I was lucky enough to attendĀ the Alliance for the Arts in Research Universities conference at the University of Georgia, Athens, in the beginning of November. The 2018 theme, Arts Environments: Design, Resilience, and Sustainability, explored the relationships between artistic processes and environmental practices.

A recurring topic discussed in panels and plenaries was art as a way to communicate science. Art can inspire a sense of wonder, thereby imparting value on parts of the world we regularly ignore and degrade. Combining artistic and scientific research methods fosters interdisciplinary dialogue and collaboration. However, employing art as merely a design tool runs the risk of translating ideas without recognizing art as its own investigative process.

To create a culture and center for combining art and science, equal time must be spent on social, active, and reflective steps, which form a cycle and build off of each other. For example, a social event where members of a university meet each other across disciplines and roles should precede an activity where people develop relationships through shared projects. Then, intentional time to reflect on the process allows for growth and change.

Below are a few sessions that I found especially inspiring:

Artful Rainwater Design:

This speaker gave numerous examples of how sculpture, landscape design, and infrastructure can be used to both conserve water and to help people visualize and appreciate the water cycle. Art is used as a strategy for humans to collaborate with the environment.

High Tide: Public Landscape Art Installation by Carolina Aragon in Boston’s North End

https://www.umass.edu/magazine/fall-2016/time-and-tide

Carolina Aragon described her approach of “making very pretty things about very scary topics.” Through a study using social science data collection techniques, she discovered the importance of site-specificity, or making art in a location that directly addresses the experiences of the population in that location. The sculptural installation illustrates future sea levels in a Boston neighborhood.

Tyler School of Art. Dye Garden

https://tyler.temple.edu/blog/natural-dye-garden-temple-community-garden-fibers-and-material-studies-program

Students, faculty, and administration worked together to create a visible, functional garden at the Tyler School of Art, part of Temple University. Textile and other art students will use the garden to dye materials and learn about social practice, gardening, and the history of certain plants, especially cash crops’ ties to slavery and race.

If you are interested in how art is used in research, consider attending next year’s conference, titled “Knowledges” at the University of Kansas.