With the conclusion of the New York World Science Festival on June 1 and the Cambridge Science Festival in April, there has been a lot of conversation about science festivals in the air. Science has a very natural fit in the cultural landscape of our communities and magnetizes a broad array of science-fascinated people—it seemed like a natural fit to highlight a few samples in this month’s Clarion. Science Festivals began in Europe and have been spreading there for many years. In another blog posting, COPUS Steering committee member Lee Allison found himself in the midst of Germany’s “Smartest Night of the Year” and inspires us to think about what an event like this would look like in our own Nations capital.
CafÃ© Scientifiques, another activity inspired by our European colleagues, have been a growing grassroots phenomenon across the globe. In the US much of the growth of this network has been cheered on by our colleagues at WGBH Educational Foundation in their support of the network of “Science Cafes.” This past weekend was marked by the 2008 Science CafÃ© conference, generously hosted by WGBH Educational Foundation in their hometown, Boston. The event was a tremendous success bringing together people with a wide variety of backgrounds to talk about what a Science CafÃ© is, how it works, and why they matter. Unlike Science Festivals which are relatively new in the US science scene, Science Cafes have been weaving their way into the fabric of our communities for several years now. They are an extremely effective tool for engaging new audiences because the secret ingredient is fun and they all have one thing in common—they communicate science in a manner that is lively, interactive, and informal.
CafÃ© organizers see themselves as “A bunch of people who are passionate about science and sharing it because we love it”! Many of the organizers worked for museums and science centers, but others that were included an entrepreneur, who was investigating a business model that involved community investment as a variable in his business equation. He astounded participants as he boasted of having successfully organized nearly 60 cafes in a single year! Other organizers had unexpected target audiences—after school teachers for professional development, senior citizens, inner city kids — one even sought to entice tourists!
I can’t encourage you enough to connect with the Cafes happening in your community, and if there isn’t one in place - start one. There is a toolkit that will be available soon to help you get through the first two hurdles - finding a venue and promoting the event. After that your biggest problem will likely be turning people away because of a packed house and having too much fun