Dancing And Singing Scientific Study Data

I recently caught this story about an anthropologist at the University of South Florida (USF) who studied the impact of algae blooms in the Gulf of Mexico and was concerned no one would read her reports which indicated consequences for the tourism industry.  She was concerned no one would read the study and wondered if there was a way to raise awareness. (I am going to say a more accessible title than “Non-linear impacts of harmful algae blooms on the coastal tourism economy” might have helped.

However, the story aligns with the recent trend of my posts about the intersection of art and science because the professor ended up collaborating with the USF school of music to compose a work based on the data.

Indeed there was. Composition professor Paul Reller worked with students to map pitch, rhythm and duration to the data. It came alive, O’Leary says, in ways it simply does not on a spreadsheet.

“My students were really excited to start thinking about how the other students, the music students, heard patterns that we did not see in some of the repetitions,” she says. With music, she added, “you can start to sense with different parts of your mind and your body that there are patterns happening and that they’re important.”

You can watch a video of the composition via the link to the story or right here. Other departments are getting involved, including an effort to create an augmented reality experience based on the data and composition.

This story reminded me of the Dance Your Ph.D. contest that was started years ago with the same intent of translating a summary of doctoral theses in the sciences into a visual format. It was originally intended as a one off event to lighten things up for students who were defending their theses, but people started asking when the next competition deadline would be.

This year was the 16th iteration. I found an article announcing the 2024 winners and it seems like things have evolved since the last time I watched. The one on the “Epigenetics of Early Life Adversity“, depicting how stressors in childhood can impact adult health really caught my attention.

However, the winner, “Personality, Social Environment, and Maternal-level Effects: Insights from a Wild Kangaroo Population”, aka “Kangaroo Time” is far, far, far, more fun than it’s title would suggest. I am glad the NPR story reminded of the contest and lead me to check it out.


Art Is Everywhere When You Look At The World Through A Creative Lens

Sort of dovetailing with my post yesterday about art and science nourishing each other, you may have seen that scientists have named a new species of gecko after Vincent Van Gogh.

Yes, everyone reporting on this is calling it Vincent Van Gecko.

The scientists were inspired by the markings on the lizard which reminded them of Van Gogh’s “Starry Night.”

This is one of those instances when having a smidge of artistic exposure allows you to create an engaging story around a scientific advancement which may have otherwise gone unnoticed.

In the conversation between the Chair of the National Endowment for the Arts and Director of the Census Bureau I posted about yesterday, they talk about the importance of good data collection methodology to decision making and reporting about the impact of arts and creativity on society. But they also discussed how creativity and artistic expression facilitates effective storytelling and communication about the relevance of  scientific discoveries and achievement in our lives.

How Important Is Creativity? Let The Census Director Count The Ways

The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) posted a slightly longer than usual podcast episode a few weeks back with a conversation between NEA Chair Maria Rosario Jackson and US Census Bureau Director Robert Santos.

If you missed the introductions at the art, you might be forgiven for thinking Santos was the NEA Chair the way he went on about the importance and value of creative practice in one’s life. He talked at some length about being a live music photographer at the SXSW festivals in Austin, TX for eight years and the different perspectives he received while watching all the creatives present their work. He talked about how innovation doesn’t just emerge from scientific hypothesis and data, but by creativity fueled by an artful life.

Later, he discusses the use of art and creativity in healing, relating it to his time as President of American Statistical Association during the pandemic and using his monthly newsletter to depart from the usual messages about checking out webinars about statistic practice, but rather

“…send personal messages and reflections that would help folks understand that we’re all in this together and that we need to help each other out and we can do so virtually. So I would tell stories about of resilience and how we need to tap into them and I told stories of creativity and mentoring and it was specifically focused on thinking as creatively as I could to help the folks that were suffering so much because they were stuck in their homes.”

At another point, he mentioned the way the Census Bureau had used familiar cultural touchstones to engage with people to navigate the challenges Covid presented during the 2020 Census:

…we had artistic reincarnations of things like the Loteria, — there are cards that have little icons, very colorful, of different types of characters, and birds, and skeletons, and scorpions, and things of that sort. And because of the pandemic, we could not use our usual face-to-face methods, or community organizations couldn’t do that. So rather than having a table in a grocery store saying, “Come fill out a census,” they were going out and distributing in community centers that were giving out water, and talking about best practices for vaccines and things. They were handing out these Loteria cards that, instead of the usual icons, they had different census characters on them, like an enumerator, or a little graph, or things of that sort. So it was reinforcing the necessity and the importance of civic participation, but doing it in an artistic way that was very pleasing to the eye, and got you to think, “Oh, this is really interesting.”

The example of Albert Einstein playing violin is often used as an example of a scientist who embraced his creative side, but I am thinking it is time to find new examples to amplify this concept, starting with Santos and anyone else he might identify. Not to relieve the NEA and other creative entities from doing the same, but Santos seems really adept at identifying the bridges between creative and science based approaches and is a vocal advocate.  I mean, there was a point where he was saying, credit where credit is due, the NEA inspired me to think all federal departments should have artist-in-residence programs.

Mind Blowing How Much Close Family And Friends Add To Attendance Experience

Some pretty compelling evidence that we should be encouraging people to participate in arts and cultural activities with family and friends. Colleen Dilenschneider and the folks at IMPACT released some data about whether school group visits to exhibit and performance based experiences translate into visitation as adults. (subscription required)

The answer is pretty shocking (my emphasis):

People who visited as children with their families generally do find cultural organizations to be welcoming, while folks who visited with groups are somewhat on the fence when considered as a collective.

Perhaps the most jarring finding is the lack of significant difference in welcoming perceptions among those who visited with school groups (or other groups) and those who did not visit as children at all. Visiting a cultural organization with a group generally did not impact attitude affinities as an adult.

They break out this data across a number of graphs in terms of household income and exhibit vs. performance based experiences and the results are consistent. Similarly, responses to intent to visit and the extremely important willingness to recommend to others followed similar trends. People who attended with family and friends had more positive responses than those who attended with groups or never attended.

It is important to note this data doesn’t separate out those who participate in longer term experiences like camps, residencies, classes, outreach programs.

The folks at IMPACTS have some theories about why there is so little difference between those that only have experiences with groups and those that have never visited as children. I encourage people to take a look at the article to learn more about this. They probably wrote 2000+ words on the topic and include a number of charts. I am just reaching 250 words here–including what I have quoted.

Thinking back about my own experiences as a child, I suspect that the modeling behavior of adults has a big impact on children. There are things I assumed about my life arc based on my perceptions of my parents and those of my peers when I was a child that I was surprised to learn were erroneous when I grew up due to the expectations they stated and modeled.

In the context of this data, it seems even more important to reflect on how we can make it easier for families to make the decision to attend. Really, I suspect that if you did the same research on 30-50 year olds who said the friends they made in college helped get them in the attendance habit, you would probably find a similar level of willingness to attend in the future or recommend to others. You might not find the same raw numbers as those whose parents/grandparents/neighbors took them, but socialization will probably still be a factor.

Facilitating the ease of decision making requires examining every aspect of the experience from programming, promotion, ticketing experience, parking, the welcome, concessions, and the departure.