Art and science for a sustainable water sector

Art/science approach promotes deep involvement with sustainability

The ‘Art/Science collaborations for transformative change in the water sector’ research explored how one can achieve transformative change in the water sector through the collaboration of these two areas. This Joint Research Programme (BTO) project has shed light on the potential of the collaborations between art and science for the purpose of providing innovative solutions to the challenges of sustainable development.

With the worldwide commitment to sustainability, which includes the pursuit of the SDGs, the water sector also confronts deeply rooted obstacles in the society. Katja Barendse, Public Design researcher: ‘On a rational level, we often know what is needed to change. But somehow, it doesn’t seem to happen. With art and science collaboration you also touch people emotionally. Art offers a new, fresh approach: by bringing art and science together, new perspectives can arise and transformative learning can be stimulated. Transformative learning means a lot more than simply learning facts and skills: it refers to changing how you think, feel and behave. It’s all about profound changes in a person’s perspectives, convictions and identity, with the result that they look at the world in a new way.’

Involvement in sustainability issues

The research comprised various methods, such as historical analyses and qualitative interviews. It identified two collaboration approaches: 1. art as an instrument, and 2. synergistic art-science collaboration. The first approach offers new ways of conveying complex scientific information. The second form of collaboration encourages scientists, viewers and artists to look at a particular problem or event from different perspectives, and to reconsider their own points of view and responsibility. This can create a profound understanding of and involvement in sustainability issues. Katja Barendse: ‘The report that has now been published is primarily theoretical. But we would very much like to continue working on the subject. As a follow-up we have in mind a concrete collaboration around the theme of art, science and water. Rijkswaterstaat, for example, is already working with an artist in residence. ‘

The exploratory Joint Research Programme (BTO) research project, ‘Art/Science collaborations for transformative change in the water sector’, is a collaboration between Waterbedrijf Groningen and KWR.