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Transdisciplinary Spaces for (R)Evolution

Updated: Apr 7, 2023

For the most part, we are all defenders of making the world a better place. Where things break down is when we choose up sides regarding why things have gone wrong or how we should go about resolving the problems we face. Once we fixate on our differences, all the space for innovation, creativity and social action dissolves. For individuals, organizations and communities to build a better world, we first need to construct spaces for collaboration where information exchange, imagination and agency are able to flourish.

We could, of course, reconfigure the old spaces to support new ways of behaving and talking to one another; but there are big partisan divides that get in the way. There are also deep sector and disciplinary-specific silos that preclude lasting crosscutting collaboration. To be fair, silos are very effective for bringing experts together with specific knowledge sets to solve discipline specific problems. It is because of specialization that we have antibiotics, refrigeration and electricity just to name a few things that came along with the industrial revelation.

But our modern world has transformed into a global community. As we have progressed, our problems have changed along with us; they have become complex, interconnected, urgent and non-linear. Our challenges can no longer be resolved by a single discipline. As Einstein said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”

To make the world a better place, we need to build new spaces that can provide sustainable bridges for collaboration between disparate resources, people and knowledge sets. We need to build spaces that embrace transdisciplinarity; that is, spaces where strategies are employed that bring together multiple disciplines, expertise and resources to create holistic approaches to our problems. When spaces are transdisciplinary they focus on systemic and intersectional solutions that inspire collective action, aggregate innovation and accountability.

Transdisciplinary spaces create a revolution of intelligence, able to transform our world with ethical, holistic and creative futures. Transdisciplinary spaces can lead us toward social evolution and the emergence of a culture that does not destroy its own people and the planet that gives them life.

We can operationalize “transformative transdisciplinary spaces” with five characteristics identified by Steelman et al (2019): (1) an unfiltered safe place where (2) subjective and objective experiences and (3) different worldviews can come together through (4) interactive and (5) multiple sensory experiences. This definition supports the construction of Art + Science hybrid spaces such as Relational Space.

There is real power in arts and science hybrids. I say hybrids because artists and scientists have traditionally lived and worked in very different worlds. When there have been collaborations, the arts have usually been cast in the service of science to communicate specific scientific constructs. Art and science collaborations have also tended to be temporary and project specific events that emerge for a brief coupling and then are gone. What we need are enduring transdisciplinary spaces that are able to promote true hybrid Art + Science collaborations with empirically driven creativity as the driving force. We need spaces that empower artists and scientists to imagine freely, break disciplinary barriers, connect across cultural differences and highlight shared human values and mutual goals.

Art and Science are not so different; rather, they are two branches of the same river. Scientists and artists working in equal partnerships with community involvement can give us connections to one another that build trust, cooperation and compel us to social action. Art + science spaces – with collaborative methodology and outcomes – bring sectors, disciplines, communities and cultures together as the catalyst for social change.

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