Science and Belonging at Brisbane Writers Festival 2016

1: Anti-panels

On Sunday, I hosted the Science and Belonging panel at Brisbane Writers Festival.

Scientists Tamara Davis and Maggie Hardy joined writers Ellen van Neerven and Maree Kimberley for a conversation about their work and the crossovers between art, science, storytelling, and identity.

We wanted the people attending our event to be participants, not just an audience – so I helped the library devise an “anti-panel” session inspired by our Broadband and Heritage workshops earlier this year.

In the “anti-panel”, the audience split up into four groups. Each group got to spend ten minutes in conversation with each of our four guests. At the end of that forty-minute session, we held a plenary panel where our guests reflected on the discussions they’d had, and more questions could be fielded from the floor.

The aim was to change audiences’ experience at a festival panel from “sitting watching VIPs have a conversation, with maybe a few questions at the end” to full interaction and engagement.

Our tools weren’t digital devices or social media apps, but wheelie chairs and a stopwatch.

And we learned as we went – adapting, for example, to the acoustics of the space during group discussion.

The experiment in event design was part of a broader conversation I’ve been having with David Robertson around audience participation and public engagement. You can read more of his work at the Beyond Panels website, a great one-stop shop for alternative event formats.

2: We Need To Talk About Kelvin

The 2016 Brisbane Writers Festival will be notorious for Lionel Shriver’s controversial keynote, which challenged notions of cultural appropriation, and the powerful response to it from Yassmin Abdel-Magied.

Festival organisers quickly organised a right-to-reply for Yassmin and other writers, which you can watch on Yassmin’s Facebook page. (The live stream was filmed by Yen-Rong Wong, whose account of the dispute is also worth reading).

Our Science and Belonging event, presented by the State Library of Queensland for the Festival, was part of the library’s year-long theme of Belonging – an exploration of many different Queensland identities and experiences.

During the event, we were asked if we had deliberately chosen an all-women panel of experts. We hadn’t – we simply wanted outstanding practitioners of science and science-fiction – but we also acknowledged the importance of bringing together women, migrants, and Indigenous people as experts on a panel which was not “the token diversity panel”.

I’m proud that the Library and the Festival were able to deliver this special celebration of science and speculative fiction with a distinctive Queensland flavour. See more from Brisbane Writers Festival via the #bwf16 hashtag on Twitter.

Science, Arts, and Community Engagement: Not Just For Wizards

A new interdisciplinary literacy is the only hope for finding a way to square our current arrangement of life with the continuation of human and planetary life as such. Scientists, philosophers, anthropologists, politicians, political theorists, historians, writers, and artists must gather their wisdom, develop a level of mutual literacy, and cross-pollinate their severed lineages.

Beth Povinelli, Interview for The Signal In Transition

I think there’s a lot of merit in Beth Povinelli’s words about science and the arts and different ways of knowing.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot as momentum builds for this October’s Fun Palaces, the international community-led celebration of arts and sciences.

Fun Palaces can look like cuddly fluffy things, but they’re also events which are serious about acknowledging the talents and understanding which local communities already have. They’re very serious, too, about exploring what it means to say, as their motto does, “everyone an artist, everyone a scientist.”

Those two terms can seem intimidating sometimes. “Artists” and “scientists” sound like privileged, elevated folk compared to you and I – so the way I always put it is this:

If a two-year-old ever handed you an imaginary phone and said “Ring ring”, and you answered it, you’re an artist – because you joined in their creative play.

And if you ever made soup from a recipe, tasted it, and said “needs more salt”, then added some, you’re a scientist – because you revised your belief in the face of evidence.

Eating soup!

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“At last, something I can talk about!” – Fun Palaces at Lambeth Libraries

After a stint carrying out research for publishers and media productions – projects which I’ll look forward to talking about when I’m allowed to! – I’m pleased to announce that I’ll be working as a creative producer with the London Borough of Lambeth, helping their library staff to devise and deliver ten Fun Palaces with local communities on Saturday 3rd October 2015.

Fun Palaces are the international movement creating pop-up venues for communities to try their hands at science and the arts. Last year, I worked with Parkes Library on Australia’s first Fun Palace which incorporated tabletop games and supervillainous challenges alongside creative play for all ages.

I’m looking forward to taking things further with Lambeth in 2015. Our events will tie in to Black History Month and feature a range of stargazing, cybernetic, all-embracing, all-ages art and adventure. Watch this space for more news.

