The Alumna: Hayley Gillespie, PhD, 2011
Founder of Art.Science.Gallery., an East Austin gallery that exhibits science-related art. Interviewed by Christine Sinatra.
Talk about how you got started as a scientist interested in art.
As an undergraduate, I was a biology major with an art minor, and a lot of the art I did was inspired by use of natural resources. I spent a year teaching middle school science in Dallas—everything from physics to chemistry to biology—then came to UT for the graduate program in Ecology, Evolution and Behavior. My dissertation needed visualizations, so I started sketching and I teamed up with an artist. It made me remember why I liked doing art and science.
What was your research about?
I studied the ecology and conservation of the Barton Springs salamander. At that time, we hardly knew anything about their ecology. I found out that one thing that seems to be really important to population dynamics is the amount of winter rainfall we get: it’s much better for amphibian larval development when rain falls when it’s cold out. If you don’t get these periodic episodes of winter rainfall, there’s no opportunity for the little salamanders to survive and become adults, which also has some scary implications with climate change.
How did Art.Science.Gallery. come about?
After graduation, I started writing about art and science on my blog, Biocreativity. I was interviewing ecologists who do artwork and learning how they use art to communicate science and tell a story. It started to snowball, and people started to email me all the time about showing their work on the blog and then asking if I could show it in a gallery. I eventually got enough of these requests that I thought, “I guess nobody is really doing this, and these artists are making really neat work.” I think it’s important to show everyone what they’re doing, because it communicates science, it contributes to a more science-literate society, we can nurture more science enthusiasts, and maybe it can be a tool to get other scientists to learn how to communicate better.
The gallery supports other science communications efforts, too, right?
Art is one way to get a lot of people who may not be into the sciences engaged, but it’s not all we do. We do science communications boot camps and trainings, teaching scientists to communicate. Our mission at the gallery is to engage the public in the sciences through visual arts, to support the careers of science artists and to help scientists become better communicators. That can take many different guises. Our exhibits and programs make people walk away with a nugget or two of science. I think every time we get a visitor we may be generating science enthusiasts.
Read our extended interview for more on salamanders, science communications, and the science-art continuum.