratory (MET-lab) focuses on the machine understanding of audio, particularly for music information retrieval. Other areas of active research at MET-lab include human-machine interfaces and robotics for expressive interaction, analysis-synthesis of sound, and K-12 outreach for engineering, science, and mathematics education.

Youngmoo also has extensive experience in music performance, including 8 years as a member of the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, the chorus of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. He is a former music director of the Stanford Fleet Street Singers, and has performed in productions at American Musical Theater of San Jose and SpeakEasy Stage Company (Boston). He is a member of Opera Philadelphia’s newly-formed American Repertoire Council.

Gregory Mack, Ph.D., is an astrophysicist, modern dancer, and currently an American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Science and Technology Policy Fellow placed at the National Science Foundation (NSF). As an AAAS Fellow at NSF he has led several science communication initiatives in collaboration with the NSF Physics Division and the NSF Office of Legislative and Public Affairs. He also is the founder and co-chair of the AAAS Fellow Affinity Group STArt (Science, Technology, and Art) which brings Fellows together to address the intersection of art, science, and policy through various mechanisms. Prior to the Fellowship, Mack was a Visiting Assistant Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Ohio Wesleyan University, and he earned his Ph.D. in Physics (Theoretical Astrophysics) from The Ohio State University in 2008. He has been a dancer with the modern dance company Hixon Dance since 2007 and has created works integrating science and dance. [NOTE: As a Fellow, Mack is not an NSF employee and is not authorized to speak on behalf of the agency. Statements here are his own and not those of NSF.]

Lucinda Presley is the founder, Chair, and Executive Director of the Innovation Collaborative. The Collaborative is a DC-based coalition of national arts, science, and humanities institutions that work in partnership with higher education. This coalition promotes creative and innovation thinking through researching, convening key stakeholders and researchers, and disseminating information about effective practices at these intersections in K-12 and out-of-school-time settings.

Ms. Presley also is Executive Director of ICEE (Institute where Creativity Empowers Education) Success, which uses arts, humanities, and innovation thinking skills to promote engagement, learning, century problem-solving skills in science, technology, engineering, and math ( STEM). She works with partners in Texas, nationally, and internationally to develop school and museum programming, write curriculum, and train educators. These partners include NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab, the National Museum of Women in the Arts in DC, the University of Texas at Dallas Center for Brain Health, and school districts. She also works with these partners to develop pop-up museums and associated programming.

With over 25 years’ experience at the arts/science intersections, she has led STEAM education initiatives and teacher/artist training for a science museum, an art museum, and a national arts provider. She holds a Master of Arts degree in Interdisciplinary Studies and has been an adjunct instructor of art at a community college for over 17 years.

Bill O'Brien was appointed Senior Advisor for Program Innovation for the Endowment in 2009, responsible for exploring, examining and identifying innovative and emerging practices, programs and endeavors in the arts that are transformative and potentially worthy of federal government support or acknowledgement. In this capacity, he has served as the agency's lead on the Walter Reed/NEA Healing Arts Partnership (including Operation Homecoming) investigating the role of the arts in helping to heal military service members recovering from traumatic brain injuries and psychological health issues, the State Department's "Declaration of Learning" initiative and various activities of interest to the agency at the intersection of arts, science, technology and the humanities.

Prior to these appointments, Bill was named the NEA's Director of Theater and Musical Theater in July 2006, where he designed and directed national leadership initiatives, promoted partnerships to advance the theater field, and managed the review process for theater and musical theater applications. In 2007, he designed and initiated the NEA National New Play Development program—administered by Arena Stage, which featured the NEA Outstanding New American Play and Distinguished New Play Development selections.

Before joining the NEA, he served for seven years as producing director and managing director for Deaf West Theater (DWT) where he received a Tony and a Drama Desk nomination for producing the Broadway sign language production of Big River and received three Ovation Award nominations for his work on the production of Big River at Deaf West (as producer, sound designer and lead actor). That production went on to win three Best Musical awards (Ovation, LADCC and Backstage Garland) and the cast of Big River was awarded the 2004 Tony Honor for Excellence in the Theater. Other productions he produced for Deaf West include A Streetcar Named Desire (Ovation Award—Best Play) and Oliver! (Ovation Award—Best Musical). He has appeared in Deaf West productions of True West (Austin) and Big River (Backstage West Garland Award for Lead Actor, Helen Hayes Nomination for Outstanding Lead Actor).

His advocacy efforts on behalf of the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act of the U.S. Department of Education helped garner Deaf West Theatre the Secretary of Health and Human Services Highest Recognition Award for “bridging the gap between the deaf and hearing worlds through theatre.”

In addition, O'Brien has served as executive vice president on the executive board of the National Alliance for Music Theatre and as a task force member, conference speaker, and grant panelist with Theatre Communications Group, both national service organization for the theater and musical theater fields.

