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Exploring integrated ArtScience experiences to foster nature connectedness through head, heart, and hand


Renowden, Christina; Beer, Tanja; Mata, Luis (2021), Exploring integrated ArtScience experiences to foster nature connectedness through head, heart, and hand, Dryad, Dataset,


1. Human activities continue to inflict profound detrimental impacts on biodiversity, yet we have not observed a commensurate shift in people’s mindsets to achieve a more harmonious relationship between people and nature. As such, the need to shift the publics’ perspective and awareness of their interconnectedness with nature continues to drive education and communication programs that aim to deepen the connection between people and nature. 

2. This has led to mounting interest in integrating art with science as an influential communication practice to tackle complex concepts such as climate change and biodiversity loss. Art can provide alternative pathways of knowing and understanding the ecological crisis through provoking embodied, mindful, and emotional responses. The arts create a dais for personal expression and reflection that traditional education and outreach methods typically cannot.

3. Here, we explore an arts-based approach to science communication and nature connectedness through a series of participatory ArtScience workshops. These workshops were delivered at The Living Pavilion, an Indigenous-led, temporary event space that took place in Melbourne, Australia. An integrated and transdisciplinary approach using interactive and participatory ArtScience workshops underpins the key outcomes and findings of this research.

4. Our analysis revealed three themes emerging from the participants’ experience: discovery, where participants learn or discover something new about biodiversity which is a thrilling and motivating experience; being in a state of flow where participants are intrinsically motivated, focussed and find joy in the activity; and attunement, where participants experience ecological awareness, relational knowing and a mindful connection to nature.

5. Integrating the head, heart, and hands learning framework into the ArtScience workshops allowed a more nuanced and ground-up approach to our research and helped further understanding of how people create connections to more than human nature. The interrelated themes of discovery, flow and attunement open the potential for new ways of noticing and knowing nature, creating an embodied and holistic relationship with the more than human world. We suggest this is a strong foundation to deepen ecological awareness, which may lead to subtle yet positive changes in attitudes and behaviours towards biodiversity at a local level.


Our research took place within the temporary event space of The Living Pavilion (Fig 1, Box 1). During the event, we ran three biodiversity-themed ArtScience workshops to explore people’s subjective experience and connection to nature in urban environments (Figs 2-3). Previous research on nature connectedness has focused on the use of psychometric scales to quantify the relationship between people and nature (e.g. Mayer and Frantz 2004; Hatty et al. 2020).  Here, however, we take a more qualitative and nuanced approach, evaluating people’s relationship with nature through facilitated sensorial experiences. We delivered these experiences through a series of ArtScience workshops, which combined ecological presentations and activities with a participatory arts practice – a design through which we sought to integrate and engage participants’ active use of head (concepts and critical reflection), heart (emotional learning and relational knowing) and hand (deep engagement). We further designed a qualitative survey for workshop participants and conducted semi-structured qualitative interviews with a sub-sample of participants. This set of methods successfully yielded nuanced insights into how people learn and feel connected to the more than human world.

We recruited participants through online advertisement and social media platforms. Twenty participants consented to be part of the study, attended one or more workshops, and completed the post-workshop questionnaire. Of these, six agreed and participated in the semi-structured qualitative interviews. A limitation of this approach is that participants might have demonstrated self-selection bias, as they are likely to have had a pre-existing interest in science, nature, or arts-based activities. Additionally, given the small sample size, participants might not represent a full cross-section of those who attended The Living Pavilion event. However, in terms of the broader themes emerging from the ArtScience experiences, we reached coding saturation (i.e. no new themes were emerging from the data) during analysis and therefore consider our sample size appropriate for this qualitative study. 

All participants provided written and informed consent before the workshops and interviews. To ensure anonymity, we removed participant names and use pseudonyms in the text. We have used photos to illustrate key elements of the research – all participants have likewise provided consent for this purpose.

The research was granted approval from the Architecture, Building and Planning Human Ethics Advisory Group on 29 April 2019 as Minimal Risk. All research was carried out according to the conditions of the ethics approval. Ethics ID: 1953905.2, for the period: 29 April to 31 December 2019.  Pseudonyms for participants names have been used to de-identify them in the text. All participants were self-selected through an online booking system. Some participants were recruited opportunistically on the day of the workshops.   Each participant read a plain language statement and signed a consent form to be part of the research project.  The project received ethical approval from the University of Melbourne Ethics Advisory Group.

A more comprehensive description of the methods employed in this study, including workshop descriptions, qualitative interviews, surveys, and thematic analysis are given in Renowden (2019). More detailed information and background on the participants who attended The Living Pavilion is provided in Beer et al. (2019).

