To introduce life-saving medical science to new audiences, Crosstown Arts and Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital, in collaboration with the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, recently presented the seventh biennial exhibition of The Art of Science. The exhibit was founded and directed by Heather Smallwood, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Pediatrics in the UTHSC College of Medicine.
Local artists created works based on the science conducted by medical research scientists and clinicians from across Memphis to present at the Art of Science exhibit at Crosstown Arts. The event aimed to explore the beauty of science and the power of art.
Artists selected the research they were inspired to interpret from scientists and clinicians at UTHSC and Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital and translated the research into distinctive art pieces. In the exhibit, the artwork was displayed alongside the topic, video, or image of the science that inspired it.
“We ask clinicians and scientists to send us their images, videos, and concepts and then invite artists to UTHSC to select a topic based on their interests. Over the past ten years, I have noticed that most people are surprised by how aesthetically appealing the science is,” Dr. Smallwood said.
Dr. Smallwood mentioned longtime curator, Melissa Ferris, noted the project inspires the artists to explore new mediums and areas. Dr. Smallwood’s research on influenza viruses and COVID-19 was also displayed in the exhibit beside an artistic mixed media recreation by Rachel Stovall Davis.
“This translates into an exciting exhibit for the artists and the public, which we hope is moving, thought-provoking, and sparks interest in people in both the art and the science. I think the arts and science are central to Memphis and profoundly impact Memphians in tangible and intangible ways,” Dr. Smallwood said. “I think they should be a point of pride for our city, and I hope bringing them together in this exhibit continues to unite and inspire us.”
Scientific research conducted by Amber Smith, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Pediatrics in the UTHSC College of Medicine, focusing on understanding influenza viruses and how they impact the lungs and immune system responses, was featured in the exhibit alongside artwork by Katie Maish.
“Part of what we’re looking at in that study is using computational methods to predict disease severity based on things we might be able to measure and finding ways that we can understand the infection,” Dr. Smith said. “The images that were used were essentially whole lung slices that are stained for an influenza protein so you can see where the virus-infected cells are. We were looking to quantify that and connect it to disease severity.”
“I have always found it fun to see an artist’s interpretation of the science. We often try to split the two, but there’s actually a lot of artistry in science and probably a lot of science that goes into artistry,” Dr. Smith said. “When you look at the exhibit, there’s maybe one way you would think to interpret somebody’s science or art, but to have a very unique perspective from each of the artists, I think was one of the more beneficial aspects of the exhibit.”
The Art of Science, on view from June 4-October 23, launched with an opening reception, and a science reception that took place in July, providing evenings of introductions to the local artists and discussions of the scientific research with the community.
The exhibit featured the works of more than 30 local artists and invited viewers to take an internal look into the clinics and laboratories of prominent facilities at UTHSC, Le Bonheur, and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.