One hard limit on the number of science-art collaborations that can get underway is simply the number of potential collaborators.
It is worth asking the question: Out of all the scientists and artists in Australia, how many might be interested in undertaking a cross-disciplinary collaboration?
One in three? One in ten? More like one in a thousand?
One factor influencing that figure is how many scientists or artists are even aware that such cross-disciplinary projects exist. How familiar are they with the work of science-arts practitioners? How many science-art projects have they encountered, and were they successful examples or failures?
I suspect there are many scientists and artists who would be willing and eager to collaborate across disciplines, but who are simply not aware that this is possible, or how to go about it.
In London, science-art work is far more visible and held in higher regard than in any other city I have visited, and also has a higher ratio of practitioners from both disciplines involved in interdisciplinary collaborations.
In my own experience, I have encountered numerous scientists and artists who are completely unfamiliar with the idea of science-art, let alone any concrete examples. Among those who have been made aware of the existence of this field, a not-inconsiderable number have gone on to pursue their own forays into the field.
I believe that if more people from both the science and arts communities are exposed to science-art, there is a strong likelihood that more scientists and artists will recognise the potential benefits and initiate their own collaborative projects. Sometimes people only need the knowledge that something is possible in order to do it themselves.
Campaigns communicating the concept of science-art practice, as well as the specific outcomes of science-art projects, should be targeted at the science and arts as well as the general public, and tailored appropriately for each audience.
This does not entail a marketing campaign: artists and scientists do not need to be ‘sold’ the idea of interdisciplinary collaboration, but rather informed of its existence, its strengths and limitations, and the spectrum of work being produced under its aegis.
- Who initiates collaborations?
Another question around the formation of new collaborations is: Who initiates cross-disciplinary collaborations: the scientist or the artist?
My research indicates that the answer is: both, in roughly equal measure. Sometimes an artist approaches a science institution with an idea for a new work, sometimes a scientists will contact an arts community with an interesting avenue for new research.
But in addition to these, many collaborative projects are initiated by a third party, an organisation or an individual with a particular area of interest, who brings together a group of artists and scientists in order to make it happen.
These matchmakers include festival curators, museums and science centres, government departments, arts venues, research institutions and independent producers.
An example of one such matchmaking organisation is the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS), a science synthesis centre in Santa Barbara in Canada. The primary activity of synthesis centres such as NCEAS is to run workshops, bringing together a diverse group of experts for a week to tackle a challenging theme or problem.
Although the centre is primarily intended for scientific synthesis, NCEAS has invited a number of artists to participate in workshops. Director Frank Davis explained, ‘By bringing in people from across disciplines, the work tends to happen at a higher level. Involving participants from more diverse backgrounds sometimes helps to produce more compelling stories with greater impact.’
Alongside scientist and artist collaborators themselves, it is important to recognise the value of those organisations and individuals who are bringing practitioners together and making those connections.