News from UC Santa Cruz
UC Santa Cruz recently joined LEONARDO, and Danielle asked if I would be willing to share a few thoughts about our work here, and specifically the Institute of the Arts and Sciences, a new effort on our campus.
First of all, I'm pleased to report that we had wonderful turnouts and excellent presenters at our first two LASERs in October and November. We will continue the series Nov. 5th with another strong group. I'm still mulling over where to put the Q/A and welcome any thoughts or advice based on others' experiences. In October we held questions until the end and brought speakers to the front. This format seemed to imply a stronger connection between the speakers than we intended, and it produced what felt to me like a forced tendency to seek thematic coherence, where in fact that was not the goal. On the contrary, as LASER founder Piero Scaruffi has noted, one of the chief building blocks of the LASER concept is the creation of a space that resists the need to operate in disciplinary and thematic silos, and I appreciate this. In November we invited just a couple of questions after each talk, and there was less conversation, so I’m not totally satisfied with that, either.
In my work as the founding director of the Institute of the Arts and Sciences at UCSC I have noticed a similar impulse. Currently we are working to establish an initial program, begin our architectural search and planning process, and raise money for a future building. Many of the people I come in contact with in this work assume that our program will consist solely of projects that offer a blend of "art and science," which they usually imagine as visual art and natural science. And in fact in the visual arts today, there is a nominal movement or genre of work that does just this, and it includes a number of strong artists and some emerging trends such as bio-art, work relating to climate change, and other topics of genuine concern and interest. Some of our programming will absolutely feature the best of such work, and offer a space for dialogue, exhibitions, publishing, and interrogation of the genre.
That said, the Institute, like the LASER series, is committed to the arts (plural, including the performing and literary arts) and the sciences (plural, including the social sciences), but not focused only on areas where they overlap. And we will also investigate technology, and also explore how the humanities reflect on developments in all of these fields. Based in the Division of the Arts at UC Santa Cruz, the Institute is an interdisciplinary, transdisciplinary, and "any disciplinary" endeavor.
Once our facility opens, we will operate as an intellectually adventurous gallery space with a strong, nationally relevant exhibition program at its core. Our exhibitions will be complemented and nurtured by a residency program for artists, scholars, and scientists; an active public events program; and an energetic digital publishing effort. All of our programming will operate in dialogue with academics at UCSC, investigating significant issues while linking with teaching and research to provide rich learning experiences for students, and collaborative opportunities for faculty. To me, that's the most exciting and important component of the Institute's identity. The Institute will offer programs featuring the arts and the sciences, and at times operate in areas of overlap—the zone in the center of a venn diagram. An interdisciplinary spirit will remain the connecting thread, so even when we are showing "only" art, or science, we will be looking at it through an interdisciplinary lens to interrogate its relationship to the social world, our lived experience, the biosphere, the economic and political realities of our time.
What I value about LEONARDO is its commitment to expansive thinking and openness to more than one area of intellectual curiosity. As a parting note, I want to pass along a book recommendation made to me by Ilan Benjamin, the chair of UCSC's Chemistry Department. He referred me to a recent book by Stuart Firestein, Ignorance, How it Drives Science. It is a terrific read about the role that knowledge gaps play in motivating scientific research. I recommend it highly.
John Weber, Founding Director, Institute of the Arts and Sciences, UC Santa Cruz, firstname.lastname@example.org