Art Works Blog

Art + Science = Opportunity

Jonah Bokaer and Judith Sanchez Ruiz in Replica by Bokaer and Daniel Arsham. Photo by Michael Hart, used courtesy of Chez Bushwick, Inc.

In 2011, with support from the National Science Foundation, the Exploratorium Museum in San Francisco convened some 125 artists for a summit entitled Art as a Way of Knowing. The purpose of the convening was to engage artists, scientists, educators, and thinkers in an investigation on how the arts can be engaged as a form of inquiry. As the report from the conference demonstrates, this interest is often charged by a desire to investigate ways that new knowledge and new insights can be acquired via arts experiments and experiences.

As demonstrated previously on this blog, there is increasing interest among practitioners from the arts, sciences, and humanities in topics and themes that lie at the intersections of these fields. At times these efforts and collaborations are spurred on by a perfectly valid desire to utilize the capabilities or tools from one field to benefit the other. For example, a scientist may enlist the aid of an artist or illustrator to help communicate her work to a broader audience. Or a lighting designer may employ new digital technologies and software capabilities that will allow him to work more efficiently. At other times these activities are propelled forward by a desire to experiment with how new technologies can inspire new artistic practice, or a desire to expand our knowledge and understanding of things that are not exclusively artistic or scientific in nature, but are rather matters of shared concern.

In November, the NEA announced a new wave of grants to support arts projects across 13 artistic disciplines and fields. More than 800 grants were listed in the announcement, a number of which will support a wide range of projects that focus on art and science.

For example, the Frank-Ratchye STUDIO for Creative Inquiry at Carnegie Mellon University is being recommended for support for residencies for up to eight artists in their “laboratory for atypical, anti-disciplinary, and inter-institutional research at the intersections of arts, science, technology, and culture.”

Dallas Opera is receiving a grant to support performances of Tod Machover and Robert Pinsky’s hi-tech opera Death and the Powers. The production will be directed by Diane Paulus and will feature designs by Alex McDowell, including a host of innovative sound and visual technologies developed for the production at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Lab. These include “operabots” and a new technique called Disembodied Performance, which employs gestural and physiological sensors and voice analysis to capture a singer’s offstage performance, which are then used to generate real-time, technologically enhanced representations of the performance on stage.

Underground Railway Puppets & Actors in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is receiving a grant to support the development and production of a new play from author/physicist Alan Lightman, Mr g: A Novel about the Creation. The play is part of the ongoing Catalyst Collaborative@MIT initiative in partnership with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and will be developed through dialogue between scientists, artists, audiences, and community organizations.

And in a project that perhaps best exemplifies the “Art as a way of knowing” conversation at the Exploratorium, Chez Bushwick in Brooklyn, New York, is being funded to support new work by choreographer Jonah Bokaer and his visual artist/collaborator Daniel Arsham. The piece will attempt to create illusions in space through the use of movement, visual design, lighting, and other forms of media in a work that is rooted in the team’s ongoing research on Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing (EMDR).

EMDR is an emerging integrative form of psychotherapy that has been developed in clinical settings to treat psychological disorders. It’s based on the theory that we process new experiences through our senses by linking or categorizing them with similar existing memories. Over time, these experiences and linkages create memory networks that inform our perceptions, attitudes, emotions, and sensations. In this new work, Bokaer and his creative collaborators will continue their ongoing experiments that use EMDR tests and principals as a creative element that creates illusions in space through the use of movement, visual design, lighting, and sound. This work builds on the team’s previous work, Replica which also incorporated EMDR experimentation and was the first choreographic work funded by the National Academy of Sciences.

Anyone interested in learning more about how the NEA can support art/science projects in the future are encouraged to join our art/science mailing list by emailing us at

We would also encourage you to consider submitting an application at our upcoming Art Works deadline on March 7. You can view an archive of a webinar highlighting NEA’s funding opportunities and application process along with further information on how art/science projects can be supported across all agency disciplines here.



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