What is the impact of an arts-science experience on people’s perceptions of urban ecology and the importance of biodiversity in a temporary space

This research project forms part of a series of subprojects associated with The Living Pavilion, a temporary festival that aims to illuminate Indigenous and ecological knowledge of past and present, foster collaboration across disciplines, and share and celebrate the uniqueness and potential of ‘place’.

Project title

Perceptions of urban ecology and understanding the importance of biodiversity through an art-science lens.

Research team

Christina Renowden (Master of Environment student, Office of Environmental Programs, The University of Melbourne)
Supervisors: Dr Tanja Beer (Academic Fellow in Performance Design & Sustainability [Ecoscenography] Melbourne School of Design, The University of Melbourne); and Dr Luis Mata (Research Fellow, Clean Air and Urban Landscapes Hub, Centre for Urban Research RMIT University)

Project objective

The aim of this research project is to explore people’s perceptions of urban ecology and their understanding of the importance of biodiversity through the lens of science and art. The objective is to deliver three participatory art-science workshops in a temporary space (The Living Pavilion) which focus on three different biodiversity components (i.e. frogs, insects and plants). Coupled with each of these components is an art activity directed at the senses (i.e. insects – visual art/photography; frogs – aural/soundscapes; and plants – touch/vegetal crafting). Through the workshops I hope to encourage intuitive, creative thinking and engagement with the topic of urban biodiversity.

Key research questions

  1. What is the impact of an arts-science experience on people’s perceptions of urban ecology and the importance of biodiversity in a temporary space?
  2. What participatory art-science experiences are more effective in:
    1. communicating ecological information and cultivating ecological literacy?
    2. creating a sense of optimal experience (flow) and opening new pathways to ecological sustainability?
    3. activating people’s involvement in advancing their knowledge or exploring urban biodiversity?


As our world shifts towards an uncertain future, the rapid modification of earths’ systems and loss of biological diversity are some of humanity’s most significant challenges1. There is a growing need for transdisciplinary approaches to address these challenges in order to produce creative solutions2. Merging art and science to communicate the challenges is a worldwide movement and is a compelling way to connect with the public3. Linking science and art can achieve consilience, where the “jumping together” of knowledge between the two disciplines may lead to a common ground work of explanation and understanding4. Building on the ‘facts and figures’ of science and ecological concerns through an arts-based medium provides an opportunity to deeply engage people by focusing on attitude and emotion, as opposed to solely relying on the understanding and application side of learning5. Participatory projects which have used these approaches to communicating science through the arts have shown meaningful shifts in community behaviour leading to action and strengthening engagement6 (Evans, 2014).

Why is this research important?

While there is a growing popularity of “maker-movements” greater rigour is required around the conceptualisation and evaluation of participatory approaches in order to highlight how the arts can provide a medium for effective science communication7
. In an urban context, further research is required in to how transdisciplinary approaches can address complex challenges with people and biodiversity. This research is important as it will provide insight into the value of an art-science approach that aims to stimulate changes in environmental behaviours, inspire people to be more informed, and engage their positive feelings with urban-based ecological issues.

  1. Angeler, D.G., Alvarez-Cobelas, M., Sanchez-Carrillo, S. (2018).  Sonifying social-ecological change: A wetland laments agricultural transformation. Ecology and Society, 23(2), 20.
  2. Scheffer, M. Bascomte, J., Bjordam, T.K. (2015). Dual thinking for scientists. Ecological Society. 20(2), 3.
  3. Wilson, S. (2002). Information arts: intersections of art science and technology MIT Press, Cambridge.; Kagan, S. (2014). The practice of ecological art. Plastic-art and science. http://art-science.univ-paris1.fr/plastik/document.php?id=866.. ISSN 2101-0323
  4. Wilson, E. O. (1998). Consilience: The unity of knowledge. New York: Knopf.
  5. Lesen, A.E., Rogan, A. and Blum, M.J. (2016). Science communication through art: objectives, challenges and outcomes. Trends in Ecology and Evolution. 31 (9), 657-660).
  6.  Evans, E. (2014). How Green is my Valley? The Art of Getting People in Wales to Care about Climate Change. Journal Journal of Critical Realism. 13 (3).
  7. Connelly, A., Guy, S.G., Wainwright, E., Weileder, W. and Wilde, M. (2016). Catalyst: reimagining sustainability with and through fine art. Ecology and Society 21 (4), 21.