Opinion: science and creativity are central to our culture and society so why is the existence of Science Gallery under threat?

Set in a striking, modernistic building against the old stone walls of Trinity College on Dublin's Pearse Street, Science Gallery opened to the public in February 2008. Since then, it has hosted many large exhibitions and hundreds of events on topics ranging from prescription medication to fashion and from neuroscience to epidemics. Last week, Trinity College announced a sudden and unexpected decision to close the gallery.

The Science Gallery was conceived by Prof Mike Coey, one of Ireland's leading research scientists, as a response to the lack of a forum in Ireland for public engagement with the issues posed by emerging technologies and cutting-edge research. The Science Gallery drew inspiration from the coffee-houses and Parisian salons who’s real genius was to cross societal divides, bringing brilliant minds together in focused conversations.

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From RTÉ Archives, Nationwide reports on the opening of Science Gallery in Dublin in 2008

Unlike traditional science museums, the Science Gallery was conceived of as a vibrant cultural centre, a social space where people can meet and exchange ideas, experience science and observe the opportunities for creativity, imagination and global change provided by science and technology in 21st century society.

With a central remit to target programmes that engage 15-25 year olds, the Science Gallery was centred on the following belief: "we believe that innovation happens when an idea from one area collides with a different idea from another place. Bang. Sparks fly. 'Eureka' moments happen. Creativity explodes out from conversations and cultural encounters where there are differences. Our core proposition, our reason to exist, is to be the place ‘where ideas meet’, an electrifying environment for creative conversations between adults that begin on topics around science and emerging technologies and then really take off."

The Science Gallery brand and modus operandi were themselves a scientific wonder and has had a profound impact on millions around the world. On the foot of international acclaim and interest in how the model and modus operandi could be exported, Science Gallery (the mothership) successfully evolved beyond Ireland the and Science Gallery International network was launched in 2012 with a €1 million funding from Google.org. Since then, Science Gallery offspring have been established in partnership with leading universities and located in urban centres including London, Atlanta, Berlin, Melbourne, Bengalaru, Rotterdam and Detroit.

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From RTÉ Radio 1's The Business, Julia Kaganskiy from Science Gallery about their latest exhibition on how bias moves from humans to machines

One part of Science Gallery's modus operandi was to assemble a group of diverse creative thinkers to support the management team. The Leonardo Group was a voluntary advisory group of thought leaders drawn from science, arts, technology, business, public sector and media. Like a super-charged and science-focussed diaspora with global reach, they contributed to programme ideas and provided important and non-obvious connections to the Science Gallery.

Ireland's positioning as a creative place - and Dublin as a creative city - has been leveraged by both universities and state development agencies and espoused by Ireland's leaders as an economic driver. Addressing a Creative Ireland Forum in 2017, the then Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said "real discovery and real progress come from the application of imagination and creativity to knowledge and rationality".

In 2014 President Michael D Higgins reflected on Ireland's duty to build upon our global impact in the world of science: "Irish creativity is a creativity that is not confined to the arts but has also had a significant impact on the world of science and on the shaping of the technological age that we live in today. That record of original thinking and creative achievement is a wonderful intellectual resource on which we must continue to build."

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From RTÉ Radio 1's Drivetime, Liam Geraghty reports on an exhibition at Science Gallery Dublin which examines our relationship with plastic

Science Gallery was one the first university-linked network dedicated to public engagement with science and art. Entry to the Science Gallery has always been free and the initiative was financially supported by the likes of the Wellcome Trust, Deloitte, ESB, Google, ICON, the NTR Foundation and Pfizer. It has also received financial support over the years from Science Foundation Ireland, various European Commission's funding instruments and the Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs.

Science and creativity are central to our culture, our society and policy-making, so why then is the existence of Science Gallery under threat? The effects of the global pandemic may have had a hand in the decision to close the space but, stop right there, surely the global pandemic demonstrated the potential for science and technology to work together to protect life on earth?

Surely, the need for art and science to imagine new solutions to the world's grand challenges is now more potent and obvious than ever before. Surely, Ireland with its visionaries and globally-influencing technology companies can come together to save Science Gallery? "Mankind’s greatest achievements", said Stephen Hawking, "have come from talking and its greatest failures by not talking". We need to talk right now about Science Gallery.


The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