In the meantime you can read my article “Pushing the Limits: Play, Explore, Experiment” for British librarians’ in-house magazine CILIP Update, which looks at Fun Palaces alongside other arts and community adventures from the UK, Australia, and New Zealand:

CILIP Update Finch Article Cover Image

Sign up to create your own Fun Palace at the Fun Palaces website.

The Library Innovation Toolkit, Out Now

The Library Innovation Toolkit

The Library Innovation Toolkit is out today from ALA Editions!

The book “encourages readers to take big risks, ask deeper questions, strive for better service, and dream bigger ideas”, with practical examples and suggestions for 21st century library services.

I wrote “Monsters, Rockets, and Baby Racers”, the chapter on working with children and young people, together with Tracie Mauro of Australia’s Parkes Library.

Readers will get inspiration and case studies from the team which picked up a 2014 national award for innovation in youth services.

If you fancy unleashing the power of play and immersive storytelling in your museum, gallery, school, or library, the book’s worth checking out. You can buy it from ALA Editions at their website.

From monsters to Manila: a few upcoming events

Awestruck Time Travel Detectives!
Awestruck Time Travel Detectives at Parkes Shire Library, New South Wales

Once again, it’s busy times over at Finch Towers. I owe this blog a report on Time Travel Detectives and Big Box Battle, two immersive roleplay activities that I’ve just run at Parkes Library. That’s coming, but in the meantime you can see a few photographs from the two events below. There’s no qualitative assessment quite as cool as the awestruck expression on a child’s face…or the air-punching victory of a seven-year-old girl who just took down a chainsaw wielding Elvis robot.

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Next week sees schools from around Central West New South Wales converge on Tullamore for the sequel to 2012’s zombie showdown, and after that I’ll be speaking in Manila and Sydney.

Zombie at the window
ALWAYS with the zombies…

In Manila, I’ll be running a youth activity for the Museum of Contemporary Art and Design, (MCAD) as well as speaking to Filipino librarians on strategy and innovation. MCAD made a rather beautiful poster for the event:

Poster for Matt's talk on librarianship to Manila museum of contemporary art and design

After that, I’ll be speaking at a New South Wales Writers’ Centre event on Thursday 24th October, Monsters Under The Bed, alongside novelist Kate Forsyth and researcher Nyssa Harkness. We’ll be looking at the place of monsters in children’s and Young Adult fiction – and with Nyssa’s gaming background, I’m hoping we get to explore whether our relationship to monsters changes in an age when interactive storytelling and gaming often allow us to struggle with them directly… You can order tickets for the event at the Writers’ Centre Eventbrite page.

And when all that is done, I have a few words for you on immersive roleplay, performance and literacy, and embedding stories in a community. Stay tuned…

Comics, Ink and Science

Bryan Grieg Fry with an alligator
Bryan Grieg Fry

My article on Bryan Grieg Fry, the heavily tattooed venom expert at the University of Queensland, appears in the forthcoming print edition of Australasian Science magazine.

I’ve also written on using comic books in the classroom for the curriculum supplement to this month’s New Zealand Education Gazette.

To tie in with this article, I’ll be posting additional interviews, resources and guest writing on using comics in the classroom under the comicsedu tag.

Watch out for posts and wise words from the likes of graphic novelist Jessica Abel, artist-educator Nick Sousanis, staff from University College London’s “Supergods” workshops, and many more.

New article at ScienceWise

Australian venom expert Dr. Bryan Grieg Fry

My latest article for ScienceWise, on Australian scientists who have tattoos of their own research, appears in print tomorrow, with an online copy visible today – visit the ScienceWise website to read more.

Dr. Bryan Grieg Fry, venom expert at the University of Queensland, is pictured above. He appears in another piece on science tattoos, also coming soon in the Aussie science press.

April update: Science tattoos, teen bloggers, copywriting, and comics

It’s been a little quiet on the blog lately as I ploughed through a swathe of writing assignments and tried (only partly successfully) to stay clear of the Internet.

I have a couple of articles out later this year for the Australian science magazines ScienceWise and Australasian Science, profiling scientists who featured in Carl Zimmer’s book Science Ink. Carl uncovered the weird and wonderful world of researchers who have their work tattooed on their bodies after he spotted a DNA helix inked on the arm of a respected neurobiologist at a pool party in the States. This led to a great book collecting photos of striking, beautiful and downright bizarre science tattoos from around the world.

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