Excel as a High-Performing Agency

Imagination meets creativity and data: Using art to tell the story of science

COLORADO – Creating art requires imagination and creativity. Research and applying science does too. But what do these two fields have in common and how might you combine the two?

This spring the USDA Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station Science Application and Communication team hosted an art opening and celebration for their new Lobby Art Exhibit at the Station’s headquarters in Fort Collins. The first installation highlighted the Wildfire Research group’s three-part illustrated video series and featured the framed original art created during the video making process. 

RMRS Economist Patricia Champ and other WiRē team members, along with artist Karina Branson of ConverSketch Graphic Recording and Facilitation, talked about the process of making the illustrated videos to communicate how WiRē helps communities adapt to wildfire and develop more effective wildfire programs.

Video is a powerful art form. By combining visual information with narration, people can engage multiple parts of their brain. This translation of art from science creates real understanding on the part of the viewer. It also benefits science teams by boiling down key components of their work into concise messages.

“We have a cohesive team and we are all great at being science practitioners and researchers,” said Champ. “The video process prompted us to examine the why and how of our work –it turned us into effective story tellers.”

Although this is the first art opening for the Station, it is not the first time the Science Application and Communication team has used art to tell the story of science.

“Our scientists produce amazing on-the-ground research and we want to engage not only land managers, but science users and the public,” said Nehalem Clark, science delivery specialist with the Science Application and Communication team. “Some of this science is complex. Art can translate, communicate, and unpack some of that complexity. It can help us translate meaning to people’s lives and work.”

The Station recently launched another illustrated videos series about the Wildfire Risk Management Science Team. These videos describe new research related to the intricacy of fire risk management and features tools developed by the team for use in proactive wildfire planning: quantitative wildfire risk assessments, suppression difficulty index, and potential control locations that help form potential wildfire operational delineations –also known as PODs.

“Drawing connections between art and science is easy since both require imagination and creativity,” said Clark. “Keep an eye out for our next art installation at the Station showcasing the still images from the WRMS illustrated videos.”

Art and science both require imagination and creativity. The USDA Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station Science Application and Communication team combined art and science to help communicate complex science to target audiences through a series of illustrated videos. Above is a still shot of the illustrated video An Innovative Approach to Understanding Communities, which introduces the Wildfire Research (WiRē) team and explains how they are helping communities adapt to wildfire. USDA Forest Service Forest Service photo.
Group pose
The first installment of the Rocky Mountain Research Station Lobby Art Exhibit Opening included three pieces of art from the illustrated video series highlighting the Wildfire Research group. Patricia Champ, Hannah Brenkert-Smith, and James Meldrum from the team helped unveil the artwork from the video series and spoke about WiRē’s research and the video making process. From left, James Meldrum, U.S. Geological Survey; Hannah Brenkert-Smith, University of Colorado; Patricia Champ, RMRS. USDA Forest Service photo by Samuel Perrine.