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K-State Today

July 27, 2016



Diverse group of artists, scientists and educators are inspired to think collaboratively

By Carol Blocksome

Fifty university faculty and students, K-12 teachers and artists from across the state convened on July 15 at the Konza Prairie Meeting Hall to engage in cross-disciplinary discussion, presentations and activities.

"Swell of undercurrent in STEAM — science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics — in Kansas — finally!" exclaimed one participant on the post-event evaluation form. Another enthused, "There is more interest in this topic than I could have hoped."

Among the speakers:

Eva Horne, Division of Biology faculty member and assistant director of Konza Prairie, presented on the tallgrass prairie ecosystem and provided examples of her photography of plants and animals.

Carlos Castellanos, assistant professor of art, shared examples of art-science projects that incorporate living organisms and natural environments, including his own art installation in Hong Kong that monitors water quality in an urban lake.

Linda Duke, director of the Beach Museum, led a visual thinking activity, revealing the layers of observation and interpretation we apply to visual art.

Matthew Coolidge, guest artist from the Center for Land Use Interpretation, provided the keynote address. His work involves bringing audiences to new understandings of how humans interact with the earth. By employing a wide variety of media and activities, he encourages the public to see what is all around them in novel ways.

The final presentation of the day was made by Al DeSena and Saran Towmbly of the National Science Foundation. Examples of funded art-science collaborations were shown and discussed, and the types of projects sought by the NSF Education Directorate were described. DeSena and Twombly explained that the intellectual merit and broader impacts sections of grant applications are generally where art-science collaboration is detailed. Several workshop participants were surprised to learn that the National Science Foundation provided "funding for underdeveloped art-science projects."

The day ended with a discussion of next steps. Comments on the evaluation forms indicated a strong interest in another event that would feature discussion of potential collaborative projects among participants and to develop a deeper acquaintance of participants, their work and interests.

"It is possible for me to meet and work with scientists and academics," one artist learned. "I have already started to think about the possibilities of collaborations," commented another workshop participant.

The art-science workshop was supported by a K-State Academic Excellence Award and the Spencer Museum of Art at the University of Kansas. The project's team included Carol Blocksome, principal investigator, horticulture and natural resources; Linda Duke, Beach Museum of Art and Prairie Studies Initiative; Celka Straughn, Spencer Museum of Art; Rhonda Janke, Kansas State University professor emeritus; Carlos Castellanos, art; and Eva Horne, biology.