U.Va. and Community Launch Collaborative Science & Art Project

December 09, 2008

December 8, 2008 — The University of Virginia, in conjunction with a group of regional artists, on Thursday will launch a new Science & Art Project, an initiative to promote experimental alliances between artists, scientists and visionaries for the expansion of new ideas and creative work.

Scientists and artists from the University and the community are invited to attend the launch event Thursday from 6 to 8 p.m. in the U.Va. Art Museum.

The event will provide an opportunity for artists and scientists at the University and in the wider community to come together to discover connections and possibilities for collaborative projects or to spark new ways of looking at their current work.

"The initiative recognizes the commonality of creativity in science and the arts and the intersection of multiple disciplines," said Tom Skalak, U.Va.'s vice president for research, who will be joined in launching the initiative by Rosamond Casey, a McGuffey Art Center visual artist and teacher; sculptor and installation artist Susan Crowder; and Elizabeth Turner, vice provost for the arts.

"It's an opportunity for people to network and discover shared interests across disciplines, sparking unexpected innovations at the boundaries of traditional fields," Skalak added.

The launch event will be modeled on the "speed dating" concept of spending a few minutes with one person to talk about their work and then move on to the next with the goal of discovering common interests. The local experiment is expected to culminate in numerous exhibits and presentations of projects generated through the initiative.
A Web site, www.virginia.edu/sciartproject, will also debut Thursday to facilitate contact between scientists and artists. It will enable each to search out others with similar interests in an online directory. The Web presence will also be the first step in what is envisioned as a national and global extension of the U.Va.-supported initiative to create a University- and Charlottesville-based model of collaboration and discovery for what Skalak describes as the "innovation and creativity-based society" we are becoming.

"This occasion highlights our desire to create a new community around shared interests and questions," Turner said. "This is only the beginning. In launching the Web site as a resource, we envision a national and international network connecting and featuring cutting edge collaboration in science and art."

The Science and Art Project grew out of a Spotlight Discussion Series that Casey organized at Charlottesville's McGuffey Art Center. Casey invited Skalak, James Coan, director of the University's Affective Neuroscience Laboratory, and Susan Skalak, a former design engineer at IBM and U.Va. faculty member, to participate in a discussion titled "How Ideas Emerge in Science and Art."

Coan had worked on a collaborative project, "Eye and I," with a performance artist that helped create new understanding about autism and exposure for his research in a way that was accessible to the general public.

The initiative is geared to provide an institutional framework to encourage collaboration that is already happening by chance, Skalak said.

"A lot of artists are increasingly engaged in understanding systems outside their media. They are curious about the world and the big questions," said Casey, who teaches courses that involve investigating new ways of thinking about art projects. Her own work focuses on psychological issues and she is excited about talking and collaborating with a psychologist for a project, she said.  

Skalak noted that the dialogue between art and science has fascinated practitioners of both for centuries, from Renaissance artists and their exploration of the science of optics and the development of perspective to abstract artists such as Robert Irwin, a contemporary artist whose works frame his perception of the world. Irwin employed technologies and materials from the aerospace industries during the 1970s to experiment and create unique site-specific works emphasizing the interplay of light and space.  

"We are entering a conceptual stage," Skalak said. "Society is in flux, and the initiative is a model for innovation and creativity in our society."

— By Jane Ford