The 14th floor of Pupin Hall is a place not often visited by those who are not majoring in astronomy or astrophysics. Yet this past Friday, students and professors of all disciplines spent the late afternoon attending a space-themed event on the highest floor of the building.
Arts & Astro took place on Friday, April 19, from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. in Pupin Hall. Organized by CU BlueShift, a group which aims to unite students with an interest in astronomy, this event showcased gallery art, research presentations, poetry readings, and a musical performance in an effort to expose scientists to art and artists to science.
“Arts & Astro tries to encourage conversation. I think that there’s so much each field can learn from the other in terms of communication of science and understanding in non-STEM communities,” said event organizer Sarah Graber, CC ’21.
Along with a gallery of undergraduate space-themed art and a draw-your-own black hole table, Arts & Astro featured several presentations. The first was a poetry reading by Ella Bartlett, BC ’19, with works thematically focused on the moon. Immediately following and juxtaposing Bartlett’s poetry reading was Anastasios Tzanidakis, GS ’19, presenting his own astrophotography and research on galactic archeology. His presentation included photos of the Milky Way and animations of his own research data he created using Python.
The event schedule was not exclusively populated with students, as Linda Sohl from the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies gave a presentation about climate research on possibly habitable exoplanets. Following Sohl’s presentation, Philip Joy, who goes by the stage name Phillyhungry, gave a musical performance laden with planetary graphics and climate data. Joy was a one-man act and used a modified drum set with various electronic musical equipment to perform his original space-inspired work.
While the program juxtaposed science and art presentations, it culminated with a merging of the two in “Creating Your Own Astro Art,” a workshop by Moiya McTier, who is pursuing a Ph.D. in astronomy at Columbia. In round-robin participation style, the audience and McTier wove a narrative of what life would look like on an imagined planet with a terrain and climate very different from Earth’s. This creative exercise was followed by providing audience members with art supplies to further engage their creative minds in the vein of astronomy.
“People have a very visual idea of space, whether it’s through those pictures that NASA and other organizations put out or whether it’s them going out and actually stargazing and seeing space themselves,” McTier said. “Space can be really beautiful and artistic. The idea that space can influence culture in very real ways is something that we can draw on as inspiration for our own art—and so I teach people how to do that.”
Often, art and science are posed as the two sides of a binary. In an attempt to dissolve this polarity, Arts & Astro offered a space that highlighted the interwoven and mutually beneficial relationship between these communities.
“I’m really glad this happens. This definitely wasn't a thing when I was an undergrad, and I have never seen any organized effort to reach across this divide between arts and science before Arts & Astro when I came here. So I’m really glad that they continue to do it,” McTier said.