Case Study: Cultivating Art and Science in the Petri dish: The Culture at Work Project

Coordinator: Sherryl Ryan

Culture at Work, in Sydney, Australia, is the most recent project that I have created as an artist – this project is different to its predecessors, it is not aligned with a university or museum or other institutions (yet). Culture at Work is based on evolutionary principles of growth through adaption and includes learning as a principle for all stakeholders.

Opportunities for engagement and connection between artists and scientists at Culture at Work continue to grow and relationships have been developing over the three year life of the not for profit. Research output includes multiple formats; art science exhibitions, artist scientist talks, video, art science workshops for young people, community engagement, blog sites.

Culture at Work has been able to make connections with key people across a range of disciplines at universities, research institutes, local councils and Government agencies, in particular its model of creative initiative and maneuverability. The model fits a need for creative thinking and innovative solutions for creative industries.

The project has been challenging due to lack of funding, it currently resides outside individual funding silos and priorities and does not fit into a single art or science or education category. Its innovation attracts a great deal of interest, from business, academics and science institutes however grant funding bodies’ applications are restrictive due to format, existing categories and time frames; the research growing at Culture at Work is outside existing formulas and may be more relevant to the ‘start up’ approach. The creative process and art science collaborations follow incremental adaption rather than written substantiation of outcomes written in advance. Currently to ensure the integrity of the creative innovation it is easier to continue to work without funding to achieve flexibility and true innovation.

Obstacles that impede the speed of growth, development and communication of Culture at Work’s activities include lack of funding; lack of resources to promote to the public the innovative projects that have been incubated and developed between artists and scientists. Exhibitions run for several weeks and only traces remain through photos on blog-sites, limiting the dissemination of the collaborative processes.

Recommendations include Governments setting aside funding that is not time-based that includes opportunities for artist-led organisations and models that incubate creative processes and evolutionary collaborations. Addressing this gap will ensure that new contributors can add to the bigger picture. Being outside the system can often give a new and valuable perspective to innovation and to the nexus or new space of art and science. Emptiness and new incubators are required for creative and new thinking – the new frontier requires new paradigms.


Sherryl Ryan – Artist, Founder & CEO of Culture at Work an Artist-led Art Science Research Institute in Sydney, Australia. Formerly Gifted Education Coordinator at the Art Gallery of New South Wales 2003-2010 creating a new model for museum education for gifted children including ‘The Da Vinci Project’ connecting art and science in museum contexts with pre and post visit learning. Currently an Australian Higher Degree Research Student at the University of Sydney researching “the creative processes of artists and scientists and their environments.”