Melding the artistic with the scientific

Commons Meeting & Art Space

Art and the environment are intrinsically related. When you think of some of the most eminent works of art, from Monet to Dali, chances are there’s a clear connection to the world around us. But even beyond this basic bond is something stronger: Art can be one of the most effective ways to convey scientific ideas.

In recognition of this reality, the Institute on the Environment has begun hosting art exhibits in its Commons Meeting and Art Space. In line with the IonE mission, the exhibits break down the perception that science and art are incompatible and highlight the intersections between these two disciplines.

From “The Ecomusicology Listening Room” (an exhibit by IonE resident fellow and College of Liberal Arts faculty member Mark Pedelty that used a collection of soundscapes to promote the connection between music and ecology) to “Downstream/Upstream: A Journey Through the Urban Water Cycle” (an IonE-funded exhibit by Jonee Kulman Brigham, a research fellow for the College of Design’s Center for Sustainable Building Research, that employed different media to document the water cycle of the Mississippi River), the art space has been a place for science and art to interact while teaching and inspiring those who view the exhibits.

Damond Kyllo and Annie Rosenthal in Costa RicaNow there’s a new exhibit gracing the walls in the Commons. “Conexiones: Área de Conservación Guanacaste” features two projects from artists Damond Kyllo and Annie Rosenthal. On a June 2011 trip made possible through IonE funding, the two were able to travel to IonE resident fellow Jennifer Powers’ (College of Biological Sciences) tropical field sites of Guanacaste, Costa Rica. While Rosenthal and Kyllo have distinct specialties, they were both able to use their time in Central America to create valuable and educational art.

Rosenthal is a sophomore at the University of St. Thomas and an artist with a focus in botanical illustration. Her project came to be when Powers and her team realized that a field guide to the plants in Guanacaste could be an essential tool. Through her IonE Resident Fellowship funding, Powers invited Rosenthal to go to Guanacaste and do plant illustrations for the informal field guide, “Notas del Campo.” Powers sees this guide as a versatile tool. “It can be used by students, tourists, anybody. Even if a grad student is there studying primates but needs a guide to the plant life, it can be very useful.”

Illustrations of floraGuanacaste is one of the most visited conservation areas in Costa Rica and many schools in the area make the most out of the wilderness haven. Over 50 Costa Rican schools take trips to the area to learn about biology. Most of these students go to Guanacaste many times a year.

Damond Kyllo’s project, made possible with IonE funding and an National Science Foundation grant, aims to give these students a vibrant visual to complement their studies. Kyllo, who holds a Ph.D. in biology, blends his skills in science and illustration to bring the stories of the Costa Rican wilderness alive. Kyllo’s “Conexiones,” a Spanish language illustrated story guide, will take the wonders of ecology to thousands of Costa Rican children through the Área de Conservación Guancaste (ACG) education program.

Guanacaste postersPowers believes her work and the entire Guanacaste conservation area can benefit from the intersection of art and science. “I think art is one way to take the science we do and make it accessible for a number of different audiences,” Powers says. “We’re helping make this forest accessible.”

So take some time out of your day and venture over to the Commons Meeting and Art Space to see what you can learn from this combination of art and science – no ticket to Costa Rica necessary.

If you are, or know somebody who is, an artist interested in sharing art with a science or environmental theme with the IonE community, fill out this form.

For further questions, please contact Molly Buss, IonE’s events and special projects coordinator, at or 612-626-9553.

Justin Miller is a student communications assistant with the Institute on the Environment. Photos courtesy of Justin Miller and Jennifer Powers.