Connecting art, science, and community is at the forefront of the nonprofit daVinci Pursuit statewide programming to bring people together to share concerns and seek solutions for the greater good. All around Indianapolis you can find daVinci Pursuit commissioned outdoor works of art that bring us to a better understanding of a facet of science.  

Saturdays at 1 p.m., you can also tune into a feisty WICR-FM radio program, “She Says Art, He Says Science”,  hosted by Jill Ditmire and Mark Kesling, with guests weighing in on a topic of current consequence surrounding art and science. Other programming zeroes in on opportunities for, by, and with people working in the arts and sciences.

The most recent notice from Mark Kesling, founder and CEO of the daVinci Pursuit particularly caught my attention: a three-month-long conversation on education. 

Register for the free online roundtable discussion on education starting Jan. 8 here.

I reached out with an email Q&A

RITA KOHN: Why is this conversation essential at this point?

MARK KESLING: The pandemic and a move to online learning and reduced in-class time revealed some challenges in our existing educational system. Teachers have known about the challenges all along, but the public is just realizing how broken our education system is. By bringing together thought leaders in the daVinci Art Science Roundtable we hope to be able to explore not only the issues but also to work on proposing possible solutions from the creative sector that includes some really great teachers. Just as we have been able to examine systems that oppress racial groups and women we also see deep problems with the system we call education.

KOHN: How do you envision this targeted conversation can/will lead to more community state-wide conversations and active citizen involvement in Indiana's system of education moving forward?

KESLING: The governor has an opportunity to build a much stronger system going forward but he needs to be open to the advice of really smart educators including those in the field. The top down approaches of the State are not working. Very few legislators have any clue about education. Most only have been a product of the system and solutions don’t neatly fit into a term of office. 

We hope our conversations will inspire the state to look more closely and to begin grassroots initiatives to change how we educate our next generations. We stand ready to assist our government if they are willing to listen. The daVinci Art Science Roundtables bring together more than 150 artists, scientists, educators, and communicators from throughout Indiana who have a great deal of experience and propose solutions rather than just critique the system.

KOHN: In a recent interview with former Indiana Lt. Governor John Mutz, he made the point that teacher salaries must be increased. Will this be an anticipated part of the conversations that start on Jan. 8; and to what end —  if yes or no?

KESLING: Teacher salaries are important but honestly not as important as the entire system discussion. We have a very old education system built for the industrial revolution. Just raising salaries won’t fundamentally change the system. John is a really good thinker and a caring person. I hope that he will join us in our discussions and help us to work politically to make changes that are needed over time. In the short term, yes, raise salaries but do more. 

KOHN: How does The daVinci Pursuit initiative plan to follow up so vital action is undertaken in light of what is revealed, uncovered, laid bare, made evident, and actually gains traction and positive action becomes a unified reality?

KESLING: We will have three months of discussions on this topic. It will include conversations about both formal and informal education. Our museums, zoos, outdoor education facilities, parks, etc. can all have a role in answering how education moves forward more effectively. It has to be a combination of many approaches and the realization that no one approach works for all the diversity Indiana represents. I know the governor is busy, but I hope that someone from his office who can make change will also join us. Getting legislators and decision-makers to join these conversations is really important. We mean the Roundtables as part of a National Science Foundation Grant to understand how people learn through the arts and sciences as well as in informal learning environments. The conversations have continued and remained popular for more than eight years. That's a real commitment on the part of its members.

KOHN: What happens if nothing happens? What's the true value of broad and deep conversations?

KESLING: Something always happens when you get thoughtful education leaders together to have conversations. Things change just as a result of listening and really hearing one another. We are way too task-oriented and don’t take the time to really study a problem with an openness to hearing new voices. Our conversations are transformational. A diverse group comes together with different perspectives but the conversations allow all voices to be heard and have equal voice. We talk about moving conversations away from conflict to the idea of the “third place.” What this means is that while we may never agree with one another we can at least agree to work on something of common interest and value which allows us to respectfully transcend our conflict. We need this kind of work more than ever given how polarized we have become.

KOHN: What else do NUVO readers need to know to be intrigued enough to tune in and get involved?

KESLING: The Roundtables occur once a month and anyone who wants to be involved can join us. In fact during COVID we have people from across the globe joining the conversations as well. You can’t just drop in and use it as a place to make your point. It is a place to listen and learn and that takes commitment. It isn’t for everyone. Those with an agenda will find it frustrating. When someone commits to listening and hearing others it opens them up to new possibilities, and that only works when someone is willing to learn. Anyone interested can contact us through our website at www.thedavincipursuit.com.

I am particularly pleased with the work we have been able to accomplish thus far. If we can change the way we teach and learn through conversation then we will have made a huge contribution to our fellow citizens in Indiana.