Crossing Boundaries on the Ground and in the Mind




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Jul 06, 2016
by Louise Hallman
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Crossing Boundaries on the Ground and in the Mind

From joint mixed-media exhibitions and new interdisciplinary research projects, to completely new career trajectories our most eclectic group of Fellows ever gathered for a session have been busy post-Salzburg An eclectic group of Fellows were brought together for the session.

What do a neuroscientist, a musician, a former tax attorney, a beat-boxer, a poet, and a cartoonist all have in common? Answer: they, together with 45 other artists and scientists, were all Fellows at the 2015 session The Neuroscience of Art: What are the Sources of Creativity and Innovation?

Salzburg Global Seminar always curates diverse groups of Fellows from different countries, stages of their careers, sectors, and disciplines for its sessions as a means of fostering cross-boundary dialogue and developing innovative solutions. But the February 2015 session might have been the most eclectic group of Fellows yet. 

“This was a very forward-thinking and experimental session for Salzburg Global Seminar,” explains Program Director, Susanna Seidl-Fox. “The session was poised at the frontier of the research happening at the nexus of neuroscience and the arts. The program brought together visual artists, poets, musicians, a beat-boxer, a caricaturist, and filmmakers, as well as neuroscientists who are looking at these various artistic disciplines to learn more about the roots, sources, and processes of creativity.”

As well as neuroscientists, other non-artists at the session included physicians, psychologists, sociologists, scientific agency representatives, educators, and entrepreneurs.

For five days, this unusual cohort explored the rapidly-evolving field of the neurobiology of art and created a collaborative international platform to identify and address emerging issues.

Given that most research in this area is taking place in separate national and regional settings, Salzburg Global felt that more global dialogue was needed between specialist silos in order to catalyze knowledge exchange around the results, implications, and potential practical applications of cutting-edge research. 

Through expert-led panels, intense working group discussions, and improvised and impromptu performances, participants examined topics such as the scientific and artistic origins of creativity, innovation, and the “improvisational moment”; approaches to research on creativity and how better to bridge theory and practice; the implications for early childhood development and education; and methods for fostering greater public understanding and engagement. 

The interdisciplinary group offered various solutions. More artists – not just musicians – should be brought into the lab to investigate the nature of their insights, and in turn, scientists should be brought into the studio to gain phenomenological experience of artistic practice. More research should be carried out to explore the efficacy of arts integration into mainstream education in improving cognition, learning, creative thinking, and problem-solving skills. Scientific literacy of decision-makers and the general public should be improved, with scientists developing new and more accessible ways to communicate with non-scientists. Fellows also committed to producing several months of content in a blog to examine the connections between neuroscience and art. 

Since leaving Salzburg and in addition to writing several posts on their shared blog, Fellows have embarked on several projects that cross geographic boundaries on the ground as well as disciplinary boundaries in the mind. 

Playwright, poet and cognitive scientist Pireeni Sundaralingam, based in San Francisco, CA, USA, and psychologist and neuroscientist Anna Abraham, based in Leeds, United Kingdom, have begun a joint research project examining the cognitive neuroscience of poetry and how it relates to what we know about imagination and cognition. American sculptor Rebecca Kamen and British avant-garde poet Steven Fowler collaborated on two art installations at Kamen’s exhibit Continuum. Fowler has also been working with American Fellows Noah Hutton, Benjamin Ehrlich, and Malinda McPherson, bringing them to London for “a World without Words” – an ongoing collaborative program of exhibitions, interactive events, and screenings exploring neuroscience and the nature of human language. Many more projects are underway and can be found on the session’s webpage.

As musician Ben Folds stated following his participation in the session, “Sometimes curiosity and interest lead where you don’t expect...” As well as encouraging new collaborations, the session also had a profound impact on the participants individually, none less than Harry Ballan, who came to the session as a music theory-loving tax attorney and left so inspired that he decided to drastically change careers: he is now a full-time clinician, researcher, and teacher in music cognition and therapy. Folds and Ballan are exploring a joint music therapy project with the American Foundation for Arts and Science and Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN, USA.

In closing his report on the session, writer and researcher Benjamin Ehrlich explained: “The human brain relies upon the interdependence of neurons. When neurons fire together, their patterns of activity are reinforced, increasing the likelihood of their firing again. In this way, groups of neurons ‘wire together’ to form circuits and systems, sharing information through established channels.” 

He added: “The collective wish of the participants of this session is to fire together again, communicating and collaborating, with art and with science, challenging existing standards, through education and awareness, as a community of Salzburg Global Fellows, whose activity will someday move the body.” 


The report from the session Salzburg Global Forum for Young Cultural Innovators (YCI Forum) is available online to read, download, and share.


Long-Term Support

The 2015 session The Neuroscience of Art: What are the Sources of Creativity and Innovation? was made possible thanks to support from the Edward T. Cone Foundation. For more than twenty years, the foundation has generously supported an annual arts and humanities program at Salzburg Global Seminar. The themes of these programs have focused on a broad range of topics including Music for a New Millennium, The Power of Theater, The Contemporary Novel, The Future of Museums and Libraries, Shakespeare around the Globe, The Digital Democratization of Photography and many, many more. 

The foundation’s support has enabled hundreds of artists, musicians, scholars, leaders of cultural organizations, and institutions large and small to meet, engage, debate, and exchange. These sessions have strengthened the cultural sector, shaped the global community of cultural professionals, supported cultural work at the local community level, and globalized the perspectives of culture and arts professionals worldwide.

Terry O’Regan – Ireland
Preserving the National Heritage: Policies, Partnerships, and Actions (1995)
“Whilst many influences decide the paths we follow, I do believe that the confidence and wider human empathy that I acquired from participating in the Salzburg session contributed enormously to my engagement with communities across Europe.”

Dino Milinovic – Croatia
Preserving the National Heritage: Policies, Partnerships, and Actions (1995)
“The session helped me to better implement international regulations and standards regarding national heritage and its preservation, in particular in view of the post-war reconstruction which was going on in Croatia in the late 1990s. It also helped us at the Ministry of Culture of Croatia to better formulate international cooperation and assistance projects.”

Madelene Steczynski – USA
Cultural Institutions without Walls: New Models of Arts-Community Interaction (2007)
“Because of my experience, I am now connected with arts leaders across the globe. These connections mean I hear the news differently. Everything is elevated, because I know people who are affected. Our network has stayed connected via email, providing each other with updates, advice, and support.”

Cecily Hardy – Australia
Salzburg Global Forum for Young Cultural Leaders (2012)
“The authentic opportunity for connection at the session in 2012 led to direct opportunities for collaboration and partnership internationally. We have engaged in project-associated activity, propelling our work forward in Hong Kong, Brazil, and the UK spurred at least initially by my interactions at the Salzburg Global Forum for Young Cultural Leaders.”

Manjiri Prabhu –  India
From Page to Screen (2002)
“As a direct result of the networking opportunity given by Salzburg Global, I published two novels with Random House, USA... In 2013, I initiated the Pune International Literary Festival (PILF). I think that Salzburg Global Seminar is a fantastic platform that brings together the most amazing of people and thoughts... And I hope that one day I can create the same magic at PILF.”