11 June 2018

The Mellon Summer School for Performance Research at Harvard University

IIASA Science and Arts project leader Gloria Benedikt gave two seminars at this intensive two-week workshop.

Gloria Benedikt (left) and Martin Puchner (right). © Gloria Benedikt | IIASA

Gloria Benedikt (left) and Martin Puchner (right). © Gloria Benedikt | IIASA

Faculty members and graduate students from around the world convened at Harvard University to attend the Mellon School of Theater and Performance Research on  11-22 June 2018 to explore public humanities.

Gloria Benedikt, who leads the Science and Arts project at IIASA, was invited to hold two seminars. Based on the idea that the sustainability transformation will not only be driven by policy incentives, technologies, and new business models, but also by cultural change, creativity, and passion, she explored what it would take to create stories for a sustainable future.  

Professor Martin Puchner, who chairs the Mellon School at Harvard University recently demonstrated in his book The Written World how stories have changed the course of history in the past.

"The book made me think about the untapped potential of stories to help us find our way through the current bottleneck into a sustainable future," Benedikt explains.

Scientists create scenarios for the future. Artists also have methods to create stories. Yet stories about the future in the arts, also known as science fiction, tend to be dystopian. The goal of the seminar, which is the kick off for the ‘Stories for the Future Project’, is to establish whether scientific and artistic storytelling techniques can complement each other in the creation of stories that can lead us towards a sustainable future. 

Benedikt's seminars were based on three recent publications by IIASA scientists that cover topics ranging from what it would take to limit temperature rise to 1.5°C, population dynamics, to who will be most affected by climate change. In them Benedikt demonstrated how newly gained insights create ethical dilemmas that call for a broader societal debate. Science can advise policy, but policy implementation requires people’s will, which in turn requires social acceptability and thus a cultural shift. Stories inspired by scientific scenarios could help societies internalize sustainable thinking, which would contribute to accelerating our much-needed cultural shift.

Chantal Bilodeau, playwright and artistic director of the New York-based organization The Arctic Cycle, lead participants through a series of exercises designed to distill these big ideas down to human-sized stories. Participants considered the inevitable compromises that will need to be made to implement any one scenario and, through their characters’ journey, made apparent how their own beliefs and values inform the choices they would be willing to make.

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Last edited: 03 September 2020


Gloria Benedikt

Science and Art Project Leader

Science and Arts at IIASA

International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)
Schlossplatz 1, A-2361 Laxenburg, Austria
Phone: (+43 2236) 807 0 Fax:(+43 2236) 71 313