How a warehouse in Brooklyn is breaking down barriers between science and the arts.
When you think of the word 'culture,' what comes to mind?
Most likely, the first things that pop in there are the visual arts and music. That's natural. They're often thought of as the cornerstones of culture in any society, along with the food we eat and the technologies we use to experience the world around us.
But if that's where you stopped, you’re forgetting one important culture pillar: science.
“Science is a part of culture. We’re here, just like the artists are here, just like the musicians are here and the writers, the photographers, designers and tech guys,” says Janna Levin, Director of Sciences at Pioneer Works. Pioneer Works is a cultural center in Red Hook, Brooklyn that is dedicated to experimentation, education and production across all cultural disciplines.
Janna Levin at Pioneer Works. All images via Science Sandbox.
When Dustin Yellin founded Pioneer Works, he wanted science and the arts to come together in one place. Pioneer Works has an open floor plan that creates a collaborative environment. It also hosts a number of events, educational programs, performances, residencies and exhibitions across all of these disciplines.
One of these events is their free Second Sundays series, which is open to the public on the second Sunday of every month, as the name suggests.
During these events, the artists in residence at Pioneer Works have the opportunity to directly engage with their local community in Red Hook and the general public as a whole, and demonstrate how their work from seemingly very different disciplines, like the arts, technology and science, can in fact come together to make a cohesive experience.
Guests are invited to explore the studios, attend exhibitions, and participate in educational programs. For example, at past Second Sunday events, visitors have been able to enjoy a mask-making workshop to create their own ceremonial-style masks, then head over to the garden right after to join the Amateur Astronomers Association of New York in some stargazing. There’s also always live music at these events, as well as free food and drinks.
“The only way you can change the world is by getting people together,” says Yellin. “The arts and sciences are our greatest soil to build community. I think when you get different kinds of people coming together, then you create a crucible for new ideas. And that’s where people can learn.”
It’s also why Janna Levin wanted to find a way to make science more visceral — like the arts.
So she created “Scientific Controversies,” a live event that is free and open to the public and where scientists discuss big, unanswered questions in science, such as: Are we alone? Is reality beautiful? Can we explain the world?
For each event, she brings together some of the world’s most notable scientists to discuss these questions. For example, back in 2014, Nobel Laureate Frank Wilczek and MIT physicist Max Tegmark came together to discuss the question “Are there many worlds?” She also brought together geneticist George Church and biologist Siddhartha Mukherjee to discuss genetic manipulation.
“The controversy isn’t necessarily between the two people,” Levin explains. “It’s between people and nature.”
“Scientific controversies is about being on the far edge of what we know,” she continues. By bringing together leading scientists with curious audiences, she aims to celebrate the spirit of curiosity as a whole.
And 'Scientific Controversies' is just one example of how Pioneer Works makes science accessible to everyone.
They're also planning to launch a global science channel soon, and they’re also opening the very first public observatory in New York City. The idea is that people who visit Pioneer works will be just as inspired by the wonders of science as they are by any other cornerstone of culture.
To learn more about Pioneer Works and their science programming, check out this video: