Monday, August 5, 2013

SYMBASA: Making our lives more "whole" through collaboration across science and art!

SYMBASA! WHAT? Arriving at the first SymbASA (Symbiosis Art and Science Alliance) meeting, which convened July 26-28, 2013, my Chiboogamoo (aka Tony Martin) and I were pleased at how well Warren Wilson College had provided signs to direct us around its campus. (photo by Ruth Schowalter, aka Hallelujah Truth)

Hallelujah for collaboration! Hallelujah for the minds and hearts of artists and scientists coming together to see what they can discover. Asking questions such as "How can science illuminate the arts?" or "How can the arts serve science?" or "When do science and art merge and become something altogether new and dynamic?"

On the last weekend of July 2013, Nance Lowe, founder and director of SymbASA, gathered together interested scientists, artists, and educators to discuss these questions on the campus of Warren Wilson College. This kind of dialogue across disciplines is riding the crest of an exciting new movement to address the EARTH's pressing problems such as climate change, habitat loss, decreasing natural resources, starvation and overpopulation, just to name a few. 

Surely scientists and artists working together fusing their imaginations is a productive approach to address these troubling issues and to create a new way of living and understanding of the world in the 21st Century. How can we all think differently, playfully, and intellectually, trying on new lenses and seeing through alternative filters?
BEAUTIFUL LOCATION TO DISCUSS SCIENCE AND ART! Set in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, Warren Wilson College is a spectacular place to meet and talk about the "emergence" that occurs when artists and scientists collaborate!  The seminar room had windows and an open door to this verdant campus. Here I am, Hallelujah Truth, on the eve of the SymbASA conference. The daily rain was cleansing and refreshing! (photo by Tony Martin)
WELCOME FROM NANCY LOWE (ARTIST and CITIZEN SCIENTIST). The very first SymbASA meeting started promptly at 8:30. Nancy Lowe, who single-handedly created SymbASA, planned this meeting, and made it happen, greeted a room full of scientists, artists, and educators on the last Saturday morning in July 2013. (photo by Ruth Schowalter, aka Hallelujah Truth)
Beginning a morning of presentations, Nancy Lowe welcomed us and enfolded our day in the 4-C's: COURAGE, CREATIVITY, CRITICAL THINKING SKILLS, AND CURIOSITY! What follows is a brief description of who spoke and what was said:
AMY BOYD, BIOLOGY and ENVIRONMENTAL STUDIES PROFESSOR. Amy was one of two Warren Wilson College faculty members who welcomed SymbASA attendees by giving short talks about the way she has integrated art and science in her courses.(photo by Ruth Schowalter, aka Hallelujah Truth)
Amy Boyd, a biology and environmental studies professor at Warren Wilson College, wants to ensure that her students are active in their learning. Therefore, she requires students to use art as a part of their observation practices. Whether they are looking through a microscope or walking out in nature, Amy asks her students to photograph or draw what they are examining. Without giving her students much guidance, she asks them to make a portfolio explaining important scientific concepts. She is currently developing a course I would love to take--"Recording Nature," in which she will ask students to capture their nature observations with photos, audio and video recording, and drawing!
BETTE BATES, ARTIST. Bette shared her student's artwork from the classes she teaches at Warren Wilson College. The images were directly inspired from nature. (photo by Ruth Schowalter, aka Hallelujah Truth)
Bette Bates began her talk by telling us that Warren Wilson College's art department was on the opposite side of the campus from her science colleague, Amy Boyd, but that she bridges the distance by incorporating nature observation in her art classes. Bette gets her students to be inspired through careful observation and quoted May Sarton for inspiration: "...If one looks long enough at almost anything, looks with absolute attention at a flower, a stone, the bark of a tree, grass, snow, a cloud, something like revelation takes place."
SYMBASA AUDIENCE. Paused momentarily because of technical difficulties, I took a photo of early morning SymbASA attendees.(photo by Ruth Schowalter, aka Hallelujah Truth)
KEYNOTE SPEAKERS--CAREY BAGDASSARIAN, , and ELIZABETH MEAD, ARTIST. (photo by Ruth Schowalter, aka Hallelujah Truth)
What if your professors wanted you to feel like you were seeing snow for the first time when you took their class? Then you would need to take a course from Carey Bagdassarian, chemistry professor and writer, and Elizabeth Mead, art professor and sculptor, at the College of William and Mary. They wowed us with their keynote presentation,"Emergent Dialogues," as they explained a collaborative course they teach at their college. Their talk was magical in its visual beauty and scientific depth as they introduced topics such as convergence, patterns, equations, unpredictability, flux, flow, play, epiphenomenon, complex systems, and number theory.

