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Artificial Imagination: Exploring the Convergence of Arts and AI


Special promotional content provided by Wisconsin Science Festival.

Mark your calendars for the return of Wisconsin’s largest festival! Spanning the entire state, the 13th Wisconsin Science Festival is bigger than ever.  From October 16 – 22,  the festival will explore everything under the sun and  moon with a variety of activities that include library events, take-home kits, lectures, film screenings, book talks, nature outings, and virtual programs, most of which are free and all of which are appropriate for all ages.  

The Science Festival is honored to have Division of the Arts Director Chris Walker helming this year’s installment of the popular “Big Ideas for Busy People” event, which has been a fixture at the festival since 2014. In “Am AI Art Too? – How AI is Transforming the Creative Process,” Walker will explore how rapid technological advancements like ai friend and companion chatbots have propelled art and creative expression into new territory. 

Chris Walker, professor of dance in the School of Education and director of the Division of Arts at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, is pictured in a studio portrait on March 8, 2023. (Photo by Althea Dotzour / UW–Madison)

In the Union South Marquee Cinema, Walker will gather artist scholars Aaron Greer, Associate Professor UW-Madison Communication Arts, Dionne Nichole Champion, Research Associate Professor University of Florida College of the Arts, and Mary Simoni, Acting Provost Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, for a lively discussion and flash presentations on the ways A.I.-generated masterpieces transform conventional boundaries between art and science. The use of AI offers artists groundbreaking tools for innovation, but it also raises thought-provoking questions about authorship and creativity. 

“The arts are a manifestation of culture, people’s experiences, their thoughts, their ruminations, things they are trying to solve,” says Walker, who is a professor of dance and founding artistic director of the First Wave program in the Office of Multicultural Arts Initiatives. “And science is the production of solutions towards the betterment of our lives. I think every society has those things walking side by side.” 

How to engage public interest in science, encourage participation, and convince people that science is accessible and relevant in their lives?  Art is one answer to that conundrum. 

“Artists,” Walker notes, “are able to take difficult subject matter and present it in ways that are … sometimes beautiful, sometimes difficult, but always accessible.”

Walker is particularly suited to offer insightful commentary to the merging of art and science. In Jamaica, where Walker grew up, science and art were not separated. 

At UW-Madison, Walker has also partnered with Dr. Bilge Mutlu, now Program Director of INTEGRATE at the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery, to explore the interaction of dance and robotics. Dr. Mutlu and Walker worked with undergraduate dance and computer science students to explore “embodied cues for dialogue with robots,’ in 2011 at the first ever Wisconsin Science Festival.  The outcome of this project was presented as a part of the Wisconsin Science Festival Arts Night Out event, which featured collaborations across the performing arts and sciences. 

“We are thrilled to collaborate with Chris and the Division of the Arts on this year’s ‘Big Ideas for Busy People’ event,” says Sam Mulrooney, director of the Wisconsin Science Festival. “Our science festival was founded on the mission of bringing different perspectives together to seek further understanding of the world around us, and advancing the conversation on how art and science can best complement each other is essential to our existence.”

The Wisconsin Science Festival’s annual Big Ideas for Busy People event will take place virtually and in person on Tuesday, October 17, from 5-6 p.m. at the Marquee Lounge in Union South (1308 W. Dayton Street). Following the event, the Arts Together reception (6-7 p.m.) will offer refreshments and a space for continued discussion on the dynamic interplay between arts and artificial intelligence. Please RSVP by Monday, October 16.

–Laura C. Red Eagle