September 21, 2016

Bridging Sciences and the Arts

By Molly Murphy

The arts and sciences have always provided powerful tools for understanding the world we live in, and with technology developing at exponential speed, these disciplines have become all the more vital. Recognizing this, Animation MFA candidate Evan Tedlock and Chemistry PhD student Kyle McClary have come together to found The Bridge Art & Science Alliance, an interdisciplinary initiative that harnesses the strengths of their specialized fields while laying the building blocks for innovative media.

BASA’s founders launch the 2016/2017 academic year with a mixer on the School of Cinematic Arts lawn.

The Bridge Art & Science Alliance (BASA for short) fosters the convergence between art and science by providing USC students in both disciplines with the networking resources and funding to collaborate on creative projects. Tedlock and McClary conceived of their idea during a student retreat on Catalina Island in the fall of 2015 that was hosted by the USC Dornsife College’s Bridge Institute, which brings together USC communities from the sciences and the arts to work on projects aimed at greater understanding of the human body and curing disease (e.g. eminent professors work together; or students can join research projects). Tedlock and McClary were paired up amongst numerous other students and challenged to come up with a proposal for a grant that would be awarded by the end of the retreat.

“We spent all night trying to decide what type of interdisciplinary project to pitch until finally it hit us: instead of pitching a single project, we could pitch a program that would catalyze a host of art/sci projects,” says McClary.

Modeled after similar initiatives such as The Science Entertainment Exchange and UCLA’s Art|Sci program, BASA coincides with a cultural movement aimed at bringing the two disciplines closer together. “There’s an imaginary barrier to engagement in the sciences,” says McClary. “It’s a misconception that science is this inaccessible thing where you have to check off a list of requirements in order to be part of it. To help eliminate this mentality, we’re creating scientifically inspired multimedia that both reaches, and kindles fascination among a wide range of audiences.”

While science media has the tendency to take on didactic forms, BASA aims to support projects that challenge traditional models. “We are experiential beings so traditional data analysis can be a step removed from the way we experience life," Tedlock says. "I’m interested in promoting projects that take data and contextualize it less on a cognitive level and more on a visceral one,” says Tedlock.

Although BASA was established less than a year ago, it has already launched three major projects—a cinema vérité style exploration of opioid addiction in the United States, an immersive virtual reality reconstruction of a single human cell, and research into therapeutic virtual reality applications for pain management and Parkinson's. In addition to building a centralized database of artistic and scientific research pursuits on campus, BASA hosts idea sessions and social events aimed at connecting scientists with artists. In September they kicked off their first mixer of the 2016–2017 academic year. Hosted on the lawn of the School of Cinematic Arts' Meldman Family Cinematic Arts Park, attendees participated in icebreaking games ranging from telephone pictionary to a social scavenger hunt. “In many ways, we act as glorified matchmakers. We ask that anyone interested in what we’re doing come over and talk to us,” says Tedlock.

“There are amazing discoveries being made every day, but more often than not, they get locked away into academic journals that are only accessible to a small group of specialists. This information has the potential to improve people’s lives and we want to liberate it,” says McClary. “We are experiential beings so traditional data analysis can be a step removed from the way we experience life. I’m interested in promoting projects that take data and contextualize it less on a cognitive level and more on a visceral one” says Tedlock. Of additional concern to Tedlock is creating a safe space for artists. “Passion projects are at the mercy of whims and can result in artists getting taken advantage of. By connecting artists with funding opportunities and serving as an intermediary between them and their collaborators, we help their work get recognized as being part of a professional project rather than a passion project.” Says Tedlock. McClary, similarly, looks to the social impact BASA’s future could hold: “The thing that really motivates me is the prospect of giving teachers tools to inspire scientific exploration and curiosity.”

Learn more about BASA on their website and Facebook page: