AxS [ak-sis] Festival

submission by pasartscouncil
AxS [ak-sis] Festival

Organization Name


Pasadena Arts Council




Please select the one indicator that is most relevant to your project or organization: Arts & Cultural Vitality

What is your idea and how will it impact your indicator?


PROPOSED PROJECT: Planning and development phase of AxS Festival.

BACKGROUND: Art and science, left brain/right brain, STEM to STEAM – across the country and around the world, artists and scientists are exploring the interconnectedness of the two domains, dissolving traditional borders and developing new vocabularies, and leaders in culture, media and business are focusing with deep interest on the art-science movement. In Pasadena, a textured conversation between the sciences and the arts is ongoing, emblematic of the city's history, and is equally fused with the future.

Every three years, the Pasadena Arts Council (PAC) presents the AxS [ak-sis] Festival, a two-week citywide celebration of art and science featuring exhibitions, performances and a conversation series which honors and reflects on the allied importance of both the arts and the sciences to the dynamic tenor of our time. While often described as occupying opposite ends of a spectrum, art and science are instead united in the AxS Festival’s recognition that both domains are powerful engines of contemporary culture. A theme unique to each Festival is chosen which lends itself to interpretation by both disciplines and to consideration of profound questions of the human experience.

For the next festival, PAC has selected “Curiosity” as its theme to honor the JPL-built Mars rover which reached its destination in August 2012 and began its 23-month mission of surveying and analyzing the Martian surface.

AxS Festival | CURIOSITY explores the uncharted journey of artistic and scientific creativity—the question, the experiment, the discovery. From Pandora’s irresistible desire to look into the box to NASA/JPL’s “Curiosity” roving on the surface of Mars, human inquisitiveness defines our species and resonates powerfully through all works of art and scientific inquiry. The festival will feature works from artists responding to the CURIOSITY theme, including dance and theater performances, multimedia and visual arts events, and provocative conversations by artists and thinkers…even a curiously amazing ArtScience fair for imaging minds of all ages.

AxS Festival will be presented at partner venues throughout the city, and for the first time AxS-commissioned works will be housed in an arresting temporary pavilion, architect-designed and built just for the Festival. AxS Festival will be a two-week expedition across terrain both ancient and familiar, guided by artists and scientists at the horizon of discovery.

In addition to the exhibitions, performances, lectures, workshops, tours and other festival activities, PAC will curate a special Conversation Series to more deeply investigate the core questions raised by the theme, and “Curiosity” will ignite some of the most imaginative and thought-provoking AxS Festival Conversation to date. Two of our most prominent thinkers will oversee the design of the Conversation Series: Dr. Michael E. Brown, the celebrated professor of planetary astronomy at California institute of Technology, and Dr. Daniel Lewis, Dibner Senior Curator of the History of Science and Technology and Chief Curator of Manuscripts at the renowned Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens.

PROPOSED FOR My LA 2050: The period May 1, 2013, through December 31, 2013, represents the planning and development phase for AxS Festival | CURIOSITY. Primary among the benchmarks for this phase are the launch and completion of a pavilion design competition. An RFP will be issued, seeking an innovative design for a temporary pop-up pavilion to house commissions of new works for the Festival. A final design will be chosen based on the most compelling design and innovative use of materials to complement the presentations, which will include the Curiously Amazing Festival of Stuff, presented by Machine Project (think Machine artists meet high school science fair) and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory Cabinet of Curiosities, in addition to other new works commissioned from multimedia dance and theater artists.

Other benchmarks during the project period include:
Completion of educational component developed by Jet Propulsion Lab.
New work commissions finalized and under way.
Completion of schedule and participants in Conversation Series.
Festival partner exhibitions and performances finalized.
Festival funding 80-85% secured.

What are some of your organization’s most important achievements to date?


AxS Festivals have examined the interplay of art and science since The Universe” (2001), which contemplated man’s place in the cosmos; “The Tender Land” (2004) meditated on the fragile complexity of the natural world; “Skin” (2007) investigated culture, race and biology; “Origins” (2009), celebrating the bicentennial of Darwin's birth, explored the origins of creativity and questions of evolution, faith and the universe; and “Fire and Water” (2011) explored the epic natural forces that have shaped human history and the landscape of this region.

In 2010, Pasadena Arts Council began conversations local leaders on the legacy and potential of Southern California’s arts and science assets – assets, it was agreed, that distinguish the area in a unique way on a national basis and provide a framework for thinking about future economic and cultural development. These conversations led to the notion of a “vision summit,” gathering together community leaders for an extended version of this conversation. Later that year, a number of institutional and corporate leaders were invited to explore ideas for tapping the full potential of the unique fabric of arts and science. It was proposed that these intellectual and institutional assets define the region as a place where ideas and creativity abound, and that they reflect an unharnessed regional and national identity that can leverage the local economy, its cultural tourism, and its citizens’ sense of pride and belonging.

Pasadena Arts Council is also very proud of its EMERGE fiscal sponsorship program. This cultural entrepreneurship program currently incubates 60 individual projects and emerging organizations, offering them the ability to seek funding through fiscal sponsorship, and supporting participants during a crucial stage. It provides an opportunity to develop a project and determine its trajectory with the guidance and oversight of an established nonprofit.  EMERGE supports artists who are launching new endeavors, those who are in the process of obtaining 501(c)(3) determination, and also projects and programs that prefer to remain fiscally sponsored, making use of PAC’s nonprofit infrastructure to support their ongoing efforts. In FY 2013, PAC helped these projects raise over $800,000 and serve over 43,000 people, including 12,000 young people, through after-school art and music programs, theater, dance and music performances, visual art exhibitions, public art commissions, literary and cultural festivals, photography and film projects and many other diverse, artist-driven projects throughout Southern California.

Pasadena Arts Council is the oldest arts service organization in California, established in 1964. In 2014 we will celebrate our 50th anniversary, which we think is a pretty good achievement in itself.

Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.


Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Art Center College of Design, Huntington Library, Caltech, Kidspace Children’s Museum, Descanso Gardens, Gamble House, Machine Project, Planetary Society, Armory Center for the Arts, Pasadena Museum of California Art, KPCC; other partners pending.

Please explain how you will evaluate your project. How will you measure success?


A basic indicator of the success of the AxS Festival will be measured by attendance at Festival events. Audience surveys will be collected and compiled, as well as input from a debriefing of festival partners on what went well and what needed improvement in terms of their partner experience.

More important, however, will be an evaluation of how well the AxS movement takes hold in Los Angeles over the longer term. PAC currently works with a consultant on developing elements for the “City of Art and Science” initiative (see next section), and this consultant will survey the cultural and creative landscape in Los Angeles for further art-science collaborations. She will also suggest pilot programs for local schools and social service agencies. Ultimately, it is hoped that the art-science movement reaches further into work with institutions and government on a new civic model, to bootstrap resources for an entire community. At that point success may be measured on new or increased funding support for AxS programs, successes in sectors where pilot programs are implemented, and even graduation rates from STEAM academies.

Moreover, attention is increasingly being paid to what Professor Ann Markusen calls “creative place-making.” In a study commissioned by the NEA, Markusen states: “In creative place-making, partners from public, private, non-profit, and community sectors strategically shape the physical and social character of a neighborhood, town, city, or region around arts and cultural activities. Creative place-making animates public and private spaces, rejuvenates structures and streetscapes, improves local business viability and public safety, and brings diverse people together to celebrate, inspire, and be inspired.” This collaborative, cross-sector thinking perfectly embodies the AxS movement, and these outcomes are measurable on a local level, even neighborhood by neighborhood.

How will your project benefit Los Angeles? Please be specific.

In 1984, the world came to Los Angeles. Mostly they came for the Summer Olympics, but many also experienced stunning performances by artists of international caliber during the Olympic Arts Festival; Robert Graham’s monumental Olympic Gateway sculptures still tower over Memorial Coliseum as a reminder of what a great festival can mean to a great city. In 1984, Los Angeles dismissed those Orwellian connotations and instead took its place among the great international art cities – a city of the future. This celebration of arts and culture was followed at three-year intervals thereafter through 1993 as the Los Angeles Festival, which continued the tradition of artistic innovation and excellence, introducing a little-known Canadian company called Cirque du Soleil alongside master artists like Peter Brook and local standouts like Lula Washington.

