The Art / Science Dating Game

by |March 25, 2013
PositiveFeedback event

Photo: PositiveFeedbackUSA

By Magdalena Dewane

The name Leonardo da Vinci solicits immediate reaction and respect from both the arts and sciences communities. However, da Vinci did not view these communities as separate entities—rather, he believed that art was unequivocally connected with both science and nature.

The arts and sciences are a combination of imagination and intellect, which is precisely what PositiveFeedback strives to bring together through its facilitation of partnerships between climate change scientists and innovative artists.

PositiveFeedback is an initiative of the Earth Institute, Columbia University, NYU and the CUNY Institute for Sustainable Cities; its mission is to explore the possibilities that lie at the intersection of art and science. By supporting collaborations between artists and scientists focused on climate change, PositiveFeedback hopes to amplify the ability of both disciplines to reach broader audiences.

On March 27 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, PositiveFeedback and the Met will host The Art and Science Dating Game: How Artists and Scientists Find Each Other…And What Happens Next?  This event, which will serve as a “how to” for both scientists and artists, will feature a dialogue between three pairs of collaborators. Moderated by Nilda Mesa, associate dean for administration at Columbia University’s School of Journalism, the event is meant to inspire and motivate individuals, whether coming from the arts or science community, or even those curious about climate change and the intersection of the two fields.

One pair that will be featured at the event includes Kenneth Broad, co-director of the Center for Research on Environmental Decisions and National Geographic Explorer of the Year (2011), and New York City-based artist Eve Mosher, creator of the High Water Line art project.

Mosher notes that while the relationship between them is very new, it is exciting and very important. “I think that cross pollination can be really helpful to both practices. We both operate as experimenters. … Through [Broad’s] research and knowledge, I hope to create greater methods of engagement, longer-lasting experiences and a deeper cultural shift through creative interactions.”

“It’s safe to say that the scientific community by itself is not going to ‘solve’ the climate challenge.” Broad said. “Scientists are not trained to communicate to the public [while] artists are able to communicate effectively with certain sectors of society in subtle ways.”

Existing collaborations fueled by PositiveFeedback have been showcased in and around New York City, including the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory’s fall open house. Lamont played host to a performance art piece related to natural disasters, a product of the partnership between theater artist Jeremy Pickard’s group, Superhero Clubhouse, and climate change scientist Nicole Davi, a dendrochronologist with the Tree Ring Lab at Lamont.

According to Pickard, collaborations like his broaden perspectives and redefine the scientific process for the public. “Learning about Nikki’s work carved new pathways in my brain for climate change-related performance,” Pickard said. “Theater can serve as a way to personalize science … to offer a model for how all people can come together surrounding the issues that science illuminates.”

For Davi, the opportunity to collaborate was both fun and different. “Scientists are trained to always be on the lookout for new methods and approaches in their research—why not extend this to how we communicate our work?”

Both Davi and Pickard are hopeful for their future projects. “We can ignite a change in the way people think about science and cast it in a creative light, full of interesting human stories of struggle, passion, curiosity and advances in knowledge,” Davi said.

According to Lisa Phillips, co-director of PositiveFeedback, the goal is not for scientists to benefit from the work of artists, or vice versa, but for artists and scientists to reach an understanding of each other’s work that will benefit the greater community. “We seek to cultivate work that is not just interdisciplinary, but transdisciplinary.”

These collaborations are both unique and important in today’s world. To an artist, hearing “da Vinci” might conjure the image of The Last Supper; to a scientist, it might spark visions of the first bicycle or airplane. For PositiveFeedback, da Vinci serves as a source of inspiration for how artists and scientists can come together to enrich the public’s understanding about climate change.

The Art & Science Dating Game will take place Wednesday, March 27 at 6 p.m. at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. For information and tickets, visit the Met website. A 25 percent discount is available for friends of PositiveFeedback: just mention the code “Positive32713” to pay only $20 when purchasing tickets by phone at 212-570-3949 or in person at the Great Hall Box Office. Students pay $15.

Magdalena Dewane is a communications intern at the Lenfest Center for Sustainable Energy and an MPA candidate (’13) in environmental science and policy at the School of International and Public Affairs. She currently serves as online senior editor for the Journal of International Affairs at Columbia.

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