1. ArtScience workshops

2.1.1 Frog Ensemble

This workshop was focused on frogs. We first presented participants with key background ecological information on locally, indigenous frogs. The presentation also covered current conservation topics, such as the global amphibian extinction crisis, and included practical advice on how to identify frogs by their unique breeding calls. We then invited participants to move through the event’s frog soundscape, which included the breeding calls of eight indigenous frog species known to have occurred at the site prior to urbanisation (Fig 3a,d). We identified each frog call for participants, providing a description of their habitat requirements, reproductive strategies, and conservation status (Table_S2_SuppInfo). We encouraged participants to take time to listen closely to the frog calls (Fig 2a). We used this approach as mindful listening in nature enables people to explore novel and deeper ways of connecting with the environment and contemplating their place in the world (Paine 2003).  Following this, we asked participants to create frog sounds and musical tones with random objects provided. However, the participants started to lose interest, and one stated in their feedback that they felt “a bit childish” doing this activity. To ensure we didn’t lose engagement of the participants and to give them the opportunity to respond creatively, and reflect on something they had learnt, felt, or experienced during the workshop we asked participants to create a piece of visual art as an alternative (Fig 2d). To this purpose, we offered participants a series of art materials, including paper, magazine cut-outs, frog photos, watercolour paints, permanent markers, pencils, and pre-cut zines (Figure_S1_SuppInfo).

 2.1.2 Biodiversity Snapshot

This workshop focused on insect pollinators. First, we introduced participants to ten indigenous and introduced species likely to be found in the study site (Fig 3b,e; Table_S3-Supp Info). Species were described using images that highlighted the insects’ general morphology and behaviour, and which included cues to assist with species identification. Next, we invited participants to select a plant in flower somewhere in the site and observe it carefully for five-minutes while recording any plant-insect pollinator interactions observed (Fig 2b). We encouraged participants to record observations in at least two different plant species. This experience was based on the ‘Pollinator Observatories’ community science approach developed by Mata and colleagues (2020). Finally, we provided participants with a macro clip-on lens for their smart phones and asked them to capture photos of flowers and insects (Fig 2e). We produced small polaroid print outs of participants’ photos with a portable printer and encouraged participants to write on them a comment about their plant-insect observation experience (Figure_S2_SuppInfo).

2.1.3 Ephemeral in Nature

The focus of this workshop was on the Kulin Nations indigenous plant species that were brought into the study site during The Living Pavilion (Fig 1, Box 1; Fig 3c,f; Table_S1_SuppInfo). First, we used the same suite of insect pollinators from the Biodiversity Snapshot workshop to illustrate to participants the inter-relationships between insect pollinators and indigenous plants. We then guided participants around the site and encouraged them to seek out and identify the indigenous plants with help from an identification booklet created specifically for the workshop. Throughout the site walk, in which participants were encouraged to physically interact with plants, we discussed how indigenous plants provide food and habitat resources for insects and other species (Fig 2c).  Finally, we asked participants to produce a ‘botanical collage’ (Fig 2f; Figure_S2_SuppInfo). For this purpose, we provided participants with natural materials, including flowers, leaves, bark, and seed pods. This tactile and hands-on approach was inspired by the book ‘Through Vegetal Being’ (Irigarary and Marder 2016), where ideas were explored around personal interactions with the vegetal world and how this may create engaging and meaningful experiences that respects the existence of plants as sentinel beings.


2. Qualitative survey

Surveys were given to participants at the end of the workshop and took between 15-20 minutes to complete. The survey included: (1) a four item, five-point Likert scale, seeking to capture workshop enjoyment and engagement; (2) ten open-ended questions, designed to provide an opportunity to expand on workshop experiences and perceptions; (3) five demographic questions; and (4) question regarding expressions of interest to participate in the interview process (Box_S1_SuppInfo). We used this qualitative survey to gain a more nuanced understanding of participants attitudes, values, beliefs, and opinions towards, and perceived outcomes from, the workshops (Walter 2010).


3. Qualitative interviews

We conducted in-depth semi-structured interviews with six participants between four and six weeks after they attended the workshops. Interviews followed a schedule of thematic questions (Box_S2_SuppInfo), beginning with personal background, understanding of biodiversity, and motivations for participating in the workshop. We formulated the interview in accordance with the study’s underlining transformative learning experience framework, including specific questions structured around the operating principles of head, heart, and hand. Questions sought to reveal what participants had learned about the ecological topic of the workshop they attended, the types of experiences and emotions they had (e.g. joy, sense of losing track of time, boredom), and when they felt most connected. Questions were further conceptualised to capture moments when participants felt ‘struck’ or ‘ah-ha’ moments – an instant where one seeks to move and change the way of thinking and acting (Wittgenstein 1980). 

We also used visual elicitation during the interviews to discuss the artworks created during the workshops. We explored with participants what they were hoping to portray in their artwork, what they wanted to showcase, and why they created it. We complemented the interviews with this approach as it can reveal feelings, details, and memories associated with experience at the time of the event (Bagnoli 2009); and assist in reflection for both researcher and participant, uncovering a more thoughtful level of communication and understanding (Cohenmiller 2018). 

4. Thematic analysis

We conducted a thematic analysis of our data following the six-stage framework proposed by Braun and Clarke (2006). First, we read and re-read the visual and textual data, including workshop observations, survey responses, interview transcripts, and participants’ artworks, noting down initial impressions. Next, we systematically organised the data, developing differences and similarities between events, actions, and interactions into codes. We used incident by incident rather than line by line coding to create a strong basis for data comparisons, an approach that is particularly useful for in-depth interviews (Liamputtong 2013). We then searched for broader themes – those that were descriptive, relevant, or captured something interesting or significant regarding our research question. We streamlined the themes within the head, heart, and hands framework, based on whether they aligned with cognitive understanding and learning, relational knowing and connection, or deep engagement. Finally, we refined and defined the themes.