Person reaching upward toward icicle-shaped objects hanging from the ceiling

SPACES – D.C. Art Science Evening Rendezvous

In ALL, SPACES by McKenzie Prillaman

For nearly a decade, the Cultural Programs of the National Academy of Sciences (CPNAS) has hosted monthly D.C. Art Science Evening Rendezvous (DASER) salons to foster conversation and collaboration between scientists, artists, and the public.

“We witnessed a growing interest in conversations between practitioners in the arts and humanities and STEM professionals,” recalls CPNAS Director J.D. Talasek as he reflects on DASER’s beginnings. “But roadblocks existed, such as a lack of common language and a need to create empathy across fields of practice and inquiry.”

Three people playing with an accordion-like paper sculpture
Visitors play with one of artist Matthew Shlian’s paper sculptures at the D.C. Art Science Evening Rendezvous, 2016. Photo by Kevin Allen.
Person pouring a cloudy liquid from an Erlenmeyer flask into a stemless wine glass
Sampling cloudy cocktails made by Le Whaf at the D.C. Art Science Evening Rendezvous, 2016. Photo by Ron W. Simms, Jr.
Woman looking at icicle-like structures hanging from the ceiling
Experiencing Philip Beesley and the Living Architecture Systems Group’s Sentient Chamber installation at the D.C. Art Science Evening Rendezvous, 2016. Photo by Ron W. Simms, Jr.

Prior to the pandemic, DASERs took place at the National Academy of Sciences building, nestled in the northwest of Washington, D.C. The evening activities focused on relevant projects and events, like CPNAS-organized science-art exhibitions or reports published by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine that could be illuminated through the lens of art. “The content was driven by a variety of other factors in an attempt to reflect what was happening in our community,” says Talasek.

At each in-person DASER, panelists of different backgrounds would give brief presentations surrounding a theme, such as Movement or Art and the Brain, followed by a discussion. Afterwards, audience members had the opportunity to share their own interests and work. Both panelists and attendees could converse and network at a reception that closed the evening rendezvous.

Geometric mosaic on the interior of a dome
The Great Hall of the National Academy of Sciences. Photo by Mark Finkenstaedt.
Four panelists speaking to a packed audience
The D.C. Art Science Evening Rendezvous on Identity, Genetics, and Race, 2016. Photo by Kevin Allen.
Man holding up a folded piece of paper during a presentation
Sha Xin Wei speaking at the D.C. Art Science Evening Rendezvous on Empathy, 2016. Photo by Kevin Allen.

With COVID-19 restrictions in place since spring, DASERs have moved online. What organizers first thought would be a challenging transition has become an opportunity to experiment with new forms of engagement. Instead of being limited to residents within the D.C. metro area, attendees are joining from more than 20 countries. DASER organizers are also exploring pre-production to enhance the online experience. “This investigation of online formats is why we call our online version DASER Experiments,” Talasek explains. “[They] usually take on a more conversational approach, allowing for more audience participation.”

Recent DASER Experiments have focused on the Ocean Memory Project, a collaborative network of science, art, and humanities researchers dedicated to exploring the intersection of ocean and memory, and the ArtSciConverge Artist Residency Program at Sagehen Creek Field Station, in which artists address themes and issues of concern to the station’s science and public service programs, like forest health and wildfire.

Four individuals looking at an exhibition
Artist Steve Miller (front, right) gives an informal tour of his exhibition Health of the Planet, viewable at the National Academy of Sciences during the D.C. Art Science Evening Rendezvous, 2017. Photo by Kevin Allen.
A man and woman looking at large photos of the arctic hanging on the wall
Visitors at Diane Tuft’s exhibition The Arctic Melt: Images of a Disappearing Landscape, viewable at the National Academy of Sciences during the D.C. Art Science Evening Rendezvous, 2017. Photo by Kevin Allen.
Woman closely looking at art hanging on the wall
Visitors at Matthew Shlian’s exhibition Chirality, viewable at the National Academy of Sciences during the D.C. Art Science Evening Rendezvous, 2016. Photo by Kevin Allen.

DASER and other projects of the CPNAS are critical to connecting science, engineering, and medicine with arts and the humanities. Talasek says, “In the case of DASER, the audience extends beyond the general public to reach audiences with expertise in other disciplines.”  

For more about the Cultural Programs of the National Academy of Sciences and the D.C. Science Art Evening Rendezvous, visit the CPNAS website, Instagram, Twitter (#DASER), Facebook, or YouTube.

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About the Author
McKenzie Prillaman

McKenzie Prillaman

McKenzie is a fledgling science communicator working at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). She has a background in neuroscience, and was a research assistant at the University of Virginia and a postbaccalaureate fellow at the National Institutes of Health. After years of thinking she’d become a neuroscience researcher, she discovered her passion for sharing science with others. That finding, in combination with her lifelong dabbling in the arts, led her to write for the Art the Science blog. In her free time, she can be found volunteering with the Smithsonian Associates studio arts classes, trying new foods, and wandering around her home of Washington, D.C. Twitter: @meprillaman