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Communicating Ecology Through Art: What Scientists Think

David J Curtis, University of New England
Nick Reid, University of New England
Guy Ballard, University of New England


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Many environmental issues facing society demand considerable public investment to reverse. However, this investment will only arise if the general community is supportive, and community support is only likely if the issues are widely understood. Scientists often find it difficult to communicate with the general public. The role of the visual and performing arts is often overlooked in this regard, yet the arts have long communicated issues, influenced and educated people, and challenged dominant paradigms. To assess the response of professional ecologists to the role of the arts in communicating science, a series of constructed performances and exhibitions was integrated into the program of a national ecological conference over five days. At the conclusion of the conference, responses were sought from the assembled scientists and research students toward using the arts for expanding audiences to ecological science. Over half the delegates said that elements of the arts program provided a conducive atmosphere for receiving information, encouraged them to reflect on alternative ways to communicate science, and persuaded them that the arts have a role in helping people understand complex scientific concepts. A sizeable minority of delegates (24%) said they would consider incorporating the arts in their extension or outreach efforts. Incorporating music, theatre, and dance into a scientific conference can have many effects on participants and audiences. The arts can synthesize and convey complex scientific information, promote new ways of looking at issues, touch people’s emotions, and create a celebratory atmosphere, as was evident in this case study. In like manner, the visual and performing arts should be harnessed to help extend the increasingly unpalatable and urgent messages of global climate change science to a lay audience worldwide.

Key words

art and environment, arts and society, environmental behavior, music, performance, scientific communication, social effects of the arts, sustainability

Copyright © 2012 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087