Science Inspires Art and Learning

by Jan C. NadavSusan Froyd quote
Director of Education and Interpretation

When I inherited the Mizel Museum camp program as the director of education, it was time for a conceptual overhaul—something entirely new and different. It was the fall of 2009 and the first person I approached was Monica Aiello. Our own kids were deep in dance rehearsals for a show at the time,  so we had hours to spend together. We got to talking about what it would be like to create a camp program that paired kids with professional teaching artists. Monica and her husband Tyler, a scientifically-influenced sculptor, had already begun to devote themselves, outside of their studio, to the field of education, using the arts as a tool to expose and engage students in scientific inquiry and content.

Monica inspired the idea that we could build an entire day camp program that would explore significant content with arts as the vehicle—a laboratory of experimentation and learning for campers and artists alike. I started to contact other working artists passionate about education, and Creative Journeys was born.

The Aiellos are a dynamic duo. I fondly call them “our Kennedys.” Monica frequently consults with noted planetary scientists in the development of her geologically-inspired works. This dialogue has greatly enriched her artistic process, allowing her to develop innovative painting techniques to interpret planetary surfaces. She and David Grinspoon, noted astronomer and curator at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, were recently listed among the top 100 “Colorado Creatives.” Tyler’s work draws from micromorphology within the organic world of biology, botany and chemistry using mathematics. His sculpture is prized by architects, designers and consultants around the world. One of his sculptures is at Red Rocks.

Ionian Sea II Detail

Ionian Sea II Detail by Monica Aiello

The flagship program was Our Place in Space, a five-day camp exploring the elements of art in combination with planetary science. In one week, kids learn about such things as the solar system, ancient cultures and their understanding of the cosmos, the history of space discovery, and the dynamics of gravity—all through hands-on experimentation and art-making. Many campers have remarked that they learned more science in five days than they do in an entire year of school. And all the while, having so much fun, they lose track of time.

After the success of Our Place in Space, the Aiellos followed their own rigorous inquiry in pedagogy and created additional camps. One led by Tyler, Across The Universe, focused on the cultural history of engineering, physics and architecture. This may seem textbook heavy, but instead, was completely hands-on, including projects like sun-dials, catapults, simple machines and rockets, to name a few.

This year, in addition to Our Place in Space, the Aiellos will offer a new camp that was developed after a residency at the Odyssey School in Denver, sponsored by the Mizel Museum and the SCFD. I invited the Aiellos to Odyssey to enhance a fourth and fifth grade course of study exploring the connection between the human body as a system and the planets as a solar system. Sounds complex, right? It was! However, I knew that Monica and Tyler would relish the assignment and immediately understand the possibilities of teaching both systems in tandem. It was a remarkable program that brought the content and connections to life.

In true Aiello form, they culled so much material for this assignment that they were prepared to do a five-day camp! And so, this summer we are offering, All Systems GO! The Cosmos and YOU, a look at the connections between space, life on earth and possibly beyond. Campers will explore humanity’s cultural and historical connections to the cosmos, the story of the earth and the solar system’s formation through the vehicle of art-making.

To learn more about their distinctive educational approach and body of work, take a look at a recent lecture by Monica at a NASA Educator’s Workshop:

Thanks to the Aiellos for their enduring inspiration, which spawned an entire approach to day camps at the Mizel Museum, where the arts are the tool for igniting understanding about the world around us.

CLICK HERE to read about 2013 Creative Journeys Summer Camps, and watch our fun new video!

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