O'Brien also performed onstage in 48 states in numerous national touring and regional productions, was an American College Theatre Festival Irene Ryan Acting Competition National Finalist and has recurred in all seven seasons as Kenny (Marlee Matlin's voice/interpreter) on NBC's Emmy Award- and Peabody Award-winning series The West Wing. teacher/artist training for a science museum, an art museum, and a national arts provider. She holds a Master of Arts degree in Interdisciplinary Studies and has been an adjunct instructor of art at a community college for over 17 years.

Here is the first question posed to the panel:

What forces are driving emerging energy at art / science intersections?  What are people hoping to achieve here?  What do you see as being possible to achieve?

Rieko:  What’s interesting and exciting is that I see connections between art/design + science being driven largely at the grass-roots level by practitioners.  The arts + sci movement isn’t being mandated from the top; rather, it’s a bottoms-up movement for which our systems and institutions may not fully understand nor know how to adapt to yet.  These practitioners are driven by their own curiosity and interests, either through collaboration with those outside of their field or by drawing on their own talents in both arts and science.  A second driver is the awareness that creativity and innovation is spurred by bridging perspectives from multiple disciplines.  Ultimately, I would like to see these efforts lead to better understanding about how we create – and share - new knowledge, especially in the sciences.    

Julia:  I think that most people, whether they come to it on their own or are introduced to it by another, think the idea of art and science interacting as utterly refreshing.  The experience of having to choose science over art (or vice versa) in college is an unfortunate and common one. While I doubt that reforming our approach to college education will occur within the near future (I was lucky to attend one college which did – Hampshire College), having to choose one major over another does not stamp out the guitarist in an RNA biologist, the neuroscience-lover in a conceptual artist. Given our breadth of abilities as humans it should not be surprising to hear about someone who is a neuroscientist by day and fiction writer by night, but it is. The idea of being able to pursue art and science concurrently, and the idea of art and science working together, opens up life in a wonderful way because it reminds people they do not have to limit themselves. In this way, the possibilities are endless.

Youngmoo Kim:  As much as our world has been profoundly changed through science and technology, some of the most impactful advances (aortic stents, computer graphics, and the iPhone, just to name a few) have come through multidisciplinary collaboration between the arts and sciences (and engineering). Conversely, I think more and more people in science and engineering  feel that our research and education efforts in these fields have become too disciplinary and too siloed. Most professional incentives in these fields favor incremental or derivative work, so there are large impediments to taking the risks necessary to achieve something truly groundbreaking. As a result, there's growing interest in art+science collaborations to broaden perspectives in the interest of fueling scientific advancement and innovation.

Art reflects the world we live in, and science and technology increasingly permeate our lives. More and more artists and arts organizations are incorporating science and technology into their works, at times quite intentionally, and other times because it's already a natural part of their process. There's certainly strong interest from arts institutions in employing technology to broaden audiences, but I think there's an even wider gulf between arts administrators and  technologists. It always sounds easier than it actually is, and there are few best practices for the appropriate use of technology to engage audiences at exhibits and performances. We still have a lot of work to do!

Overall, I hope through art+science collaborations we can achieve a deeper understanding of both that demonstrates there's not as much distance between them as is generally thought. Perhaps we can gain further insight into both the artistic and scientific processes and find ways to combine and leverage each to greater effect.

Gregory Mack:  As an art+science “hybrid” (astrophysicist/modern dancer), I have actively sought out ways to combine my two interests and explore what it means to operate in that space. I and others like me have our own internal forces that drive us to produce work that integrates both our passions and unites our different perspectives on the world. For those like me and also for others who are grounded securely in one field but have an interest in the other, I think the internet has played a huge role. Scientists can see others like them who have worked with artists, and artists have seen examples where their peers have collaborated with scientists.  Even though I exist in both the arts and science spaces, I still needed some instigation to propel me to advance my initial inklings. In other words, I had some ideas but once I realized a community existed, I felt encouraged to explore. This exposure takes away the barrier of thinking you’re the only one and realizing that such things are possible. However, that is still an internal force, pushing someone to realize their curiosity about the matter.

External forces are rarer. There are some universities that actively push for interdisciplinary collaboration and some organizations put out calls for projects. Federal agencies like the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Science Foundation have held summits on the topic and funded a relatively small number of initiatives at this intersection. This has caused more people to become aware of these opportunities. As more organizations begin to encourage exploration, suddenly a whole new realm of possibility can seem to open for the “creatives” – a group to which both artists and scientists belong.

In working at this intersection, whether as a hybrid or otherwise, meaningful results are desired on each side. Is the art more than just a tool? Is the science more than just a subject? Successful integrations would create something that would be more than it would be if just a scientist were working on it or if only an artist were. It would be something exciting that would end up teaching something unintended to each side.

