AMS Weather/Climate Scientists Join With Washington Artists for ‘Forecast’ Exhibit

The weather outside was — what else might one expect, it being Seattle in mid-January? — cloudy, overcast, with on and off showers.

The climate inside, by contrast, was bustling, somewhat frenetic, with American Meteorological Society (AMS) meeting attendants (a record 3,569) ceaselessly swarming from one concurrent session to the next, from one quick passing hand shake and “How ya been?” among long-time acquaintances … to the next.

And between the ground floor and the upper reaches of the Washington State Convention Center, there was a peaceful and low-key original art exhibit, a good place to think and reflect, to briefly get away from the bustle, the meeting and greeting. All donated for an 11-week exhibition, and all with a focus on subjects near and dear to the heart of the AMS annual meeting: “Forecast: Communicating Weather and Climate.”

In another of a growing chain of examples of the arts and sciences trying to come together in a united pursuit — improve public understanding of human-caused climate change — the AMS annual meeting welcomed the opening of the “Forecast” art exhibit. It may be among the first of the major science societies to so directly and emphatically meld the visual arts and the sciences as a communications medium.

The exhibit, “A Collaborative Arts and Science Exhibition,” will be at convention center in downtown Seattle through April 9.

Scientists/Artists Interactions ‘Very Positive’

“Several people on the annual meeting program committee thought it sounded very interesting and that it fit well with the overarching communications theme of the meeting,” AMS Executive Director Keith Seitter said after the meeting in commenting on the arts/science initiative. “Everyone I talked with at the meeting seemed to enjoy it as well …. The interaction was, I think, very positive for both the artists and the AMS community.”


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John Armstrong, Approaching Storm, 2009 (Archival digital print
16″h x 20″w)

Seitter wrote in an e-mail in response to questions from The Yale Forum that artists he spoke with at an opening reception for the exhibit “found that working with a scientific theme (and in a few cases working directly with scientists) was a real challenge, but also a terrific opportunity to extend their range as artists.” According to Seitter, the AMS science geeks and wonks (not his words) were similarly gratified by the collaboration.

Behind the scenes in helping to marry the science and arts communities was a small Boulder, Co.-based organization called EcoArts Connections, headed by self-described “serial entrepreneur” Marda Kirn. Her efforts aim “to advance understanding of climate change and speed the shift to sustainable living” through performances, exhibits, talks, tours, and convening of like-minded interests.

Kirn’s objective in her work is nothing if not ambitious. She seeks through her upstart organization to “join cognition and affect — intellect and emotions, mind and heart — for greater effect, making sustainability personal, visceral, and actionable.” Her projects currently are under way in Boulder, Indianapolis, Washington, D.C., and, now, Seattle.

In the official “Forecast” brochure, Kirn, Seitter, American Meteorological Society President Peggy LeMone of the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), and two other workshop planners outlined their expectations for the exhibit:

Each “Forecast” creation will provide us, the viewers, with insights, perhaps in surprising ways that we would not otherwise pay attention to, or perhaps even want to think about. The art here needn’t convince us that it is ‘right.’ It will have accomplished something important if it helps us to think and feel about weather and climate in new ways.

… Forecasters use meteorological data to predict the weather. Climatologists study weather conditions over time. Artists [emphasis in original] draw attention to the Earth’s processes at work through documentary imagination. In this exhibition, scientists partnered with artists to communicate the beauty of natural forces as well as the impact of weather upon public health and safety, economic growth, and sustainability.


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John Lewis, Atomic Storm Cloud, 2006 (Black and white archival silver gelatin print 20″h x 24″w)

Sparking ‘New Ways to Communicate’?

To curate the “Forecast” exhibit, EcoArts collaborated with Seattle-based arts curator Lele Barnett, who since starting work on the Forecast exhibit has become a full-time curatorial consultant for the Seattle-based Microsoft Corporate Art Collection. In their exhibition brochure, the conference planners describe Barnett as “passionate about new media, technological progress, and works exploring the intersection of art and ecology.”

AMS Executive Director Keith Seitter

Working with a bare-bones budget that provided few resources for procuring art works or transporting them long distances, Barnett explained in a phone interview that all of the 37 Washington State participating artists donated their individual works for the exhibit at no charge. She said there are no current plans for the exhibit to travel after it closes in Seattle but said she expects some of the individual artists will sell their work afterwards.

“We’ll have to see if any of these collaborations yield new avenues of communication,” said AMS’s Seitter. “I hope it sparked the imagination of many of the attendees at the AMS meeting to think differently about new ways to communicate their science.”

Bud Ward

Bud Ward is editor of Yale Climate Connections. (E-mail: bud@yaleclimateconnections.org).
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