Great Salt Lake Institute Brings Together Westminster Community for Art, Science Initiative

Jul 28, 2015

DSC_0240July 28, 2015 Faculty, staff and students collaborate during interactive lakeside SALT event SALT LAKE CITY - High winds and thunderstorms couldn't keep Westminster artists and scientists from participating in this year's Great Salt Lake Institute's SALT (Scientists and Artists Learning Together) retreat-the second installation of the GSLI's Quick Wins grant. Around 20 faculty, staff, students and friends took part in the event, which was held in April on the shoreline of Great Salt Lake (GSL) and inside the marina's Yacht Club. While the retreat was originally scheduled as a cruise on GSL, inclement weather prevented the chartered boat from setting sail on the salty waters that evening. However, that didn't stop participants from heading out to the lake to gather samples and create artistic projects for the program. "We invited all faculty, staff and adjunct faculty to participate in the SALT retreat-the only requirement was an interest in science and/or the arts," explained Dr. Bonnie Baxter, Westminster biology professor and director of GSLI. "We worked with Matt Kruback and Clayton Keyes in visual arts to develop activities that would be steeped in both art and science with the goal of exploring creativity in both disciplines." During the event, participants were divided into teams and given the task to collect interesting samples from the shoreline, as well as produce a short video of their artistic project. Samples gathered included rocks, bugs, sand and sticks, to name a few. The project was created to engage the teams in interdisciplinary design and exploration using both artistic and scientific processes. Such projects will funnel into a new course at Westminster called "The Art and Science of Creativity," and extensions are being implemented at community afterschool programs. "The retreat activities were a backdrop to watch people engage in interdisciplinary process skills," explained Dr. Bonnie Baxter, Westminster biology professor and GSLI director. "We were actually doing a larger experiment to watch participants with different perspectives engage in something that could be deemed 'art' or 'science.' What would their process be? How would it differ from others? Would there be experimentation? Would there been an affinity for the aesthetic? We did a similar activity and observation in the fall retreat at Spiral Jetty." SALT was funded through the Westminster's Quick Wins grant program, which accepts proposals for initiatives that are aligned with the college's new strategic plan and can be implemented quickly and with a small budget. The SALT project was given a grant of $8,000 for the SALT programming, including two retreats-one in the fall and one in the spring-with the purpose of creating opportunities for the campus community to collaborate on projects and program design. GSLI's spring SALT retreat attracted members of the college community from all areas of study. Westminster senior Aspen Hopkins, a neuroscience major, took a break from her finals week to participate in the retreat. "I really needed a break to reset my brain by going outside and expanding my horizons," Hopkins said. "I love the lake. Everyone thinks of it as this salty environment with no life, but there's an abundance of life in there. I love these interdisciplinary arts and sciences programs." Melanie Armstrong, assistant professor of environmental studies, tried to attend the fall retreat but was unable to due to her schedule. "I did my Ph.D. in American Studies and part of that program focused on environmental art," she said. "Ever since then, I've been intrigued." While the funding for SALT ended in May 2015, Jaimi Butler, GSLI coordinator, said they hope to continue hosting activities for the campus that will focus on STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) initiatives since the previous retreats had such positive outcomes. With a new course on the horizon for Westminster students, they have an opportunity for deeper exploration of these ideas. "Both retreats have been a roaring success," added Dr. Baxter. "We have brought together folks from the arts and humanities (dance, visual arts, creative writing, yoga, civics, literature and theater) and from the sciences (biology, geology, chemistry, engineering, and environmental sciences) and even disciplines beyond art and science (business, the writing center) to work together and solve problems. At the fall retreat, we also have community members (from South Salt Lake, the Utah Museum of Fine Arts, and The Leonardo). Surprisingly, what we are learning about the process of science and the process in the arts, is that they are so very similar."

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Krista DeAngelis and Arikka Von

About Westminster

Westminster is a private, independent, and comprehensive college in Salt Lake City, Utah. Students experience the liberal arts blended with professional programs in an atmosphere dedicated to civic engagement. With the goal of enabling its graduates to live vibrant, just, and successful lives, Westminster provides transformational learning experiences for both undergraduate and graduate students in a truly student-centered environment. Faculty focus on teaching, learning, and developing distinctive, innovative programs, while students thrive on Westminster’s urban Sugar House campus within minutes of the Rocky Mountains.

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