7.5.6. The Odds

6. The Odds

Perhaps the most important lesson from my research into arts-science projects is this: There is no formula for success.

Working across disciplines, developing innovative ideas and testing out new forms comes with a high risk of failure. This failure is essentially impossible to inoculate against.

The only proven way to guarantee a success is to have a large number of potential successes.

From a random sample of 20 science-art projects, it is very likely that at least a few will be successful. From a sample of five, a success is less likely. If you have only one project, the odds are not in your favour.

One significant example of this phenomenon is the Wellcome Trust’s success in stimulating science-arts practice in Britain.

The Wellcome Trust is a private UK charity with an estimated wealth of around £14 billion. In the early 1990s, the Trust decided to support the development of the nascent British science-arts community by providing funding to UK science-arts projects.

One science-art critic in the February 2014 London LASER science-art forum asserted that for the first 5-10 years of the Trust’s science-art funding programs, the work they supported was frequently regarded as mediocre or derivative. The perception, particularly among critics, was that science-art combined the worst of both worlds.

Then in the 2000s, popular and critical opinion shifted, and the work supported by Wellcome is now regarded as some of the most groundbreaking and potent art in Britain.

According to the forum’s participants, the secret to Wellcome’s success in this endeavour was simply sheer bloody-mindedness and deep pockets. The scale of the Trust’s wealth allowed it to absorb a near decade-long run of investments with no return, before their patience was rewarded and their insight proved correct.

It is uncommont to find the sort of wealth that would enable investment in the a scene that may not yield fruit for another decade. We have to be more particular with what we support and where we contribute resources, to stimulate the growth of a self-sustaining community of science-artists while being basically unable to bankroll it.

Still, the lesson from Wellcome is basically correct: We must enable large numbers of projects in order to be confident of having any successes.

Any support for Australian science-art project must take into account the high rate of failure in new interdisciplinary work and the necessity for a large number of projects to be supported in order to ensure an acceptable number of successes.