What is possible? The endlessness of creativity allows many things to be possible at this intersection. It is important to realize what one side can beneficially offer the other. For example, science can provide motivation, stylistic elements, and context to dance. Dances can be made utilizing scientific concepts, processes, methodologies, and concepts. On the other hand, dance can give science a visual, physical, and social context and connection. Each field has a way of revealing new ideas and connections in the other. Expounding on this, there are ways to use dance and dancers to gain insight into scientific concepts, ways to incorporate science or technology into dances, ways to incorporate social science studies into dance performances and methods…the list goes on. If you have the right collection of like-minded individuals, quite a lot can happen. For example, I recently was able to debut a math-inspired modern dance called “Iteratia” at the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) thanks to The Director of Cultural Programs of the NAS, J.D. Talasek. This dance, which I performed and created collaboratively with Sarah Hixon (artistic director of Hixon Dance) and Amanda Whiteman (artistic director of GroundShare Arts Alliance), was only able to happen because of the opportunity provided by Talasek, the resources provided by the NAS, and the ability of Hixon and Whiteman to come together with me and work to make a dance with the use and inspiration of a mathematical process. The right combination of opportunity, resources, and talents can yield many possibilities.

Lucinda:  There are several important forces currently driving the emerging arts/science intersections. These include: 
  • The national need for a workforce that can innovate in all areas
  • The exponential growth of technology that is driving awareness of the importance of these intersections while at the same time offering growing possibilities for the enhancement of these intersections
  • The growing body of arts data concerning education that demonstrates the value of the arts in promoting important student dispositions and learning capabilities. This data also points to the importance of the intersections of the arts with other disciplines. 
  • The increasing amount of anecdotal information in education that points to the importance of the arts/science intersections in increasing subject engagement, understanding, and learning
  • The emerging findings in neuroscience that support the importance of viewing problems, phenomena, and everyday activities through a variety of lens and that also support the importance of taking the synthesis of various viewpoints and disciplines into creating novel solutions.

Through the art/science intersections, people hope to achieve:
  • Enhancement of both the arts and science fields through deepening an understanding of each. This is accomplished through looking at each discipline with different lens, which opens the doors for innovation thinking and novel solutions.
  • A more wholistic view of the world and phenomena by erasing the age-old boundaries between disciplines to develop a greater, more realistic world view.
  • An innovation-thinking populace in all demographics and disciplines
  • Greater self-efficacy for individuals.
What is possible to achieve? There are important possibilities. Among them are:
  • In education, a model for collaboration between the arts and sciences that can provide a model for collaboration among all disciplines
  • Generations of students who are more effective problem-solvers both in and out of school
  • Greater student interest in learning and in staying in school
  • An increased use of these intersections in arts and science museums to deepen understanding of the museum collections and to foster creative and innovation thinking skills in museum audiences of all ages
  • In all fields, a more wholistic view of the world that promotes intersections between various disciplines
  • In individuals of all demographics, an enhanced world view and sense of self-efficacy, resulting in a workforce with an increased ability to innovate.
Bill O'Brien:  My favorite playwright, Eugene O’Neil, described his life’s work as an effort to explain the mysterious forces behind life that shape human destiny.  That’s an enormous challenge to jump out of bed to confront every morning! He conducted his artistic inquiries across the disruptive eras of World War I and World War II, when there was a profound need for making sense and meaning of the “new normal” of our rattled world.  I suspect there is a similar force driving emerging energies today at the intersections of art, science and humanities.  We also live in a time of great disruption, and images of our present and future are filled with mystery, promise and peril.  The sense of urgency surrounding all of this can create a strong sense of mission and purpose for people converging at these intersections to combine forces in an all-hands-on-deck approach to confront the biggest challenges and opportunities we face today.  

As an example of how these synergies can inform and catalyze new contexts and approaches; the NEA recently released an executive report from a working group the agency co-convened with the Santa Fe Institute that brought together thought-leaders from psychology, neurobiology, neuro-technology, education and the arts to conduct a transdisciplinary investigation into “How Creativity Works in the Brain”.  These experts were assembled from across these disciplines in the hopes of gaining a new and broader understanding of how creativity functions both in the brain and across these various domains.  Questions pursued included how artists working across multiple disciplines could help shape our understanding of the creative process and illuminate new insights on how creativity could be studied more effectively.  As mentioned in the report: "Imagine the potential for our nation's health, education, culture, and productivity if we were able to truly understand the anatomy of our 'aha' moments, and how they can be nurtured, optimized, and deployed,"

Thank you panelists.

Tomorrow's question asks how we can scale up the intersections between the arts and sciences.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit

Reminder:  Please send me your nominations for inclusion on this year's Top 50 Most Powerful and Influential leaders in the U.S. nonprofit arts.


  1. The intersection of arts and science is alive and well! The Alliance for the Arts in Research Universities (a2ru) has a Call for Proposals for 'third space' exemplars at the intersection of arts and other fields; likewise the SEAD network is seeking white papers within science, engineering, arts & design: Per Lucinda's bulleted remarks, the tide is rising!

    1. Hi Laurie!

      I'm so glad to learn about a2ru - what a great initiative!