Background Image

Art + Science: the value of interdisciplinary partnerships

Award winning artist Sharon McKenzie describes the power of arts and science partnerships.

“…art can be utilised to draw a bridge between information and understanding that is of benefit to us all.”

As the Old Courthouse Cultural Association (Ipswich) artist in residence for 2013/14, I developed a series of works entitled Endangered.  I was inspired to create this project out of concerns for the environment in the Ipswich area. At the time, community concern had arisen about the sale of heritage buildings with significant historical and cultural value.  I began to see parallels between the loss of environment (species) and cultural heritage (buildings) and how that affects community identity.  The project’s area of focus became endangered and vulnerable flora, fauna and historical buildings of Ipswich.  It is through this work that I hoped to make contributions to awareness in my hometown about these species and buildings.  Following a successful application for Regional Arts Development funding through Ipswich City Council and the Queensland State Government I developed Endangered – species of Ipswich  over 8 months, which was exhibited in June 2014 at the Ipswich Community Gallery.

I contacted the Queensland Museum outlining my project and was invited to access resources for sketching and photography as reference for the project. The staff at the Museum were highly supportive of the arts and were interested in the project. At the Queensland Museum I got to see first-hand how the animals are preserved as skins for research purposes. It was an essential element in the creation of the highly detailed, accurate drawings required for the project and the conceptual development of the work. I was able to access a list of endangered species of Ipswich plants and utilise the plant specimen collection at the Queensland Herbarium. I was also able to gain information about the fauna and flora species from other artists and ecologists in my local community area through the Ipswich Environmental Forum and the Environmental Centre at Queens Park.

It was with one of the Exquisite Corpse works that I have won the Wayne Kratzmann Award in the Qld Regional Art Awards (through Flying Arts). This award means that I am able to work on further expanding this project and embark on some professional development opportunities. The work Exquisite Corpse (Black throated Finch, Squatter Pigeon, Regent Honeyeater and Grey headed flying fox) will be traveling around Regional Queensland as a part of the Flying Arts “Vital Signs” exhibition (2015), creating further awareness for the three species of bird and Grey Headed flying fox in the image (which are not only endangered or vulnerable in Ipswich but the whole of Queensland).

Interpretations of scientific data by artists could lead to new insights and ways of thinking for the scientists involved in projects with artists.  For me, the experience of creating partnerships with scientists has been a very positive one and I would encourage artists to reach out to experts when investigating a line of enquiry that requires accurate scientific information.

Hopefully through my work people will become inspired to look at their own areas and become aware of vulnerable flora, fauna and significant buildings in their own communities.  I think that art can be utilised to draw a bridge between information and understanding and that is of benefit to us all.

This project illustrates how the artists can work with support across networks to create significant outcomes.


Sharon McKenzie bio pictureSharon McKenzie is an artist living and working in Ipswich Queensland.  Her work explores themes of identity and the environment.  Sharon is the current Old Courthouse Cultural Association Artist in Residence.  She is the 2014 winner of the Qld Regional Art Awards, Wayne Kratzmann Prize with her work Exquisite Corpse.  She has obtained a Bachelor of Fine Art (illustration) and a Graduate Diploma in Painting from Queensland College of Art, Griffith University.  She is currently working on expanding her project Endangered which features endangered and vulnerable flora, fauna and heritage buildings of Ipswich, Queensland. The award winning work Exquisite Corpse (Black throated Finch, Squatter Pigeon, Regent Honeyeater and Grey Headed Flying Fox) will tour with the Flying Arts exhibition “Vital Signs” around regional Queensland in 2015.