Taking joyful turns speaking, it was clear that the theoretical chemist and sculptor had developed a well-oiled avenue of communication through their science-art collaborations. But as Elizabeth explained, it was not without breakdowns and redefining words like "systems" and "structures." Their students, who benefit from these discussions, attend class in Elizabeth's art studio near a river. Carey and Elizabeth encourage them to be present and engaged by following a no-talking policy and sending them out in canoes "In Search of Small Gods (Jim Harrison)."

Imagine what students discover about themselves by designing and implementing this course's project, "measure something in nature." One mesmerizing slide showed how a student of theirs had decided to measure leaf fall in the forest by establishing a bed of moss to catch the falling leaves. 

Because Carey and Elizabeth's art-science collaboration, they have succeeded in giving their students a fuller world view and helped them to see how profound nature really is.
I wish Mark Hanf and Garius Hill had been collaborating when I was a child learning science, social studies and math. By creating "Aboard Spaceship Earth," they have succeeded in creating an interdisciplinary curriculum that addresses the different kinds of intelligence we humans possess. One of my favorite parts of this curriculum is that students learn in communities by sitting around and on a world map while interacting with one another, moving around creating data, recording it, and discussing its outcome. Then there is all the amazing electronic interactive work they can do. And much much more! Be sure to check out the links I have provided here.
SYMBASA WRITING WALL. Nancy Lowe encouraged an informal exchange by creating "writing walls," so conference participants could express their ideas about key topics being brought up at the meeting. In the photo above, one of the Warren Wilson College students is giving his answer while below, my Chiboogamoo, aka Tony Martin, writes his! What a great idea! (photo by Ruth Schowalter, aka Hallelujah Truth)

RUTH SCHOWALTER, ARTIST, BLOGGER, CITIZEN SCIENTIST and TONY MARTIN, ICHNOLOGIST, ARTIST, and WRITER. Tony and I co-presented on our collaborative artwork and Paleontologist Barbie interviews. (photo by Cherilynn Morrow)
It was an honor for my Chiboogamoo (aka Tony Martin) and me to be asked by Nancy Lowe to present at this first SymbASA meeting on our collaborative work in recent years. The key idea of our talk was that our work together has enabled us to enlarge our way of being in the world. Scientists tend to be cerebral, engaging with ideas as filtered through the intellect. Artists, while certainly being cerebral, also listen and validate input that filters in through the heart, gut, and "sex organs" (see Randy Olsen's Don't Be Such A Scientist).

