Drawn to Science Communication: Art-Science Synergy as a Career and a Way of Life

I recently gave an invited career talk at the 2020 annual conference of the Ecological Society of America. In case others are interested, I thought I would share the video (with captions) here.

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There have also been a number of responses to this talk which have led me to consider doing some recorded Zoom/video conversations, to capture discussion, advice, and more. Stay tuned for more on that front, and feel free to submit questions, advice, and resources via the comments section!

Her Flag: Celebrate equality & natural heritage on March 21st

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36 states ratified the 19th amendment. 36 female artists designed stripes for Her Flag, a massive flag to commemorate these states.

I was selected to design Wyoming’s stripe! This Saturday, it will be sewn into the flag (which is ultimately 18 feed by 26 feet!).


Her Flag | Live (online) | March 21, 2020 @ 1:00 PM MDT

Join us through the live stream:
-Instagram link: https://www.instagram.com/herflag2020/
-Facebook link: https://www.facebook.com/herflag2020/


My design honors 36 women who inspired and informed my own understanding of equality. These women are all modern women, such as my sisters, mom, aunts, mother-in-law, mentors, and collaborators. Some of these women taught me to empower other women. A few taught me about natural history. One taught me how to teach people about science. Another taught me how to garden, and one introduced me to bluegrass.

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Left to right: My maternal grandmother, paternal grandmother, and two great aunts, joined by a pair of Wyoming’s iconic bison.

Intertwined throughout the stripe, I also added familiar elements of biodiversity that make a place home such as local wildflowers, the Wyoming toad, ladybug, chickadee, Indian paintbrush, beaver, yucca seed, bison, pronghorn, and more. The background is made of 36 four-patch quilt squares, sewn from my great grandmother’s quilt scraps.

More Information

Stay tuned for Wyoming-specific follow-up project I’m working on with support from the University of Wyoming Office of Engagement and Outreach!

Media Coverage

More details are available in the following links:

 

Drawing Science: An Interview with Interalia Magazine

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In March 2019, Richard Bright of Interalia Magazine interviewed me for the journal’s Drawing Thoughts series. Drawing Thoughts explores contemporary thinking on the practice of drawing, discussing its creative, expressive and educational value, and its fundamental importance to translating and analysing the world. The issue’s overarching aim is to affirm the value of drawing.

A lengthy excerpt of my interview is available on line here. The full-text is available to Interalia subscribers.

Article: Poetry as a Creative Practice to Enhance Engagement and Learning in Conservation Science

This article was such a fun research and writing project. We were working from the foundational question of how to connect scientists to the value of the practices of reading and creating poetry.

While the paper reports on ways of doing this in university classes, the advice, examples, and resources in the article will be equally useful for K-12 educators.

The article is available via open-access (for free) at the BioScience website. It is also featured here on the Wyoming Public Radio website, where you’ll find more context about the goals we had for writing this article.

Meanwhile, here’s a sample of what you might find useful.

Article abstract (aka summary):

“Creativity is crucial to the capacity to do science well, to communicate it in compelling ways, and to enhance learning. Creativity can be both practiced and enhanced to strengthen conservation science professionals’ efforts to address global environmental challenges. We explore how poetry is one creative approach that can further conservation scientists’ engagement and learning. We draw on evidence from peer-reviewed literature to illustrate benefits of integrating science and poetry, and to ground our argument for the growth of a science-poetry community to help conservation scientists develop skills in creative practices as a component of professional development. We present examples from literature as well as two short poetry exercises for scientists to draw on when considering writing poetry, or deciding on forms of poetry to include, in their practice. Opportunity exists to grow science–poetry projects to further our understanding of what such initiatives can offer.”

Our article also made the cover!

Our photo made the cover! See details in the text, below. Photo © B.G. Merkle, 2018.

Reproductive structures emerging from a complex lichen community, photographed in Parc Jacques-Cartier (Quebec, Canada) provide an opportunity for close observation and focused reflection in much the same way that our poetry article indicates that poetry may help focus scientists’ and science students’ attention. The mutualistic potential of combining poetry and science evokes the underlying biology of lichen. Rather than an individual organism, lichens are the result of a symbiosis of fungi, algae, and/or cyanobacteria. As we noted in our paper, art and science, when integrated, can facilitate innovation, creative thinking, and more compelling learning experiences than when these disciplines are practiced in isolation.

Full article citation: Januchowski-Hartley, Stephanie R., Natalie Sopinka, Bethann G. Merkle, Christina Lux, Anna Zivian, Patrick Goff, and Samantha Oester. Poetry as a Creative Practice to Enhance Engagement and Learning in Conservation Science. BioScience 68(11): 905–911. https://doi.org/10.1093/biosci/biy105.

Article: Creative convergence: exploring biocultural diversity through art

I had the great honor of collaborating with my friend Dr. Jean Polfus and her Sahtu Dene community collaborators on this publication. In it, we detail how art can be used as an inclusive, innovative research method for ecological research.

The article is available via open-access (for free) at the Ecology and Society website.

Screenshot of a figure from the paper. The paper is available for free to download/view here.

Meanwhile, here’s a sample of what you might find useful:

Excerpts from the article abstract (aka summary):

“Interdisciplinary approaches are necessary for exploring the complex research questions that stem from interdependence in social-ecological systems […] Identifying biocultural diversity requires a flexible, creative, and collaborative approach to research. We demonstrate how visual art can be used in combination with scientific and social science methods to examine the biocultural landscape of the Sahtú region of the Northwest Territories, Canada. Specifically, we focus on the intersection of Dene cultural diversity and caribou (Rangifer tarandus) intraspecific variation. We developed original illustrations, diagrams, and other visual aids to increase the effectiveness of communication, improve the organization of research results, and promote intellectual creativity […]Collaborative visual products, like posters that represented different caribou types, allowed Dene partners to more clearly articulate subtleties within caribou intraspecific variation that are manifest through distinct dialects, place-based relationships, and cultural practices. Our results point to the potential for visual art to be used to improve communication, participation, and knowledge production in interdisciplinary and cross-cultural research collaborations and to enhance the sustainable stewardship and protection of biodiversity.

Full citation: Polfus, J. L., D. Simmons, M. Neyelle, W. Bayha, F. Andrew, L. Andrew, B. G. Merkle, K. Rice, and M. Manseau. 2017. Creative convergence: exploring biocultural diversity through art. Ecology and Society 22(2): 4-17.
https://doi.org/10.5751/ES-08711-220204