Article categories: Scientific Serendipity
March 16th, 2010

Justine Cooper’s advent as artist in residence at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) was itself an act of serendipity. A few years’ back I was presented with one of her video shorts in our annual international film festival. Afterwards, we remained in infrequent e-mail contact but when she approached me about finding a host institution to sponsor her project on genetic art, the Museum happened to be in the throes of organizing a major exhibition entitled The Genomic Revolution.

We were the ideal site for Justine because of the connections to scientists and DNA sequencing laboratory, and she was ideal for us because she came with an innovative and fully funded project. Thus was forged the American Museum of Natural History’s first artist-in-residence project.

As in any city or village, communities are often isolated; disconnected from one another. And sometimes it takes someone from outside to weave disparate communities together.  The American Museum of Natural History in New York is a huge community. An avenue wide and four blocks long, it holds more than half a million objects and in its dozens of scientific divisions, laboratories and exhibition halls house hundreds of scientists, exhibition preparators and educators.

During her residency, Justine journeyed the labyrinthine museum halls and back rooms, visiting special collections, meeting with scientists, and forging relationships that were as new to us as they were to her. She influenced and shaped some of the public media programs in our Science for Art’s Sake series and partnered with one of the Museum educators who was producing a genome educational web project.

The success of Justine’s project and her initiative helped us to develop Art/Science Collision, a new Museum project that will become an integral part of our public programs. Through it, we hope to continue celebrating the nexus of art and science through both the visual and the literary. Justine’s work here planted the seed for future innovative collaborations.

Elaine Charnov
Director, Public Programs
American Museum of Natural History, New York

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