Now, 20 years after the last Los Angeles Festival, the AxS [ak-sis] Festival brings to the Los Angeles area not just a dynamic public event but a bold challenge to cultural, business and civic leaders to engage with the art-science movement and allow Los Angeles to lay its claim as the movement’s energy center.

Increasingly complex challenges of the 21st century will be best addressed by cross-sector dialogue and innovation. The art-science movement, with its multidisciplinary emphasis, will have a ripple effect through the region as it demonstrates what is possible when intellectual capital is harnessed. Several indicators of the quality of life in Los Angeles could be impacted by art and science coming together both as a festival and as a civic initiative.

The quality of education in the Los Angeles area is dismal and getting worse every year. With its emphasis on STEM to STEAM, the educational components of the art-science movement will propose much-needed strategies to better leverage creative and innovative capital and invest it in the schools. Since STEM to STEAM is increasingly a part of the national dialogue on education, AxS will help attract federal funding to launch these programs in local schools. Creative endeavor has long been recognized to enhance learning and improve graduation rates, resulting in a better prepared workforce.
The cultural vitality of the region is projected to decline over the next decades, the only indicator with this discouraging trend and caused by the lack of a coherent arts-nurturing policy. The AxS Festival would establish Los Angeles as the center of a vibrant new movement, one with the potential to catalyze resources and realize powerful outcomes. Taking a page from the High Line project in New York, creative teams would be tasked with creating alternative park spaces in under-resourced neighborhoods and communicating messages about healthy living. Putting cross-disciplinary programs like Art Center College of Design’s Designmatters at the forefront, sustainable solutions to environmental challenges will be developed which address scalable outcomes.

What would success look like in the year 2050 regarding your indicator?


Thirty-seven years from now, eleven more AxS Festivals will have taken place, and with each successive festival a greater number of Angelenos have been captivated, enlightened and engaged by the transformational power of the artistic and scientific creative process. Los Angeles is the hypocenter of a new cultural/educational environment which fosters the degree of innovation necessary to address the increasing complexities of life in the new mid-century, and imaginative partnerships have been established among cultural, research, educational, social service, government and corporate entities. Every unified school district in Los Angeles County has a STEAM academy. On the website of the Mayor of Los Angeles, in the “Issues” section a tab for “STEAM” has been added to those for Transportation, Public Safety, Environment, Job Creation, Housing, Balanced Budget, Clean Tech, Education and Gang Reduction, and the heads of each of those divisions meet regularly with STEAM advisors for inspired, solution-based brainstorming. Meanwhile, the AxS Festival has taken its place among the most eagerly anticipated international cultural events, and 2050 is a festival year, the twelfth festival to have taken place since the My LA 2050 initiative was launched. A special commemorative look back to 2014 and the Curiosity rover is organized, putting into context all that we have learned about Mars in the intervening decades. Interdisciplinary artscientists working at the furthest margins of discovery are invited to create new work for the 2050 AxS Festival, which is presented at venues around the region, including the Getty, UCLA, Art Center College of Design and Otis College of Art and Design, the Huntington Library, LACMA, Caltech, JPL, Carnegie Observatories, USC, the Natural History Museum, the California Science Center and many others. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is a major supporter of the AxS Initiative, as is SpaceX. Artists have taken their rightful place alongside scientists, engineers, and business entrepreneurs as change agents and California now ranks in the top 10 states in terms of per capita spending on arts and culture. And a 46-year-old woman who came to the AxS Festival as a fourth-grader is heading up the Governor’s task force on arts, culture, science and technology.

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Award topvotedidea 5a5ae14e3d56a10363ea2a398cece46cf4df891213cbe68677c19d8903a1932a
$1,000,000 in total grants
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Submission Began
Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Submission Ended
Thursday, March 28, 2013
at 07:00 PM UTC

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Voting Began
Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Voting Ended
Wednesday, April 17, 2013
at 07:00 PM UTC

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Winner Announced
Wednesday, May 08, 2013