Monday night I went to “Meeting of Minds”, a seminar about science, art, and popular culture. I had to go straight to orchestra rehearsal after that (in fact, I was skipping half of the rehearsal for the seminar) so I brought my violin along. As soon as I walked in, panel moderator James Friesen walked up to me and asked me “What brings a violinist to a panel on genomics?”
Of course I’m just one of those people involved in both science and art, and at this forum discussion I definitely wasn’t the only one. The panel consisted of Christina Jennings (producer of the Canadian science TV drama ReGenesis), Peter Outerbridge (actor in ReGenesis), Liz Lerman (creator of Ferocious Beauty: Genome, a dance inspired by the human genome), Elizabeth Johnson (dancer in Ferocious Genome), and Jeff Nisker (physiologist and playwright) who also brought along Martha Zimmerman (actress in Nisker’s play Sarah’s Daughters).
A few months ago I met several science bloggers who visited Toronto for a microbiology conference. One of them was Chris Condayan of Microbe World . During dinner he told us that he had been given an opportunity to get a look behind the scenes of ReGenesis, and asked if he should do it. The resident Torontonians all said “YES”, because even without actually watching the show, we knew it had a reputation for being as close to scientific accuracy as possible. Chris went, made a podcast episode , and part of that was the first clip shown at the Meeting of Minds panel discussion Monday night.
After the clip, Christina Jennings told the audience that she created ReGenesis out of a personal interest in science. They partnered with the Ontario Genomics Institute to make sure the science on the show is as realistic and probable as possible. Every episode is also accompanied by a science fact sheet for viewers who want to know more.
Liz Lerman is currently in Toronto with her performance Ferocious Beauty: Genome , a dance inspired by the sequencing of the human genome. She, too, was guided by her own interest in science when she decided to create this performance. She recalled thinking: “I don’t know anything about genetics, but if I make a dance about it, by the time I’m done I’ll know _something_” Lerman received advice and feedback from the Human Genome Project and UC Santa Cruz in developing the dance and really did learn a lot about genomics in the process.
Dancer Elizabeth Johnson plays the role of “Miss TATA” in the dance. She tells about the moment she learned that there was something called a TATA box that “turned the genes on”, and immediately knew what to do with it. Funnily, it was one of the scientific advisors who recommended that the character use a whip to tell those genes what to do…
The Liz Lerman Dance Exchange also does educational outreach to use dance as a method to teach science. Elizabeth explains why: “We’ve been taught that science is a series of facts. We need to teach kids that it’s not; that it’s curiousity and creativity.”
Jeff Nisker’s play Sarah’s Daughters is coproduced by the Ontario Genomics Institute, and asks ethical questions about knowing whether or not you are likely to develop a familial disease. Martha Zimmerman delivered her opening monologue in front of the audience before joining the rest of the panel for the question round.
Most of the audience questions at Meeting of Minds involved the role of art in teaching science. Peter Outerbridge said it best. He explained that through art we can make children interested in science. He told us that he had entertained his kids for hours by re-enacting the mentos and diet pepsi experiment and concluded: “It’s called “Arts and Science” because the two are related, like Mentos and Diet Pepsi.”