A Cosmic Merger of Science And Art for South Side Students: The South Side Science Art Contest

April 13, 2023

In early 2023, the Community Engagement Working Group in the Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics organized the South Side Science Art Contest, open to children K-12 who attend schools on the South Side of Chicago. Work on this initiative had started in the Autumn Quarter of 2022, following a successful proposal by the group to the PSD's Inclusive Climate Grant, a fund that supports initiatives that increase diversity or positively impact that division’s culture.

Science Art Contest Organizing Committee

The group’s goal was to forge connections between scientists in the Astronomy and Astrophysics Department and the greater community surrounding the University of Chicago. With the recent release of images from the James Webb Space Telescope as inspiration, they asked students to create space-themed artwork to be entered into a contest where winners from three categories (Elementary, K-5; Middle, 6-8; and High School, 9-12) would receive cash prizes ($100, $50, or $25 gift card for first, second, and third place respectively). The judges of the entries were scientists and staff from the Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics.

“For us, the contest was about building connections and opening the doors of our campus to our neighbors in the Southside, and showing them that their scientific creativity is meaningful and has a place here,” said Emily Simon, Astronomy & Astrophysics graduate student and member of the Community Engagement Working Group.

In total, the art contest received over 180 submissions from more than 10 South Side schools. The contest culminated in an awards reception and exhibit on March 30th that welcomed over 200 attendees– both members of the Astronomy and Astrophysics Department, and the artists and their families. The attendees had a chance to view all the artwork on display, enjoy refreshments, and celebrate the announcement of the nine prize winners and nine honorable mentions.

Elizabeth Buckley-Geer, a Senior Scientist at Fermilab and CASE Associate in Astronomy & Astrophysics, was one of the four judges. “I was very impressed by the high quality of all the artwork. It was a tough task to pick the ultimate winners. Creating art is so important to our mental wellbeing that, in my mind, everyone who submitted an entry is a winner,” she said.

Krystal Grover-Webb is a Visual Arts Teacher and Arts Liaison at Amelia Earhart Options for Knowledge S.T.E.A.M. School. “This impactful opportunity enabled students to make connections between art class instruction, real life experiences, and S.T.E.A.M. concepts, as they participated in a community event for South Side young scholars sponsored by the University of Chicago’s astronomy department,” she said.

The Community Engagement Working Group hopes that this is only the first of many such successful outreach events working with South Side schools.

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