MILFORD, Iowa – Artists from around the country are working in northern Iowa this summer to bridge the gaps between science, art and nature.
The Iowa Lakeside Laboratory was founded in 1909 on West Okoboji Lake. Today, the biological field station is owned by the state of Iowa and operated through the Board of Regents. The 147-acre campus is humming with scientists, professors and students conducting research and taking classes, with about 50 undergraduate and graduate students at the lab at any given time in the summer.
Several summers ago, artists were added to the mix through the Lakeside Lab Artist-in-Residence program. Alex Braidwood, assistant professor of graphic design at Iowa State University, began serving as director of the program in 2017.
This summer, seven artists are living and working on the campus, immersing themselves in its natural beauty and inspiring work in their individual disciplines.
In 2015, Braidwood was accepted for a residency at Lakeside Lab, eventually turning his work into “Buoy,” a piece of music he composed using data from the lab’s research buoy in Lake Okoboji and sounds from surrounding prairies. Braidwood has since expanded the program’s reach, using his expertise to develop branding, a website, a social media presence and an archival magazine.
“Combining art and science has become quite the thing, particularly in the last decade,” Braidwood said. “People are naturally intrigued by the world and nature. Artists have always been investigating the natural world, from plein air (French for “open air”) painting to landscape photography.
“Now artists are looking at how algae functions, the sounds of nature, migratory habits and mating sounds. There’s a deeper learning in this.”
Scientists sometimes struggle to communicate their disciplines in compelling terms for general audiences. Art can help bridge that gap, Braidwood says. The program started hosting open studio events three years ago. These opportunities are open to all who want to come to Lakeside Lab, interact with the artists and learn more about their work.
“People come from all across the Okoboji region to see what these artists are working on,” Braidwood said.
Some artists finish a project during their time at Lakeside Lab; others collect what they need and use those materials in their studios after the residency ends.
Applications have more than tripled – from about 12 when Braidwood was a resident in 2015, to 40 this summer. Artists come from across the country and from any discipline imaginable – from printmakers to musicians to technologists. Braidwood also saves spots for early-career artists who need experiences like Lakeside Lab to establish themselves in their disciplines. It provides a diversity of art and perspective critical to the program’s success, he says.
“In the end, artists do their best when they’re open to the space,” Braidwood said.