Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Blogathon on the Intersections of Art and Science - Day 4

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

Day Four Question:
What obstacles do these collaborations face and how can they be better supported?  What kinds of research would help in soliciting that support?
Gregory:  Two main obstacles these collaborations face are a lack of support from closed-minded individuals and institutions and a lack of financial support. Those of us working at the intersection of the arts and science cannot become complacent and assume that everyone else realizes the importance of these investigations. I can imagine that some universities may not think these are worthwhile investigations, and may hold them against tenure-track professors in their tenure reviews. We must try to get others to understand the benefits of these activities. This includes being able to cite specific studies of these benefits. More research or evaluation can be done to record and/or measure the outcomes of these activities. That information, both qualitative and quantitative, contributes to the case to support these efforts. While analyses of successful projects funded by various mechanisms and individual agencies can be done, the National Academy of Sciences also could do a study of the other impacts these activities have, such as on education, for example. If the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the National Science Foundation could have a combined initiative that jointly reviewed and funded awards then that would provide a powerful statement to which many close-minded individuals might pay attention. Aside from national funding agencies, foundations are places where support could be sought, especially those that are willing to think along these lines.

We must be able to present a clear case in order to be advocates. Our message must include successful outcomes, evidence of the advancement of both fields, and statements and evidence of the impacts that integrating these fields can have on other aspects such as education, understanding, broadening participation among underrepresented groups, and innovation.

Youngmoo:  The first obstacle is simply proximity and frequency of intersection. Collaborative opportunities involving artists and scientists are relatively few and far between. The ExCITe Center and similar entities are attempts at overcoming these, but each community needs to develop pathways that work best for the activities and assets of their local region to enable intersection and interaction.

Of course, potential sources of support for new endeavors (federal grants, foundations, and philanthropy) also tend to be over-focused and highly disciplinary. Funding organizations, for all their pronouncements to the contrary, are generally risk averse and cater to mature activities and long-established organizations. It's going to take a significant (expensive) effort to reshape global thinking on arts+science, so I believe it's going to require a great deal of support, meaning multiple investments at the scale of centers for the performing arts or medical research.

More generally, another obstacle to collaboration is the greater weight given to quantitative measures versus qualitative outcomes. There’s a tremendous allure to the quantitative, because it enables us to label one thing as "better" than another. Engineers (including myself) are never happier than when we’re “optimizing” something, which means we've identified some metric (or "objective function") to maximize or minimize. But we all know that metrics can be misleading, and there are myriad variables to consider during assessment. The arts provide exposure to problems for which there aren’t “right” answers (as is often the case in the sciences). There’s no one “right” answer for performing Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony--there are many great performances and recordings (and likely even more bad performances :-), but the most impactful part is the process of working collaboratively to develop a "solution" (performance). Having some facility with that process opens up new avenues for innovation.

This is an emerging area of research with some compelling studies. For example, there's Robert Root-Bernstein's work highlighting the correlation between Nobel Prize winners and arts participation and James Catteral's longitudinal studies of arts exposure highly correlated with academic achievement in at-risk youth. But correlation is not causation, and more detailed research on the relationship between arts participation and scientific innovation is certainly warranted.

Rieko:  Again, one of the realities with cross-disciplinary collaborations is that it takes time, especially for teams to learn how to work together effectively.  Putting experts in the same room does not make an expert team - especially not right away.  The complexity is compounded when people come from different schools of thought and are used to different approaches for inquiry or for problem solving.  Knowing what challenges are common in art + sciences, and what they should be aware of, will help teams better navigate these obstacles.   We need research to better understand what tools can be effective when obstacles in arts + science collaborations come up.  

Bill:   One of the primary obstacles facing these collaborations has to do with how streams of support for art and science has evolved in ways that are divided and soloed.  For example, on the federal level the NEA is authorized to fund projects based on artistic excellence and artistic merit, which works extremely well for most of the projects that compete for the Endowment’s funding.  In a similar way, the National Science Foundation is authorized to fund projects based on scientific merit and broader impacts.  Both agencies have seen a recent uptick in applications seeking support for projects that involve both art and science, which is encouraging.  However it can be a real challenge to assess these projects holistically when the expertise and authority of the panel is effectively set up to assess one half of the equation.  Private foundations that support art and science are often divided in similar ways.  But there are positive signs that both public and private funders are beginning to address these challenges.  NEA, NSF and NEH have convened a working group to investigate how they can more effectively invest in these intersections and the Mellon Foundation is currently investigating strategies to support higher education in ways that span across the sciences, arts and humanities.  The kind of research that could be conducted to help validate these transdisciplinary advances might focus on gathering evidence on how these efforts can advance impacts across a host of societal concerns, like health, education, the ecology and economic development.  This could validate investment in these areas for a broad number of stakeholders.

Lucinda:  While there has been great movement towards intersecting the arts and science communities, there still exist obstacles. These obstacles and ways to address them are:
Firmly-entrenched, discipline-based mindsets that have been in place for many years. The 19th century factory model of discrete disciplines and tasks is no longer effective in our highly-fluid, technology-based 21st century world. To address these discrepancies, children need to be trained from the earliest ages to look at disciplines from multiple perspectives, to see the world from a wholistic viewpoint, and to use that viewpoint to solve problems. Individuals of all ages need to work to view the world wholistilcally and to use the synthesis of these various viewpoints to solve problems innovatively
Discipline-based systems that foster division. While it is important for each discipline to have its own system and set of networks, it also is important for these systems and networks to become more porous and open to intersections that include the viewpoints and perspectives of other disciplines.

The research that can best support the intersections of these disciplines is that which rigorously looks at the applications of these intersections to vital creative and innovation thinking skills. The Innovation Collaborative is conducting the first research of its kind that looks at the impact of these intersections on creative and innovation thinking in K-12 and out-of-school-time settings.

Julia:   The obstacle which science/art collaborators most commonly face is funding. For the artists, funding is hard to come by no matter what you’re doing, science-related or not. For scientists, while there is a bit more funding to go around, it is most always funneled through an institution, and for a specific area of research which is most likely involved in the treatment of diseases. It is an unfortunate reality that a lack of funding makes the exploration of new ideas more difficult, especially those ideas whose end goal is unknown. The National Science Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts are the two largest US-based grant giving organizations for the sciences and arts, but their funding is largely single-disciplinary and already struggles to cover their disciplines alone – perhaps this calls for a new funding agency altogether.

While it is a small amount, SciArt Center grants two members per year funds for their transdiciplinary work. One project we recently funded was a scientific study that utilizes the synesthetic paintings of an artist in order to better understand and quantify olfactory-visual synesthesia.

Thank you panelists.

The final question tomorrow asks how might the advances at these intersections benefit both sectors and the public at large - in both the short and long term.

Have a great day.

Don't Quit