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On Copyright, Ethics and Attribution: Interdisciplinary Collaborations Between Artists and Scientists

25 Mar 2018 3:26 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

by Ashley EM Miller

Often when we think about science outreach and engaging new audiences, we envision presenting facts eloquently and hoping, with bated breath, that readers will take something away.

That works for audiences already interested in science. But what about those who aren't invested in the field? Information alone may not be enough.


Art can be a way to engage the public with science through the the simple fact that novelty sparks curiosity. Artists in the emerging field of sci-art utilize science concepts, methods, principles and information within their practice. Their art, along with the work of science illustrators, can facilitate a deeper emotional connection to science, particularly in those who don’t regularly pay attention or feel welcome.

However, using artwork in science communication is not as simple as inserting a picture into a body of text and referencing the artist in MLA style.

For those coming from the sciences, citing your sources, as laborious as that may be, is a given. While that is fine for incorporating  information, that isn’t always adequate for artwork. In the art world, artists know how to ask other artists to use their work. If a scientist or science communicator does not have an “in” with the art community, they may not know where to find legal information about using art.


Anyone interested in using artwork in their science communication practice, should attend the upcoming SWCC conference’s professional development session "On Copyright, Ethics and Attribution: Interdisciplinary Collaborations Between Artists and Scientists". The panel discussion will be moderated by Theresa Liao of Curiosity Collider and Sarah Louadi of  Voirelia, both of whom are intimately familiar with combining art and science in their respective organizations. Sarah and Theresa will lead a much-needed conversation about the benefits and best practices of partnerships between artists and science communicators.


The session boasts a well-rounded panel. Attendees will gain insights on aspects of the art world with panelists Kate Campbell, a science illustrator, and Steven J. Barnes, a psychologist and artist. Legal and ethical considerations will be provided by Lawrence Chan, an intellectual property lawyer, and April Britski, the National Executive Director of Canadian Artists’ Representation/Le Front des artistes canadiens (CARFAC). For those unfamiliar, CARFAC is a federal organization that acts as a voice for visual artists in Canada and outlines minimum fee guidelines among other things.

Science communicators and bloggers will certainly benefit from the session, particularly early-career freelancers. When working independently, there are no organizational policies and procedures in place for you to follow. It means that you have to check everything yourself, and this session will give you a crash course of what to look for in artist collaborations, what to ask and how to ask it. Even researchers will benefit from the discussion, by learning about the opportunities for working with science illustrators and about what to expect.


"On Copyright, Ethics and Attribution: Interdisciplinary Collaborations Between Artists and Scientists". will take place at 3:15 pm on Saturday April 14th as part of the conference’s concurrent Professional Development sessions. Come and be inspired by how your science communication journey can benefit from art collaboration and learn about the ethical and legal aspects of compensating partners. Art and science operate in different cultures or referencing, attribution and payment. Understanding these differences through open dialogue can reduce conflicts and tension. In the end, we benefit the broader society by facilitating meaning engagement with science.


Ashley EM Miller is a writer, museum educator, and eternally curious creature. She's fascinated by the sciences, passionate about the arts, and intrigued by where the two intersect. You can find her as @Dctr_Ash on Twitter and Instagram



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