Opposites don’t always attract when it comes to relationships between artists and scientists. So PositiveFeedback is fostering collaborations between these professional circles with speed-dating and mixers scheduled near Valentine's Day.
Dozens of artists and scientists met at the Noguchi Museum on Sunday, eager to meet their potential partners. These partners, however, aren’t the romantic sort. (Well, they could be but that’s not what this event is about.) They are getting together in the name of climate change, not love.
According to PositiveFeedback, a consortium led by Columbia University's Earth Institute, NYU's Center for Creative Research, and the CUNY Institute for Sustainable Cities:
The nervous system that interweaves artists, researchers, and the concerned public is largely disconnected … Now more than ever, the climate needs artists and scientists to partner up and marry hard science with interpretive media.
So, why artists and scientists? Let’s face it, scientists aren’t typically the world’s best storytellers, and artists, who by definition are creative communicators, could help deliver scientific messages that better resonate with the masses. Scientists aim for the brain; artists, for the heart.
Yesterday, I spoke to Lisa Phillips, a co-director for PositiveFeedback and the executive director of the Earth Institute's Lenfest Center for Sustainable Energy. We discussed how the gathering went and how the project first got started.
The idea sprung from a two-day event in 2009 called Tipping Point, which brought local climate scientists and artists together. “The participants said very explicitly that they needed it, the infrastructure and support,” said Phillips. “They didn’t know how to find each other, or have ways to meet each other, and needed ways to connect.”
This weekend's mixer was a follow-up to a speed-dating program held in December, as part of the U-n-f-o-l-d exhibition at Parsons (see “Climate Change as Muse”). Artists and scientists connected for brief four-minute dates, regardless of gender. After each meeting, they marked down whether the person was someone they’d like to work together with. PositiveFeedback is still calibrating those matches made in December. "We’re doing the back-end manually ... We need to go digital!” said Phillips. In the meantime, she told everyone if they met someone during speed dating, they should invite them to the Noguchi.
Jeremy Pickard, Mary Miss, and Eric Sanderson discuss their artist-scientist collaborations.
About 70 people showed up Sunday, even better than the 60 or so that had turned out for December's speed-dating soirée. “It’s nice when you look around the room and you don’t just see familiar faces, but also some strangers,” said Phillips.
Mary Miss and Eric Sanderson spoke to the crowd about their collaborations. Miss, an artist, has an ongoing project called “City as Living Laboratory.” She uses the urban landscape as a canvas for installations, events, and interactive activities embedded with lessons on sustainability. Sanderson is an ecologist at the Wildlife Conservation Society and was largely responsible for the amazing Mannahatta project (see “Spotlight: Mannahatta”) that recreated Manhattan’s landscape from 1609, when Europeans were first arriving. Sanderson and Niss discussed how hard science and interpretive media (better known as “art”) could join forces, how the collaborative process can work, and what to expect when working with someone well outside of your field. After the chat, the groups got to mingle.
Ultimately, Phillips says PositiveFeedback isn’t trying to force anyone to work together. “We’re providing the petri dish,” she said. “We don’t want to play matchmaker, but allow for organic discoveries and projects to evolve naturally.”