Science, art, and Bay Area culture

by Stephanie Chasteen on October 12, 2009

One of the things that I miss most about the Bay Area is the intensive culture of geekery and delightful playfulness that goes with the unabashed celebration of membership in the pocket protector set.  I invited Alan Rorie — an artist and a scientist at the Exploratorium (who happens to hold my old job) — to present to our seminar group at the University of Colorado.  He gave a wonderful presentation about how the science/art connection in the Bay Area has shaped his transition from scientist to artist.

Here is a link to his presentation (which was made with a wonderful new tool called Prezi — I have to try this out).

In the Bay Area there are many venues where you can express your creative scientific side:

Maker Faire “Burning Man for science geeks”

Maker Faire is an event created by Make Magazine to “celebrate arts, crafts, engineering, science projects and the Do-It-Yourself (DIY) mindset.  The annual Maker Faire attracts thousands of amateur inventors and scientists, displaying their home-made prototypes and gadget hacks. In a world where the technological race is speeding up, the Maker movement has revealed that the do-it-yourself culture is in no danger of dying out.

QUEST on KQED Public Media.

The Crucible and the Fire Arts Festival

The Crucible is a non-profit educational facility that fosters a collaboration of Arts, Industry and Community. Through training in the fine and industrial arts, The Crucible promotes creative expression, reuse of materials and innovative design while serving as an accessible arts venue for the general public.

And of course Burning Man.   It’s more than just a party in the desert, it’s a huge community-driven art installation, many with tech/science aesthetic and aspects.

And then a bunch of small art/science endeavors and workshops, such as

False Profit Labs

The mission of False Pro?t Labs is to create better art through science. We are art engineers who fabricate, machine, weld, and construct sculptural, larger-than-life art installations designed to create inspiring experiences for spectators and participants.

Laughing Squid

Laughing Squid is an online resource for art, culture & technology


A place to create the impossible, the new, the ridiculous, the exiting and most importantly, the never seen before. It is the largest do-it-yourself industrial art space in the Bay Area with over 40 different art groups and craftsmen in the shop.


People doing strange things with electricity

What I think that all these environments have in common is that it democratizes science and art.  These become something that everyone can participate in.  Alan made the point that these are inclusive communities.  I think this is important in terms of people’s empowerment to both create and to understand science, technology, and aesthetics.  It creates a culture of geek chic, an inventor/DIY culture and garage science that attracts and involves people who might never go to a science museum or a university — the culturally accepted bastions of science education.  It also engages the mind and brings us wonder in a way that we might not experience through more didactic and authoritarian presentations of science and technology.

Alan really emphasized this inclusive nature of these communities, where we are encouraged to participate and share, and collaboration between artists and scientists is encouraged through openness and communication.  His art particularly focuses on creating fake, fantastical machines that are made to look real (such as the Neuron Chamber and the Dihemispheric Chronaether Agitator).  His works have a heavy physical presence, with mechanical bolts, fasteners, and welding.  His website is at

{ 1 comment }

Zane Selvans October 12, 2009 at 8:23 pm

Are you familiar with Dave Eggers’ 826 project? I’d heard of it, but only just saw his TED talk. They’re funky, creative, community tutoring centers in major metro areas around the country. They’re pretty focused on writing and other linguistic arts, but I’ve been wondering if the model could be adapted to work with math/science/engineering. It seems like most people see writing and language as generally more about expression than science or engineering, but that’s not how Makers see it. It seems like a science 826 would look a lot like the organizations above.

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