Announcer: This podcast is a project of the Massachusetts Cultural Council, a state agency committed to building creative communities and inspiring creative minds.
Deborah Davidson: A lot of our audience are artists and scientists and I think there’s a lot of excitement that you could have this conversation in the first place. The art is not serving or illustrating the science, it’s its own thing. And that there’s a lot to be gained sort of, I think, it humanizes us.
Anita Walker: Hi, I’m Anita Walker at the Massachusetts Cultural Council. Welcome to Creative Minds Out Loud, and our guest today is Deborah Davidson, founder and director of Catalyst Conversations. Welcome to the program.
Deborah Davidson: Thank you so much.
Anita Walker: I am so fascinated by what you’re doing because you are diving into the intersection of art and science. What attracted you to doing this?
Deborah Davidson: Well, I actually have a creation story, which I’ll share with you. So about three and a half years ago I was just- I kept noticing or seeing my colleagues, I’m also a practicing artist, talking about science or math. You know, like this interest in science, and I was just curious about it. And the second part is for me, I think there are so many fantastic artists in Boston that don’t get enough attention. So anyway, I met Clara Wainwright, who is a marvelous fabric artist and the inventor of First Night as you know and many other things. And I didn’t know her very well. I ran into her. We started having a conversation. I started talking about this art and science and she said, “Wouldn’t it be great if there was a TED program just for Boston artists.” We had Georgie Friedman who’s a video artist who’s interested in weather and extreme weather and she does these beautiful videos that are projected and they’re really amazing. So I wanted to have her and I called/emailed Kerry Emanuel who’s like one of the main hurricane experts in the world. He said, “Oh that sounds interesting.” We had this.. So each person.. So I prepare them. We have a conversation in advance. Sometimes the artist and scientist talk to each other in addition. Anyway, so with that one what was so amazing about it is that it became this- it was this incredible.. It was about her work, the art, and his science and how he’s kind of trying to help the world, you know, anticipate hurricanes and so on. We had many, many different iterations. For example, we had Janet Echelman early on with her engineer and we had she and the engineer in conversation with another artist, a filmmaker, and her kind of technical person. They had a four-way conversation. So we started with just doing visual artist, working with visual artists, but now have expanded to music and dance and that has been very exciting. For example, we had Stan Strickland who is also, I think, a Boston treasure absolutely. And a lot of the younger people in the audience didn’t even know who he was. And so he was in conversation with Ani Patel who’s a Tufts neuroscientist who’s studying music in the brain. And then I’ll just tell you this because it was kind of personally amazing, so we got together, had a glass of wine to talk about what we were going to doing. And they had to stop talking to each other. They just started singing to each other because they had gone beyond language even though he studies language in the brain.
Anita Walker: That’s amazing.
Deborah Davidson: It’s really about the kind of synergy between the artists and scientists. It’s not the artist illustrating the science at all.
Anita Walker: They’re not in service of the other. It’s something that happens.
Deborah Davidson: It’s something else.
Anita Walker: Yes.
Deborah Davidson: And I think that both artists and scientists, I mean, I think there’s kind of a paradigm shift, which I think is really great, that artists are really much more interested in the sort of social space and so are scientists. And they really, I think, because our world is in a crisis, I hear it over and over again that they’re trying to do something, trying to help it, trying to heal.
Anita Walker: Are there any themes that are emerging to you? Anything that’s happening that typically happens when you put these two together that you’re starting to see?
Deborah Davidson: Yes. One of the things is the kind of parallel of process in each. That science is actually very- the scientists are very creative people, but the end result of their science is different than the end result of what artists are interested in doing. So that’s one thing, the process. And part of that process is the ability to tolerate failure and to keep repeating so that.. An example for a scientist would be you’re doing an experiment. It’s not happening, not happening. You repeat and repeat, so you’re tolerating failure until you have something that is a good result. It would be parallel to a musician practicing or a dancer or an artist not there until it’s..
Anita Walker: And there’s a rigor to it.
Deborah Davidson: And a rigor to it, yes. So there’s really a tremendous amount of parallel. And I think the people that I’m trying for, not always, but they.. You know, it’s a scientist who knows something about art making. They would be sympathetic to being in the conversation in the first place.
Anita Walker: So what’s next? What are your ambitions now that you’ve had 30 conversations under your belt?
Deborah Davidson: What I would like my big ambition, like my big dream, would be to have a space where we could curate. Because that would be a really natural outcome. A space where I could curate exhibitions because I also am a curator that would be based on this synergy. Maybe even beyond the two people, but the thing that comes out of that. And then love to be able to provide more educational programs and maybe a big symposium bringing artists and scientists together. Something I want to mention is that there’s a real, I’d say, groundswell in Boston. There’s a lot of other groups doing things, you know, I’d say we’re colleagues, but also in Brooklyn and San Francisco and Dublin. I mean, that would be my highest ambition is to get all these groups talk to each other. One of the things that’s really important and I’ve had a version of this conversation with a lot of people is, “Well, Deborah, you could charge $20.” And I absolutely want to keep it free, open to the public and just reach as many people as we can that way.
Anita Walker: What do you think, in summary, is really the big benefit to the public at large to be able to experience this collision of art and science?
Deborah Davidson: Well, I think people are I’d say more than pleasantly surprised that there is so much connection between science and art. I think for the artists, so let’s say, we attract a lot of our audience are artists and scientists. I think there’s a lot of excitement that you could have this conversation in the first place and that, like we were saying before, that the artist is not serving or illustrating the science. It’s its own thing. And that there’s a lot to be gained sort of.. I think it humanizes us. I think that’s the answer. It’s humanizing us, you know, all of us.
Anita Walker: Deborah Davidson, founder and director of Catalyst Conversations, another creative mind out loud.
Announcer: To learn more about this episode and to subscribe, visit Creative Minds Out Loud.org.