STEAM2017 Colloquium Highlights Collaboration Between Artists, Scientists

Pensacola — STEAM2017, a monthlong program of lectures, workshops and talks with artists and scientists, wrapped up at the Pensacola Art Museum Saturday morning with a free colloquium, which was presented as a series of salon-style discussions.

STEAM2017 explored how art adds to the disciplines of science, technology, engineering and math to examine issues related to the environment.

“By asking what art is, we create a natural bridge between humanities and science,” Thomas Asmuth, an assistant professor of digital media in the University of West Florida art department and one of the organizers of STEAM2017, said during opening remarks at the colloquium. “Artists and scientists come together to share exploratory visions.”

During the first discussion session of the day, “The Intersection of Art and Science,” Asmuth posed the question: “Is it possible for researchers from various disciplines to engage in a meaningful dialogue and create synergy?”

Panel members David Fries, an artist and research scientist at the Institute of for Human Machine Cognition in Pensacola, and Jiayi Young, an artist and assistant professor of design at the University of California, Davis led the discussion.

“Though they can communicate successfully, artists and scientists do speak different languages, and the main way that manifests itself is how scholarship is disseminated,” Young said.

Fries agreed with Young and added his own thoughts.

“In this day and age, big data often emerges when scientists explore issues, and that’s a major factor,” Fries said. “Scientists want to have different ways to articulate their data, and that presents motivation to depart from traditional methods. Artists can definitely help look at data with fresh eyes.”

Young offered an example of art students collaborating with genetics students at her school.

“Now, when these kinds of collaborative projects take place, it goes way beyond the artists participating by merely illustrating the science,” Young said. “The artists can ask questions in a different manner that benefits the operation as a whole.”

The second discussion panel addressed the overlap among art, science and activism and how these three worlds deal with environmental challenges of the future. Panel members talked about how artists bring a different perspective to scientific issues.

“Art teaches people to see and look carefully at issues,” said Nick Croghan, an artist and the gallery director at The Art Gallery at UWF. “It’s like getting back to beginner’s mind during a drawing class … art can make people interested in big issues (like the environment) and aware of what’s going on around them.”

Sara Gevurtz, an artist and instructor from Virginia Commonwealth University, led the panel of which Croghan was a member.

“People don’t have to be an expert to explore an issue,” she reminded audience members.

The last panel discussion of the day focused on wonder.

“Wonder occurs in the space between perception and knowledge,” Asmuth said. “The awe of the natural world inspires artists and scientists alike, instilling the need to try and make sense of surroundings.”

Panel members included Elizabeth Demaray, an artist and associate professor of fine art from Rutgers University; Robin Lasser, artist and professor of art from San Jose State University and Caitlin Rhea, an artist and professor at Pensacola State College. Claudia O’Steen, an artist and postdoctoral fellow at UWF, lead the panel.

“Both artists and scientists start a project in a state of wonder,” Rhea said. “Initially you are awestruck, and then you proceed with questions that satisfy your curiosity… children are known for asking ‘why’over and over, and we should resist the impulse to stifle that question.”

Demaray agreed with Rhea and expanded on the matter of curiosity in collaborations between artists and scientists.

“When they work together, people are often more comfortable with the artists asking the questions. Wondering about certain aspects of an issue can often focus a greater sense of value about that topic. Often, artists explore things and see things with new eyes… when it comes to big environmental issues, art can promote awareness first and then activism. Artists present us with new ways to frame problems.”

The art exhibit associated with the STEAM2017 colloquium is open through March 11 at The Art Gallery, also known as TAG, inside Building 82 on the UWF campus. TAG is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and from noon to 4 p.m. Saturday. Admission is free.

The UWF College of Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities sponsored STEAM2017, and The Florida Humanities Council, with a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, provided funding.