Last week I was invited to a NESTA (National Endowments for Science, Technology and the Arts) reunion. I was involved with NESTA through their Ignite! pilot programme which supported creativity in young people, and with their support I became more interested in poetry and founded PoetCasting.
This event was a chance to catch up with former fellows – some experts in diverse fields from science, technology, business and visual arts. I was invited to speak about my experience, which was a privilege, especially given the esteem of the company.
The other speakers included Jane Ní Dhulchaointigh, inventor of the fantastic Sugru, Rob Kessler who produces beautiful photographs of plants on a molecular level, and Stephen Pizzey who spoke about science in the landscape.
The event got me thinking again about the way science and technology seeks to engage with the public and the wider world, while by and large the arts doesn’t. Stephen talked about being at academic conferences that weren’t in ‘conference bunkers’. At one the delegates boiled eggs and cooked meat at geysers and at another he spoke about the processes of a power plant to members of the public who passed it every day and gave it no thought.
Coming up to Christmas, I noticed that Prof Brian Cox has a high profile show where he is lecturing on advanced physics to celebrities. On top of that, there will be the annual Royal Institution Christmas Lectures (a personal favourite of the festive period – science for children is probably about my level).
As good as BBC Radio is for arts programmes, if academics and arts professionals really want to engage with the public and get extra credit for the public impact of their work, we need to take a leaf out of the scientists books. Carol Ann Duffy explains poetic meter to celebrities? A series of lectures on developments in literary studies at Christmas? At the very least, we could get out of our conference bunkers a bit more often…