Innovative Art-Science Programming for Diverse Audiences

In Sunday afternoon’s session “Innovative Art-Science Programming for Diverse Audiences,” attendees were greeted with two hands-on activities to both demonstrate simple activities that blend art and science and to open attendees’ minds to the ideas and examples that were about to be presented. Janella Watson from the New York Hall of Science (NYSCI) in Queens kicked off the session by discussing NYSCI’s “design, make, play” approach to all of its programming. Watson explained that design emphasizes problem solving, make invites tinkering and thinking with the hands, and play provides delight and promotes intrinsic motivation. The key elements of this “design, make, play” strategy include collaboration and co-creation, exploration for young learners, building a community, and documentation and sharing.

Gale Robertson from the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) and Amy Homma from the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, both part of the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., were next to present, discussing the collaboration between their two institutions. They explained that, to them, art and science are like chocolate and peanut butter: great when enjoyed separately, but even better together. The two museums work together on Art + Science Workshops, which target teens between 14 and 19 years old. These workshops all share certain characteristics:

  • Collections-based
  • Include direct access to guest scientists or artists
  • Include tools of the trade, so teens use the same tools that scientists for artists would use in their work
  • Utilize museum exhibits and go behind the scenes
  • Provide time to explore with little instruction
  • Show connections between art and science processes
  • Build a community through collaboration.

Some examples of Art + Science Workshops include Amplify, which focused on macrophotography, Tattoo Universe, which featured a tattoo anthropologist from NMNH, and Humanosaurus: Dino-fy Yourself, which allowed teens to use their love of cosplay to learn about dinosaurs. The team encounters many challenges when creating these workshops, such as finding staff with interest and experience in both art and science, deciding how much of a role the guest scientist or artist will play in the program, and determining how much instruction to provide.

Finally, Mike Petrich from the Exploratorium in San Francisco discussed the Tinkering Studio’s process of creating an activity where visitors play with and learn about light. The activity uses a version of light space modulators to create changing patterns in a display box, perfectly blending the science of tinkering and simple machines with the creation of beautiful shadow patterns.