On January 22nd, the Ligo Project presents its first ever Art of Science Gallery Night—the culmination of four six-month-long collaborations between pairs of artists and scientists at CULTUREfix New York. Co-founded by Shane Mayack and David Ulrich, the Ligo Project aims to foster public engagement with the sciences. Using the universal language of art as a vehicle to take science out of the lab and into the public, Art of Science is Ligo’s effort to create and inspire a community of nonscientists around scientists to promote scientific innovations and discovery. Amidst final preparations for Art of Science’s public debut, Shane was kind enough to share more about the Art of Science Program and Ligo’s future plans at the interface of art, science, and communication.
To start off, could you talk more about the Ligo Project and its mission?
Very broadly, our mission is ultimately this idea of closing the gap between science and everything else with the goal of making science more accessible. To narrow in on that, we hope to make science more accessible to investors, entrepreneurs, and others in the nonprofit world outside of science—essentially to connect science to a group of nonscientists who are able to help advance scientific ideas and innovations.
But at the simplest level, our goal is to get scientists to talk to nonscientists about their work more often than they do. There are actually very few venues to get valuable scientific information that’s not geared specifically towards other scientists. Even just to find an article from a particular scientist written with a lay audience in mind is so difficult.
So we have many iterations of how to go about bridging this gap, and we’ve settled on Art of Science as a vehicle for getting some of these ideas and messages out. So while Art of Science is in essence this cool science-inspired art project, it’s also much bigger than that for us—it’s a tool to promote and gain support for the science.
The Gallery Night on the 22nd is the culmination of the very first iteration of the Art of Science Program. How does the program work to foster interdisciplinary collaborations over the course of six months?
We recruited artists in one pool and scientists in another pool and had an informal opening event where we revealed each artist-scientist pair. From there, we left it to them to interact. Of course, throughout the program, we engaged and connected with them to make sure they were meeting regularly and checked in to see how their projects were going more generally.
Basically, we tried to design the program keeping in mind that everyone’s time is valuable and that we’re doing all of this pro bono since we don’t have a budget for this right now. So we asked that all the participants meet a minimum of four times for a minimum of an hour each time, but ideally more. We also gave them several suggestions on how their meetings could go, like having the artists spend some time in the lab and do an experiment or connecting them with additional trusted lab members. Beyond that, we actually give very few additional criteria on how these interactions should go because we wanted all the participants to go into the program without any preconceived notion of what they were getting into and what exactly they were supposed to do.
We’ve also video-recorded roughly three-quarters of the pairs’ interactions when they would meet. The short videos we’ve put together so far and posted throughout the process have already gotten a lot of interest from groups that could either help promote what we’re doing or potentially fund us. Overall, the overwhelming interest and success so far of our Art of Science program is super encouraging.1
Of all the strategies to go about closing the gap between science and “everything else,” why did Ligo settle on art?
If you imagine something that can nucleate a lot of different people from different backgrounds—something that they could be interested in and not intimidated by—art is just one of those things. You’re invited to come and view art and engage in it without necessarily knowing anything about it and without feeling intimidated by that process. We’d like to mimic that feel with science because a lot of people are intimidated by it and don’t feel they can view it, engage in it, and interpret it in some way. That’s not for them to even attempt, that’s for the scientist to do.
But what we’re trying to create is a community of nonscientists around scientists who are welcome to openly engage in the science and feel comfortable doing so. I think now more than ever, science as a community should and should want to really engage the public in new and different ways so that they can further promote the progress of science. We felt like art is a way to go about doing that. The arts community has a voice and a way of getting things done that can touch a very wide audience—and science could certainly use a little of that.
This gallery night is really just the start for Ligo. What other events and projects do you have in the works and how do they relate to the Art of Science program?
Currently, we have a lot of siloed programs and events that are all ultimately meant to funnel through Art of Science. So something else we’ve been working on is called SPOOL—Scientific Public Offerings and Opportunities Listings.2 We’re very close to having a pilot for it. Essentially, SPOOL involves three layers. The first is a simplistic, animated video explaining a scientific idea, the second is a lay abstract summarizing the work that underlies the simplified video, and the third layer is then speaking to that scientific idea or innovation in terms of its downstream applications and market potential.
So ideally we’ll recruit scientists to Art of Science with the hope that they’ll get hooked, at which point we have all these other programs and events available that speak towards our ultimate mission of making scientific ideas and innovations accessible to nonscientists—and particularly nonscientists that might be able to help support and advance the science further.
It always amazed me how someone new could come into the lab and have the most amazing idea or thought about what I was doing because they just had a fresh perspective. I think the same is true for any intelligent or creative person, where they can say something about what a scientist is working on that could have a big influence. But there aren’t any venues for that to actually happen. So we hope to bridge that gap by creating venues and events where nonscientists can openly and constructively engage with scientists.
The Art of Science Gallery Night is on January 22nd from 7-10pm at CULTUREfix New York. The event features art by Gustavo Asto, c.hill, Grace Markman, Jasmine Murrell, Nora Petroliunas, and Marie Roberts // science by Dr. Teresa Bandosz, Dr. Steve Franks, Dr. Scott Lowe, Dr. Charles Sherr. For more details, be sure to visit the event’s official page on Facebook. And for more information on The Ligo Project, visit their official website here.
2 SPOOL is the culmination of a number of peoples efforts—Martha Berry and Katja Chan-Mee Frederiksen who are both MFA students in the Design for Social Innovation Program at School of Visual Arts; David Ulrich, a computer scientist/CEO at Gene Home and also Ligo Project co-founder; and, Rob Steir, entrepreneur and business executive at Mindforce Consulting.