When we tell people that we work with cultural organizations, they usually think of art museums, performing arts centers, maybe historical sites. But we also help science and nature institutions, from planetariums and zoos to natural history museums and public media. Over the last decade or so, those organizations have carved out their own identity as “informal science education” (ISE) providers, quite distinct from the cultural sector. The funding and policy communities interested in ISE and the arts are increasingly distinct, too. And you can guess which one is better funded, in these days of anxiety about education, jobs, and America’s economic future.
But a funny thing is happening to public science programming. It’s looking more and more like a form of cultural participation. Science cafes and Nerd Nite gatherings, science-themed storytelling events, city-wide science festivals, podcasts that mix science and comedy, not to mention popular blogs, books, and celebrity scientists like Brian Greene and Neil de Grasse Tyson — all of it suggests that contemporary science engagement isn’t just about curiosity and learning; it’s also about laughing, having a drink, getting lost in a story, and having your mind blown, or at least bent in a new direction.
That’s why the time seems right to organize a conference on the evolving culture of science communication, which we’re doing under our Culture Kettle umbrella in partnership with some wonderful colleagues at MIT and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The conference will take place next year on the MIT campus. A formal announcement is in the works; watch this space.
Meanwhile, we’ll continue studying how and why audiences connect to culture in all its manifestations, from string quartets to string theory. (By the way, this is our first newsletter especially for our colleagues in culture and informal learning. We also have a higher education practice, now with its own newsletter.)
— The Slover Linett culture team
Image: A Nerd Nite talk by Adam Evans, amateur astrophotographer. Photo: Tara Walton/Toronto Star.