Grant helps expand VI4’s Artist-in-Residence programOct. 29, 2020, 10:01 AM
by Leigh MacMillan
An innovative Vanderbilt program that brings together scientists and artists with the shared goal of scientific communication is set to expand with support from a three-year grant from the Burroughs Wellcome Fund.
For two summers, the Vanderbilt Institute for Infection, Immunology and Inflammation has partnered with ArtLab to host an Artist-in-Residence (VI4-AiR) program that pairs undergraduate student artists with VI4 laboratories to create visual art as a science communication tool. Now, the program will serve as a model to establish a Burroughs Wellcome Fund Artist-in Residence (BWF-AiR) program in the Southeast.
“The success of the VI4-AiR program motivated us to consider expanding it regionally in the hopes of building sustainable hubs around the country that are focused on merging art and science and generating interest among the public in the process of discovery,” said Eric Skaar, PhD, MPH, director of VI4 and Ernest W. Goodpasture Professor of Pathology, Microbiology and Immunology.
Skaar and Kendra Oliver, PhD, assistant professor of Pharmacology, are co-leaders of the AiR program.
Oliver, a scientist and artist, established the cross-disciplinary ArtLab in 2017 to support visual science communication approaches and outreach. The VI4-AiR program launched in 2019.
“There is a disconnect between STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) communities and the public, and yet we know that the public is eager to engage with scientists, particularly amid a global pandemic,” Oliver said. “We believe that science-based visual art is a practical and untapped approach through which researchers can engage broader communities and employ new perspectives for advocating STEM.”
The BWF-AiR program will recruit faculty from the Southeast who applied for, but were not necessarily awarded, the BWF Investigators in the Pathogenesis of Infectious Disease award. The program will prioritize assistant professors using multidisciplinary approaches to study human infectious diseases.
After faculty participants are selected, the program will recruit undergraduate student artists from institutions in the same area as the faculty member’s home institution. Each faculty member will be paired with two artists, and the program aims for at least half of the undergraduate artists to be from groups underrepresented in the science disciplines.
During the 10-week summer program, which will be conducted virtually, undergraduate artists will meet with mentors from the partner labs to learn about research projects and approaches. The students will create two art pieces that are representative of the laboratory’s research.
Artwork from the VI4-AiR program has been featured on the covers of journals and in graphical abstracts, has been used to promote research on websites and social media and decorates the walls of the VI4 headquarters in Medical Center North. To see a gallery of artwork from the program, go to https://www.artlab-air.com/explore-by-art.
The three-year grant from BWF will support administration of the BWF-AiR program and provide supplies and stipends for the student artists.
ArtLab is supported by multiple internal funding sources from Vanderbilt, including The Curb Center for Art, Enterprise & Public Policy, The Wond’ry, Communication of Science and Technology program, and Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, Basic Sciences.