CU Student Scholars and Community-Based Artists Bring Together the Arts and Science for Community Action

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By Lisa Schwartz


In the Art + Science + Action Partnerships cohort, CU Boulder graduate students and artists and arts organization leaders in Colorado connect with each other, expert mentors and community partners to catalyze community action on complex social and environmental issues. The program, co-organized by the Office for Outreach and Engagement and Boulder County Arts Alliance (BCAA), launched in spring 2021 with an inaugural cohort. Members of the second cohort were chosen earlier this month.  

Experiencing Art + Science Partnerships this fall

Artists and scientists from the inaugural cohort will welcome the public at several November events and showcase the cohort’s community-engaged projects. Please join us with your friends and families. Event details.

“I think curious people will be surprised and delighted by these projects!” said Heather Beasely, Associate Director, Butterfly Effect Theatre of Colorado (BETC).

Cohort members were required to build project teams consisting of scientists, artists and community members. A key benefit of the cohort was the opportunity to collaborate with and learn from fellow participants and for members to expand their networks of colleagues and collaborators. 

“It was a great opportunity to talk and collaborate with people outside of academia and get a fresh perspective on science issues relevant to community members. It also gave me a sense of community to be able to participate in this program and get to know our wonderful cohort. The diversity of thought that artists and scientists bring to such a partnership has the power to take environmental issues out of a lab and make them more human, more personal,” shared Vishal Ray, aerospace engineering PhD candidate and member of the inaugural cohort. 

Maren Waldman, CU Dance alumna and community-based dancer and performance artist, wrote, “The cohort and resulting collaboration helped launch me into the work I’ve been dreaming of doing for years. I now have access to an incredible extended community of artists and scientists interested in this work. Perhaps most importantly, I now have the confidence and connections to participate in this challenging, rewarding work of partnering the arts and sciences for community action.”

Leading with shared “points of wonder” to address challenging issues

Relying on their own experiences and what they learned through interviews with experts, the program’s guidelines were created by Patrick Chandler, PhD candidate in environmental studies at CU Boulder, and Emmanuelle Vital of Pure Inspirations, Steamboat Springs. Core to the guidelines are how to grapple with issues of power and status, when partnering the arts and sciences together and with communities. 

“By bridging the gap between the sciences and the arts and allowing for true, inclusive and non-hierarchical collaboration, we open avenues for local action and systemic change,” shared Vital.

Chandler added, “If we look at the most challenging issues we currently face, such as climate change, from a purely research perspective, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and depressed. Art allows the creative, intuitive and emotional aspects of ourselves to come through. Bringing art and science together in partnership allows us to reimagine and recreate the world and find pathways to action that can overcome barriers that many science-only projects face.”

One example of finding common ground is by identifying “points of wonder,” which is  a key idea in the Art + Science Partnership Guidelines. The concept was generated by Marda Kirn of EcoArts Connections. Kirn posits that both artists and scientists have a point of wonder, and that sharing a common point can help level out power and status and bring people together as equal investigators of an idea. 

“Our cohort is inviting the public to come engage with our points of wonder, to be open to new ways of questioning and responding to the challenges around us, and to be moved – and then, to help move the bar to create a more sustainable, just and habitable world,” said Erin Robertson, BOCO Wild Writers.

Expanding the work across geography and disciplines

The new 2021-22 cohort joins CU Boulder students with Boulder-affiliated artists, as well as artists from Steamboat Springs and Trinidad. They will work to address place-based climate change issues in their communities. Lisa Schwartz, program co-lead from the Office for Outreach and Engagement, shared that the cohort program connects strongly to the office’s commitment to bridging university and community endeavors that address issues of equity, diversity and inclusion — values shared with BCAA. 

“We’re excited to include a wider range of Coloradans in the second cohort that was selected in September. The Arts + Science + Action program aims to create structures that help urban and rural Coloradans collectively address social and environmental issues, such as water and fire, that are interconnected across our state and region,” said Schwartz.

Program leaders and participants recently had the opportunity to share with leaders from around the state when they presented at the Colorado Creative Industries conference on Oct. 1.