Moving ArtScience into the Mainstream

Shilpa Gupta's Singing Cloud — the result of her collaboration with Harvard psychologist and neuroscientist Mahzarin Banaji — is an example of an ArtScience project that was exhibited at Le Laboratoire (in winter 2009).


Programs with ArtScience themes—exploring universal ideas, discoveries, innovations, and current topics—can promote greater understanding of humanity and cultural legacy, a topic that is increasingly important in today’s society. This is why ArtScience needs to reach wider audiences. This challenge requires proactive strategies to build acceptance and expand support in other institutions. Building audiences requires researching local communities, identifying the needs, and creating programming accordingly. Cultural institutions can act as cultural laboratories and hubs offering experiences to audiences that inspire hands-on and informal learning as well as active participation.


During the 1960s, artists began working collaboratively across disciplines and exploring overlaps at a time of unprecedented scientific and technological breakthrough. Creative practices fusing art, science, and technology have emerged with scientist-artists and artist-researchers, along with a handful of arts organizations nurturing emerging fields. Yet despite a growing number of creators, practitioners, and collaborators working within what is called “ArtScience,” traditional institutions in the cultural sector frequently dismiss or overlook the movement. Perceived disciplinary boundaries play a major role in preventing larger institutions from supporting projects at this intersection, as current missions do not allow for the inclusion of hybrid work and programming focuses on exhibition rather than research or creation.


At present, major concerns for ArtScience are centered on the shortcomings of institutional support systems and funding structures. Institutionalization exists in variations: academic settings, alternative art spaces, museums, research centers, and for-profit/nonprofit social enterprises as well as informal communities such as project spaces and DIY/maker spaces. Another concern is that few financial resources are available for work crossing disciplinary divides because funding structures are discipline-specific. Members of the ArtScience community are looking for financial support from the arts as well as science funders to provide access to high-tech equipment. But most grants are limited to organizations and academic institutions. ArtScience requires innovative funding approaches to accommodate for new forms of research, collaboration, and experimentation. For institutions and grant structures to change, organizations must understand the benefits behind supporting ArtScience as well as its multiplicity.


A number of organizations are involved in more than just showcasing by offering financial resources, residency opportunities, and project spaces in addition to educational workshops and outreach programs. In Europe, new institutions, such as Science Gallery and Le Laboratoire, have emerged as hybrids blending art, science, and technology and both nonprofit and for-profit business models. These organizations exist to transcend traditional boundaries, involve the public, and transform perceptions by focusing on social engagements and cultural activities. Programming at these organizations is unconventional; they offer rapidly changing exhibits, projects, and events based on current topics or themes as opposed to housing permanent collections. These new hybrids act as cultural hubs and destination centers that focus on building communities through a mix of cultural, humanitarian, educational, and commercial initiatives. Aspects of these models can be integrated into American cultural institutions and provide models for existing platforms and collaborations.


Adapting existing programming and frameworks is essential, but new resources and models are needed too. Cultural institutions can embrace roles of shared cultural spaces or incubators to co-opt the debate of integrating art and science. Organizations that operate with greater social purpose can create catalytic communities through initiating discussion and action, celebrating new ways of seeing and understanding, and promoting human narrative. The American cultural sector can potentially provide valuable environments and frameworks for interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary inquiry to occur. Arts and science organizations, along with new hybrid institutions, are capable of playing a major role in facilitating collaboration while building support for the intersection of art, science, and technology.


Ideally, the infrastructure of educational and cultural institutions requires dramatic change; new institutions are needed as well as new resources. But for ArtScience to continue to develop into an established field, the American cultural sector can adapt and improve missions and programming in small steps. Museums, nonprofits, and informal communities are just as vital to education and societal influence as schools, colleges, and universities. It is the responsibility of administrators in both art and science to play dedicated leadership roles in expanding the intersection of art, science, and technology. This can be done by creating new forms of programming, forging partnerships with other institutions, sharing the values of collaboration with constituents and corporations, building new audiences through targeted marketing, and offering training for intermediating and managing cross-disciplinary projects.


Organizations supporting ArtScience are confronted with actively pursuing and engaging audiences beyond traditional programming through multidisciplinary themes, outreach, and education. ArtScience needs intermediaries and liaisons to seek new constituencies and advocate policy changes. These days, presenting and networking outside of the organization is key. ‘Big-picture thinking’ is coming into play as many administrators are recognizing that a broad application of themes/topics is more valuable. Cultural institutions can act as a microcosm within a community by changing with shifting needs and trends, such as ArtScience. ArtScience needs to find a place within existing American institutions across the country, especially in Midwestern and Southern regions. New places will develop out of need, not force. For this to happen, the intersection of art, science, and technology needs to develop a bigger presence. The question is then: How can administrators create a need for ArtScience on a national level?