Search This Blog

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Linking Artists and Scientists: Getting Down to the Basics of Creativity

by National Endowment for the Arts on Thursday, June 14, 2012 at 7:52am ·
by Whitney Dail

Image courtesy of San Diego Visual Arts Network

Creativity is a hot topic today. We as a society are fixated with asking, “What is creativity?” How are creative sparks ignited? And can these sparks lead to new ways of looking at the world around us? Well, the San Diego Visual Arts Network (SDVAN) asks: What could happen if artists and scientists partnered to explore its possibilities? SDVAN has organized a cross-disciplinary project that connects the arts with sciences to increase our understanding of creativity and its role in our daily lives. Their project DNA of Creativity brings together artists and scientists in the San Diego area for four different creative endeavors. These artist-scientist teams—with specialists in theater, music, visual arts, design, biology, engineering, mathematics, and physics--have begun collaborating to produce a series of activities, publications, and lesson plans centered on a variety of art/science works. The results of these collaborations will include a smartphone app for locating art events with augmented reality, structural design for preserving urban wildlife, theatrical skits surveying the aesthetics of art and science, and a multimedia exhibition raising awareness for marine conservation. To learn more about DNA of Creativity’s development and culmination, we spoke with Patricia Frischer, SDVAN’s founder and coordinator.

NEA: Patricia, can you tell me about the DNA of Creativity and how the project began?

PATRICIA FRISCHER: SDVAN is always searching for new collaborations and ways to build audience for the visual arts. Our high- and bio-tech industry are real drivers of the San Diego economy and involving science in art projects seemed a logical next step for our organization, which has put on numerous large-scale collaborative projects. The idea of the DNA of Creativity is to actually understand the added value that a project has when matchmaking an artist with a scientist. We could have also called the project the DNA of Innovation; but as we are a visual arts organization, we are comfortable with the word creativity.

Once I started to explore what was out there on the Internet about art and science in 2010, I realized there was definitely room for another project, especially in San Diego. I started gathering information, which eventually was shared on our DNA of Creativity blog. I was then contacted by Harvey Seifter who was putting together the Art of Science Learning conference in Chicago, San Diego, and Washington, DC. He wanted help getting out the word about his conference and--with our 4,000-5,000 unique visitors a month and one million hits a year--we were able to fill a few seats and also document the conference. I met some exciting people and felt confident that we were going in the right direction. We held one large networking gathering to see if there was popular interest with both artists and scientist locally. We used that occasion to discuss various types of collaborations and to start brainstorming possible projects. In no time at all we had more than 150 people interested in the project.

NEA: The mission of the project is described as “in-depth team explorations” to demonstrate the creative processes of overlapping artistic and scientific inquiry. What are some of the goals that have been set?

FRISCHER: Our mission for DNA of Creativity is to make connections between the art and science worlds with a goal of fusing the energies of both communities to produce a series of projects, which will enhance the viewing public’s perception of creativity and its role in our lives. We are a supporter of the idea of changing STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) into STEAM by adding the arts. The project is divided into four components. Teams of a minimum of five,with a combination of artists and scientists, choose a theme for their project, which they have approximately 18 months to realize. Then each team must document the process of the collaboration and how creativity/innovation is enhanced by the relationships of the team members. Each team has to create lesson plans based on their project theme and then make a public presentation of their project in whatever format they choose.

Our goals for this project are aligned with the general goals for the SDVAN. We hope to meet the challenge of making the complexities of art and science collaboration accessible to a new and enlarged audience. We want to showcase the aesthetics of both the arts and the sciences and enhance the viewing public’s perception of creativity and its role in our lives as thriving, positive, empowered, and fun. We hope that describing the creative process will encourage appreciation of excellence in the fields of art and science and reinforce the idea of San Diego as an innovation destination. It is important to us to create additional awareness for all the supporting organizations in this field including corporate, non-profit, political, and never forgetting educational. Invigorating students of all ages to support the arts and sciences either as participants or beneficiaries is always a high priority.

NEA: What do you see is the connection between art and science?

FRISCHER: There are numerous similarities between art and science. They both balance direct experience with thinking. They both need skills of design and craft. But the more interesting questions might be--what are the differences between art and science? We think of a scientist questing for those things that are repeatable and can be proven. Artists are often involved in fantasy as well as reality. What we have found is that many of the participants on the teams are both artists and scientist with the majority of those being scientists first and adding an interest in art later in their careers. The connection will certainly be varied and changing depending on the people involved and the theme of the project.

NEA: Where did the name "DNA of Creativity" come from?

FRISCHER: We really want to focus on the scientific components that contribute to the structure of creativity so DNA became our shorthand for that idea. I was actually surprised when none of our projects was focused on formal DNA studies, but maybe we are redefining the word.

NEA: How is DNA of Creativity funded?

FRISCHER: SDVAN is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization and we are funded by donations made by those who want us to reach our goals. We received donation for as little as $5. But in order to assure this project could be additionally funded, we received grants from private foundations including the Smart Family Foundation and the Seth Sprague Educational and Charitable Foundation.

NEA: Four artist-scientist teams have been selected to embark upon investigation with topics such as augmented reality, climate change, wildlife preservation, and aesthetics. How were the teams chosen?

FRISCHER: We were pleased that the selection committee for the grants included prestigious members of the arts and science community: Harvey Seifter, Art of Science Learning Director and Principal Investigator for the National Science Foundation grant; Ron Newby, Bronowski Art and Science Forum; and Ruth West, Research Associate, UCSD Research in Computing and the Arts…. This was not a competition but instead a desire to help teams work toward the best possible projects. We asked for help in assessment from the DNA of Creativity administration team in the early stages, looking for the following: extent of cross-disciplinary innovation; degree of scholarly risk-taking, integration of concept explored and form in which it is executed; feasibility for completion within the time frame; relevance to individual team members’ disciplines; ability to create a community involvement component to the project; PR-friendliness to raise awareness about all participants; and inclusion of for-profit corporations, businesses, and individuals as well as non-profit associations.

NEA: Kaz Mazlanka’s team proposed a series of participatory theatrical skits. What other types of artistic media will be explored?

FRISCHER: Jason Rogalski’s team will be constructing architects’ design habitats for wildlife, which will be mixed media constructions, the Batt App team will be looking into augmented reality software, and Kira Corser’s Changing Ocean team is looking at multi-media installation with glass, fabric, dance elements, and video.

NEA: What can we expect to see as outcomes from these art/science collaborations?  

FRISCHER: Because each team has to document the process of collaboration, we are expecting to see a variety of collaborative strategies demonstrated. Ruth West, who has vast experience in this field, helped us to pinpoint what those might be: putting the process of the scientist on view, reconceptualizing science and making it into art, challenging new cultural forms in a reflective use of science, and affecting science by pushing new scientific ideas to be formulated. We are hoping to showcase the added value that is gained when artists and scientists collaborate.

NEA: So far, have there been any challenges?

FRISCHER: Language is always a challenge when you put experts together as they have a developed vocabulary in their practices. Having worked with teams before, we know about the challenges of team collaborations. We have arranged a special workshop on team development, team management, meeting structure, and conflict resolution. As this is not a project that is funded with salaries for the participants, we are aware of time usage issues. That is one reason we wanted quite large teams instead of small teams to share the workload.

NEA: What are the plans for DNA of Creativity’s exhibition and education?

FRISCHER: We put no limit on the media and mediums that are acceptable by the teams. Some of the public presentations will be exhibitions, theatrical presentations, panel discussions, and lectures. The Oceanside Museum of Art has stepped forward and is offering exhibition space as is the Escondido Art Partnership, Southwest Fisheries Science Center, NOAA Fisheries Service, and Mira Costa College. Since collaborations are sought, we are open in the next year to make relationships with anyone interested in the project. We are expecting a minimum of one lesson plan from each of the projects and those will be published and available online for free. Results of the lesson taught by teachers and the project will also be highlighted on the DNA of Creativity website.

NEA: Any additional comments you would like to share?

FRISCHER: As a visual arts activist, one does not take on a project like this without a firm belief in the power of art to enlighten and enhance our lives.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Locations of visitors to this page