From Student Magazine to Worldwide Organization: SciArt Initiative

How Merrimack College Adjunct Professor Julia Buntaine Hoel became the founding director of SciArt Initiative.
Professor Julia Hoel

Science and Art are not often thought of as working together. Science is typically viewed as objective and art is seen as subjective. Yet, when these disciplines are combined they can be used to create something new and exciting. It is this combination that gave rise to a new type of movement: SciArt.

According to Merrimack College Adjunct Professor Julia Buntaine Hoel, SciArt is “the avant-garde art movement composed of artists deeply interested and invested in science and technology.” Professor Hoel herself falls into that category and is considered a pioneer of the SciArt movement. Interested in the intricacies of how the brain works, she uses her background in neuroscience to influence her artwork producing pieces that explore the complexities of consciousness. Professor Hoel combined these interests to create a magazine that would eventually lead to the creation of SciArt Initiative—a non-profit out of New York City that supports and fosters creators exploring interdisciplinary connections.

SciArt Initiative began in 2013 as a simple magazine. Professor Hoel was in grad school at the time and “started the magazine to act as a connecting force between this community of artists, and to bolster the movement of SciArt at large,” she says. Starting a magazine as a grad student is no easy feat and though she faced many challenges the magazine was a success. Then readers started asking for more. After finding people to join her in her endeavor, professor Hoel began hosting events that mirrored the articles published in the magazine. All of this led to the development of a whole host of programs that transitioned the magazine formally into the SciArt Initiative. The publication is still going strong and professor Hoel notes that the magazine was, “lucky in our timing, being just ahead of the big wave of SciArt which has come, following in the footsteps of a few organizations who laid the groundwork before us.” She hopes to have “contributed to inspiring other folks to start initiatives in their own geographies.”

Today, like many organizations due to the Covid-19 Pandemic, SciArt Initiative was forced to rethink its normal operations, opting to launch a new series of online programming. Though this “forced move to make all programming virtual,” professor Hoel recognized a silver lining. “We have been able to expand our support of cross-disciplinary practitioners and create a worldwide audience. Now, because platforms like Zoom have been normalized, hosting a networking mixer event, which we typically do at a pub in NYC, now includes people from time zones in North and South America, Europe and New Zealand.”

Hoel wears many hats, as professor, conceptual artist, and the founding Director of SciArt Initiative. When asked how she handles it all she said, “all of my roles have a positive feedback loop with one another. For example, artists I meet through SciArt make their way into my art history powerpoint lectures, and inspire my own artwork in turn.”

Professor Hoel created a magazine as a student that grew into a worldwide organization connecting people through their passions. For current students thinking about their own futures she offers the following advice, “You don’t have to be one thing when you grow up. There’s not a point in your life when you “have it all figured out” so stop stressing about it. Pursue the thing(s) that you are both passionate about and good at (they are not always the same thing) and you will be fine.”


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