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October 7, 2002

'Momentum' grows for arts, sciences ties

By Eric Rangus

What’s in a name?

Last spring Sidney Perkowitz, Candler Professor of Physics, came up with the term “creative moment” to describe the millisecond in which a scientist or an artist experiences the joy of an experiment that works or when a work of art comes together.

He, along with several others affiliated with Emory College, were trying to come up with a new name for a new effort tentatively—and somewhat clumsily—titled the “Science and Arts Collaborative Project.”

“Creative Moment,” while accurate, wasn’t exactly right for the name of a project intended to run two or three years and be the impetus for other collaborations intended to draw together Emory’s arts and sciences communities.

After more discussion, Senior Associate Dean Lanny Liebeskind quietly suggested “creative momentum.” Debbie Joyal of the arts center repeated the term for everyone at the table, all of whom were uniformly impressed. The project had long had a theme. Now it had a catchy title.

Creative Momentum sprung from a semester-long project in spring 2001 called “Science and Art: Shared Frontiers.” That program, created by Juliette Apkarian (Russian and East Asian Languages) and Perkowitz, mixed a lecture series with a well-reviewed Schatten Gallery exhibit. The point was to highlight the blending of science and art.

“It came up in the most natural way,” Perkowitz said. “This is the grass roots level where arts and science really mix well with each other.”

Rosemary Magee, senior associate dean of the college, wanted to build on the successful and thought-provoking run of “Science and Art.” So she created a committee, cochaired by herself and Liebeskind, invited a melting pot of faculty to join (Apkarian, Perkowitz, psychology’s Marshall Duke, music’s Steve Everett, dance’s Anna Leo and chemistry’s David Goldsmith), added some staff members (Joyal, Amy Verner and Sally Pete), and rounded out the group with a couple of arts interns (Blake Beckham and Janelle Iglesias).

The plan was to focus on programming that highlighted how art and science influence one another. It would start small, with only a handful of events the first year, then build for future years—gain momentum, so to speak.

“From my perspective, inspiration has been provided by the opportunity to work closely with scientists and artists in the development of two major and many smaller projects,” Magee said. The two major projects she is referring to are the construction of the recently opened Math and Science Center and the soon-to-open Schwartz Center for Performing Arts.

“I was able to experience close up the science in art and the art in science,” Magee continued. “There were more similarities than differences. The similarities include close observation, attention to detail and a willingness to follow the pathways of the imagination.”
The committee met three times this past spring and summer. While everyone contributed, the faculty and administrators served as “idea people,” while the staffers made the projects happen.

“To take these ideas, listen to them, then transform them into something is very rewarding,” Joyal said.

As part of its careful start, Creative Momentum’s 2002–03 schedule mixes programming already scheduled (such as the Brave New Works theatrical readings of last month, which Creative Momentum cosponsored) with events created specifically for the program.

The first of these will take place Oct. 18 at 7:30 p.m. and will feature a work by Everett, associate professor and chair of music. “Opaque Silhouette” is a 14-minute piece of a larger composition called “KAM.” To create the piece, which blends music and video, Everett used computer software to analyze the dimensions of an Indonesian palace, then turned that analysis into music and images. The result, which can broadly be described as “electronic” (“But you can’t dance to it,” Everett quipped), is an avant-garde work that is difficult to categorize.

“I’ve never really separated the two—art and science,” Everett said. “The scientific approach is not that different from what music and the arts are trying to do. It’s a search for truth. Musicians are trying to find it by looking at patterns of sounds and see how they transform us.”

The performance will take place in the courtyard of the Math and Science Center, which will play a significant role in the presentation—Everett’s video will be projected onto its wall. Another part of the evening will feature a piece by music’s John Cage called “Ryoanji,” which also includes a dance accompaniment. Much of that dance is done in silence, allowing the audience to “listen” to the sounds created by the dancer as they bounce off the building. In all, the evening will feature nearly a half-dozen musical performances.

Subsequent Creative Momentum programming involves the “tuning” of the Schwartz Center’s Cherry Logan Emerson Concert Hall in November, along with a discussion of the process by project manager Dawn Schuette. The hall utilizes acoustical panels that can be adjusted to individual performances and even to the size of the crowd. More than 800 people will be invited to participate; part of the tuning requires a simulated full house.

In the spring, composer Paul Drescher will not only perform an edgy piece with his group Soundstage, which invents its own musical instruments, but also talk about his work. Sprinkled throughout the year will be panel discussions and performances that are scientifically artistic (or artistically scientific).

“It’s been interesting to see people you would think would have no reason to know each other or have any kind of common ground,” said Verner, executive assistant to Magee. “Not only do they have common ground—but they are creating it right in front of you and they’re really passionate about it.”