In other words, Tony and I have been able in our marriage and through our collaborations to integrate our understanding of ideas in a holistic way. I have the privilege of being with Tony when he is collecting primary data and sifting through it for understanding. He, in turn, has the benefit of my questioning and insights from an artistic perspective. We are both made more "whole" through this life of collaboration we lead. I will write more about our collaboration in a future blog.
CARRIE LEWIS, MATH EDUCATOR. (photo by Ruth Schowalter, aka Hallelujah Truth)
Who wouldn't love to learn how to do math by dancing? Carrie Lewis, educator extraordinaire, explained one of her many creative ways to use an art form to teach children math. What fun! One might say she puts the "A" from art into STEM to make it STEAM! Take a look at this video that PBS did on this integrated lesson:
As the afternoon progressed, we continued sharing information about symbiotic relationships of art and science informally.
LIZA ROGER, ARTIST and MEDICAL STUDENT. Liza told us about the science-art exhibit she created and curated for the School of Medicine at Emory University. In addition to accepting submissions, art students were paired with scientists and created works from their discussions. (photo by Ruth Schowalter, aka Hallelujah Truth)
WHAT'S HAPPENING IN ART-SCI, STRATEGIC PLANNING, PARTNERSHIPS AND PROJECTS. The afternoon culminated in Nancy Lowe leading a discussion about the current state of art and science collaborations across the nation, established organizations already focusing on art and science collaborations and education, and how SymbASA can develop to make a significant contribution in merging the arts with the sciences.(photo by Ruth Schowalter, aka Hallelujah Truth)
AMANDA ARROWOOD, DANCER. After listening to Carey Bagdassarian and Elizabeth Mead talk about flocking, I asked Amanda if she was familiar with flocking since she was a dancer and dance instructor. When she answered, "Yes," I told her it would be fun if she would lead us all in flocking, so everyone could experience the concept of "emergence" that Carey and Elizabeth were talking about in their keynote speech. Here, she is preparing everyone to get out of their chairs and "flock."(photo by Ruth Schowalter, aka Hallelujah Truth)
FLOCKING AT SYMBASA. Our group watched this group flock so that we could observe how individual members would gradually begin to be able to synchronize their movements. There is a magic to this exercise. I loved hearing Nancy Lowe exclaim surprise as she documented these flocking exercises on video! See Nancy's blog post about flocking. (photo by Ruth Schowalter, aka Hallelujah Truth)
SYMBASA BREAK. During the weekend, Nancy Lowe was sure to leave time for hikes around the Warren Wilson College campus. This photo shows the barns down by the vegetable and flower gardens. (photo by Ruth Schowalter, aka Hallelujah Truth)
WINE AND CHEESE ART PARTY.  After an exciting day of talks, we met in the evening to relax and share ideas. Nancy Lowe gave us the opportunity to make art, look at books, or just enjoy the ambiance while drinking local beer or a glass of wine. (photo by Ruth Schowalter, aka Hallelujah Truth)
CHERILYNN MORROW, ASTROPHYSICIST and MUSICIAN.  Gathering and chatting allows time to share information. Here Cherilynn is looking at Tony Martin's book, Life Traces of the Georgia Coast. (photo by Ruth Schowalter, aka Hallelujah Truth)
Our morning commute to the facility for SymbASA on the Warren Wilson College campus was filled with natural wonder. Does it get any more beautiful than this? (at right) Farewell, breakfast in the cafeteria, where we ate all of our meals.  (photo by Ruth Schowalter, aka Hallelujah Truth and cafeteria volunteer)

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: Many thanks to Nancy Lowe, founder and director of SymbASA for taking a dramatic leap and starting this organization to catalyze new ways of engaging in the sciences and arts. You have boldness, Nancy! And your boldness has  genius, power, and magic (paraphrasing Goethe)!
COLLABORATORS: NANCY AND RUTH! I believe Nancy Lowe succeeded in accomplishing what she set out to do! I feel stimulated about how we can talk about the juncture of science and the arts. I am thinking about this connection now as a "symbiotic" one thanks to Nancy! Thank you! (photo by Tony Martin)
I also wish to express gratitude to the participants and presenters at  the conference, especially my husband and fellow collaborator Tony Martin. And, thanks to everyone at Warren Wilson College who made our stay on the campus comfortable! Finally, thank you Peter Trusler, both talented artist and scientist for providing so much inspiration through your work and friendship although it be at such a great distance.To see how Peter weds art and science, see this video: 

That's Coffee with Hallelujah! Soul Blog with me and tell me what you are thinking now about the symbiosis of art and science!


  1. Wow Ruth, what a great conference.Thank you for posting all the wonderful information and photos. Makes me want to go back to school

  2. Thanks Darlene for taking time to read and glean from this particular blog post. I felt that what we were doing and discussing was so important, I wanted to be sure to include people's photos and get their names right.

    I know what you mean about wanting to go back to school! I would love to study many many more things, including taking Carey and Elizabeth's course at the College of William and Mary!

  3. Glad to see and read about your latest creative adventure. Very cool conference and concept. The place is indeed beautiful.

  4. Dear See See! I am also following your summer adventures and the beauty that you engulf on your walking tours! Thank you for visiting my blog and reading about SymbASA!

  5. OMG how wonderful this looks I shoulda jumped in the car with you and the T. man. Your description of each presentation excellent & pics too ! All I can say is very very cool.

  6. Dear Callahan, it would have been wonderful to have you along and to hear what you would have to say in the many discussions we had. I love the way you express yourself and have yet to explore what you think about science!

    Thanks for your supportive words about this blog entry!