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Celebrating science once again: The Maine Science Festival is back in action!

March 14, 2022
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Celebrating science once again: The Maine Science Festival is back in action! (Photo courtesy Maine Science Festival)

BANGOR – One of our region’s most wonderful and unique offerings is making a return after a two-year hiatus.

That’s right – the Maine Science Festival is back, baby!

Too often, we view “science” in narrow and otherwise reductive ways. We get too specific about what we believe qualifies and don’t allow ourselves to really widen the scope of what science actually is. Because that’s the thing – science is EVERYWHERE. Science plays an active part in so many aspects of our lives; no matter where you look, science is present.

And the MSF is here to help you broaden your horizons.

This year’s MSF takes place from March 16-20 at various locations in the area. Scores of events devoted to celebrating science will be happening all over, and while some will explore topics that fall into our more traditional categorizations of science, others will really take flight and illustrate just how deeply science is integrated into our lives.

It’s going to be so much fun, you guys.

I can offer up a few of my personal highlights for you. For instance, as a devoted beer lover, I am stoked about “Science on Tap” – brewing is absolutely rife with scientific methodology and exploration. I also love dogs – who doesn’t? – so the “Science of Dogs” is definitely barking up the right tree. Want to hear about what really sunk the Titanic? You can! Interested in learning more about forest management or the science behind concert sound? You can do that too!

The centerpiece, to my mind, is the performance of “The Warming Sea,” a musical work composed by the Bangor Symphony Orchestra’s Lucas Richman as commissioned by the MSF. This is a work that has been years in the making, a collaborative effort bringing together science and art in a manner that we rarely get to see. And yet, here it is in our own backyard! It’s another of the unique opportunities that the MSF provides to all of us here in the region. Get the entire schedule of events at www.mainesciencefestival.org.

Now, forgive me for a moment as I climb onto my soapbox:

The Maine Science Festival is a really big deal. We are incredibly lucky as a community to have so many people working so very hard to bring such an amazing event to our area. We’re fortunate to live in a place where something like this happens. There are so many cultural and economic benefits to having the MSF here, but more than that, it’s an opportunity for the region’s young people to gain an up-close understanding of just what science entails. As a science-loving kid who grew up around here, I would have been thrilled to have the chance to attend an event such as this one. So if you’ve got one of those kids in your life – or if you are one of those kids – please embrace this opportunity. Like I said, we’re lucky to have the MSF – don’t take that good fortune for granted.

And climbing down.

Kate Dickerson, the director of the Maine Science Festival, was kind enough to take the time to answer some questions about this year’s MSF – what people can expect after a couple of years away, some eagerly anticipated events and so on. Her passion and eloquence are on point, as always.

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A Q&A with Kate Dickerson

First of all – welcome back! How are you folks feeling about getting back to it after the lengthy hiatus?

Thanks! The whole MSF team is grateful to be back planning and producing live, in-person events. It’s been a long time since we’ve been able to do this, so getting back to it has felt a little like a homecoming.

What obstacles have you faced in bringing the MSF back after the events of the last two years? What has changed with regard to developing workshops, booking guests and the like? And what sorts of things have you been doing in the interim?

One of the biggest issues we’ve had is the new reality that has faced anyone who holds public events: how to keep people who attend the MSF safe. The audience for the MSF is varied, large, and diverse, and with events for all ages we’ve had to be really conscious of every segment of our audience to ensure their safety as much as possible.

The biggest change we’ve had is having to incorporate safety with regards to COVID as part of our planning. And to help the overall management of the festival, we’ve compressed our footprint a bit. For example, all of the daytime events scheduled for Saturday, March 19, will be held at the Cross Insurance Center. As for the programming itself, we’ve relied heavily on the people who do the science to help guide the programming. Some of our events were originally planned for 2020, but many are new pitches.

The most visible thing we’ve done since our last festival is the launch of the Maine Science Podcast. Each episode is a conversation with a Mainer who is working in science, engineering, technology, or innovation, and allows for a deep-dive into who they are and what they do. The podcast format allows us learn more about the people in Maine who do science, as well as have longer conversations about their work than you might experience at Festival event.

What are the MSF’s planned COVID protocols for attendees?

We are requiring full vaccination and universal masking. Attendees can show proof of vaccination with a photo of their vaccination card and a government issued ID. Those who cannot get vaccinated (under five years old and those with a medical exemption) have to show a negative COVID test. As I said earlier, these protocols have been put in place to best protect all festival goers as well as all the presenters who are volunteering their time and expertise to the Maine Science Festival. The full details of our protocols can be found on our website at https://www.mainesciencefestival.org/covid-protocols.

We’ve learned some hard lessons about the importance of science and science communication over the past two years. What are some ways that you see events like MSF contributing to that discourse?

I think the more we make the connection between science and our everyday lives, the better off we all are. And one of the best things an event like the MSF does is make science accessible, by connecting attendees with the people who do the science. This not only helps Mainers better understand the world around them, I think it also makes the science more relevant and if we do our job right, better understood.

Tell me about “The Warming Sea” and its long-awaited debut. The MSF has always been a unique event, but commissioning a musical piece about climate change takes that uniqueness to a whole different level. What has that process been like – the origins, the collaborative efforts and the like?

