As part of the NSF SEAD Study on how to enhance collaboration between arts/design/humanities with
science/engineering we are posting abstracts of the 100 white papers received. We solicit comment
and feedback which will be fed back to the authors of the white papers. Send comments to rmalina(at)alum.mit.edu
or post on this blog.
The 100 SEAD white papers can be found at
For this first post in a series we post a first white paper for comment by
Steven J. Barnes & Carlos Castellanos
Community-based Wet Labs for Artist-Scientist Collaborations.
Collaborations between artists and scientists have yielded many notable innovations. Yet, such collaborations are
generally underutilized, mostly due to the myriad obstacles faced by the partners entering into such collaborations.
These obstacles include financial considerations (e.g., a lack of available grant funds), social and political tensions
(e.g., between art and science, two communities that usually have distinct views about what constitutes valuable
research), and professional standards (e.g., what the collaboration yields that is of professional value, such as
publications or gallery showings). In this paper, the key issues and barriers to artist-scientist collaborations are
detailed. Then, some tractable solutions are proposed.
This white paper is composed of three parts. The first part examines the barriers to collaboration via a dialogue
between the two key stakeholders in an artist-scientist collaboration: the artist and the scientist. Since this paper is
co-authored by one individual with scientific training (SJB) and one with artistic training (CC), and because we have
been engaged in an ongoing artist-scientist collaboration, we felt this approach would be the best way of itemizing
the issues involved in such work and revealing the essential tensions.
In this review we have decided to focus on those scientific disciplines that have been more resistant to collaborations
with artists. For example, we are not interested in considering how we can improve collaborations between
engineers or computer scientists and artists, even though we recognize that such collaborations have their own issues
and obstacles, since such collaborations have a rich history (e.g., see Klüver, 1972). With the goal of determining
why collaborations with other types of scientists, such as biologists, chemists and other ‘wet-lab’ scientists, are so
challenging, the second part of this paper analyzes the differences between those scientific disciplines that have a
more established history of art-science collaboration with those that do not. Such an analysis will reveal some of the
shortcomings of current approaches to fostering art-science collaboration, and should also suggest some solutions.
The third and final part of this paper will present several lists of suggested actions for overcoming the various
obstacles identified in the first two parts of the paper. Although that section puts forward many suggestions to deal
with the specific issues raised in the earlier parts of the paper, our focus will be on suggestions that will have a longterm impact and address the major concerns of the stakeholders in art-science-collaboration. In addition, based on
our analysis in the second part of the paper, we will focus on suggestions that foster better and more numerous
collaborations between artists and wet-lab scientists.
Our most significant and overarching suggested action will be for the building of new semi-independent institutions
that provide real physical spaces, furnished with the necessary relevant equipment, where art-science collaborations.
We envision these as being community-based collective art-science organizations whose function is to serve as open
access wet laboratories–not unlike the ‘hacker spaces’ that have appeared in many cities around the world, but with
greater focus on the biological sciences, as opposed to engineering and computer science.
Though our focus is on discussing this open wet-lab scenario as a long-term goal, we ground our discussion by
referencing our own personal experiences running a wet-lab-based collective in Vancouver, Canada. We will argue
that although the formation of such autonomous organizations is critical for fostering artist-scientist collaborations,
their ultimate success will depend on fo