“The Warming Sea” has been the most rewarding project of my professional career. The origins had their roots in the first festival in 2015, where we made the decision to always have arts organizations and artists involved in some way in each Maine Science Festival. And we’ve had fantastic partnerships with a wide array of arts and humanities focused groups, especially Penobscot Theatre Company, Bangor Symphony Orchestra and the Zellman Art Museum. “The Warming Sea” in particular grew from the convergence of five different points over the span of a few years:

  1.     The Climate Change Research Institute at the University of Maine is one of the world’s best (if not the best) research institute working to understand climate change, and we have always had their research represented at the MSF.
  2.     In 2015, Gulf of Maine Research Institute researcher Andy Pershing and his colleagues published a paper in Science identifying that the Gulf of Maine was warming faster than 99% of the world’s oceans, leading to the collapse of the cod fishery.
  3.     Maine was planning on ways to celebrate its Bicentennial in 2020, and I wanted to have science be a part of that in some way.
  4.     Brian Hinrichs from the Bangor Symphony Orchestra and I had been trying to figure out for years how to work together on a larger project, and he introduced me to Lucas Richman.
  5.     I’ve been aware of climate change my entire adult life, and scientists have been documenting it since 1938 (after proving it theoretically beginning in 1856). It was clear to me that relying on science communication alone wasn’t getting the job done with regards to addressing climate change.

These five things led me to ask Lucas if he would be willing to write an orchestral piece about climate change in the Gulf of Maine, with the hope that he would be able to get the impact of climate change across in ways that science alone has not been able to. The MSF commissioned Lucas in January 2019, and then I arranged a series of discussions between Lucas and climate experts up and down the coast of Maine. These conversations, as well as perspectives provided by middle school students throughout Maine, took place over about six months in 2019 and informed “The Warming Sea.” And on Saturday, March 19 at the Collins Center for the Arts, the MSF will be holding its first homegrown headliner event, The Warming Sea – an exploration of hope in the face of the climate crisis sponsored by Versant Power.

We have a full evening planned around climate change in Maine, with a welcome from Governor Mills; an introduction to some of the research currently happening regarding climate change; a short documentary film that shows Lucas’s journey as he learned about climate change in Maine; the world premiere of “The Warming Sea,” performed by the Bangor Symphony Orchestra and including a women’s chorus and children’s chorus; and concluding with some of the people Lucas spoke with back in 2019 to get their reaction to the piece and some suggestions about things we can all do next to address climate change.

Tickets are $25/$10 student and are available at the Collins Center Box Office and https://www.thewarmingsea.me/tickets.

What has the response been from people, from contributors to volunteers to potential attendees, as they learn about the MSF’s return? 

I think the overwhelming response has been happiness that we’ve been able to come back. Planning for an event this size takes many, many months, and when we finally determined that we could start planning for a return we knew that there was no guarantee that we’d be back, but we decided it was worth starting to plan for it. The fact that we are going to be able to hold the MSF once again, even in the waning days of a pandemic that has impacted the world at every level for the last two years, has been deeply gratifying. And it’s been reassuring to hear from our presenters, who have thanked us for keeping their safety and the safety our attendees in mind while we’ve gone through our planning.

Partnerships have long been a vital part of what makes the MSF so special. How do you go about establishing and executing those partnerships, both in terms of sponsorship and in terms of presenters/participants? And has this proven more challenging in these more uncertain times? 

Our partnerships and sponsorships are what make the MSF happen; without the financial support provided by our sponsors, we would never be able to hold the Maine Science Festival, and our sponsors have been extraordinarily supportive of our work and our mission. I have to give a special shout out to our 2020 MSF sponsors, who all stuck by the MSF when were had to cancel days before the 2020 Festival was to kick off. They got us through an incredibly difficult financial time. As for our partnerships, we’ve established the MSF as a good partner to science throughout Maine. We’ve worked diligently for years to celebrate Maine science, and by making that a reality we’ve been able to continue working with our current partners as well as adding new ones. And part of being a good partner means recognizing what will and won’t work for each other, especially in uncertain times. We’ve had some partners who could not be part of the MSF this year due to the pandemic. And I’ve told every single one of them that we will hold a spot for them in 2023 once they are able and ready to be part of the MSF once again.

What are a few of the events taking place during MSF that you’re anticipating the most? Old favorites? New happenings? Both?

“The Warming Sea” has to top my list this year. And I always love 5 Minute GeniusTM and Science on Tap. I’m also happy that we’re going to be able to hold our Field Trip Day (sponsored by the University of Maine) again for 7th and 8th graders from schools around the state; we weren’t sure when we first starting planning months ago that we’d be able to do that. Honestly, every single event that we have programmed makes me excited, and I may try to figure out a way to go to all of them.

I ask this one every time, but I think it’s a question that is more important now than ever: What would you say to people – particularly young people – who don’t see MSF as something for them because they’re “not into science”?

I appreciate you asking this, because we still have so much work to do to help explain why science matters and is important. If you want to understand the world around you, science is one of the best ways to get that understanding. And at the MSF, we do all we can to make it interesting and engaging; in fact, I’ve just recently figured out the best way to describe what we do: the MSF is like an arts or music festival, but science! I like to think of the MSF as a no-pressure way to get inspired by both the world around us and the cool people in Maine doing the work. If you like celebrations and people who are passionate about their work, you will love coming to the MSF.

And finally, is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers about MSF?

Yes, thanks for asking! Our most recent collaboration has just been sent out into the world: a triple collaboration with the MSF, Orono Brewing Company, and Foundation Brewing Company resulting in the beer, Hope Begins With Truth. This beer was brewed to promote the MSF’s work on exploring hope in the face of the climate crisis. It is an IPA and is named for the concluding anthem of “The Warming Sea” and is available throughout Maine. When I approached them with this idea last fall, they couldn’t say yes fast enough, and I’m really grateful to OBC and Foundation for helping us reach an even wider audience for “The Warming Sea” in particular and the work of hope in the face of the climate crisis in particular.

We kick off on Wednesday, March 16, with Science Trivia Night, and our full program schedule is available at https://www.mainesciencefestival.org/march2022.

Last modified on Wednesday, 16 March 2022 10:50

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