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Wheelhouse Institute connects women across disciplines to enact change

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By Sarah Gianelli EBS Associate Editor

BIG SKY – The idea for the Wheelhouse Institute was born many years ago between Big Sky-based glacial research scientist Twila Moon, and her friend Nina Elder, an artist-activist living in New Mexico.

During extensive discussions about their respective fields, they realized how much science and the arts—historically perceived as dichotomous—could inform one another, especially with the added component of skillful communication.

“As scientists, many of us need those people who are experts in art and communication to teach us, or work with us,” Moon said.

In October, Moon and Elder made their dream of creating an institute that promotes cross-pollination between women leaders in the arts, science and communications, a reality. The institute’s goal is to promote development in individual careers through collaboration while creating tangible, positive change in the world at large.

Over the weekend of Jan. 19-21, the very first Wheelhouse Institute workshop will bring together a small cohort of its founding fellows, which includes six other women from around the country with prominent careers in anthropology, science education, journalism, film, ecology and literature.

Although the specifics of how future workshops will garner its participants is yet to be determined, each annual workshop will focus on a specific topic and, given the collective interests of this specific group of women, they chose to tackle climate change.

While the group refines the Wheelhouse Institute concept during this inaugural workshop, they will participate in skill-sharing and co-learning exercises, and develop an action plan for the coming year, while hey will work on individual and collaborative projects that address the global issue of climate change.

“It is not meant to be a put-your-feet-up retreat,” Moon said, explaining that each woman has been tasked with teaching a particular skill during the weekend, such as organizational budget-planning, visual thinking and idea development. Every woman is also bringing a project, question, or idea to be workshopped with the group.

Following their weekend together, the women will continue to support each other in actualizing their individual goals.

“We’ve both benefitted from these sorts of connections between women,” Moon said, referring to herself and Elder. “We’ve learned the value of connecting and learning from one another, and feel this connection between art and science is really powerful in solving problems, and bringing new attention [to issues of concern].

“And we felt there aren’t that many institutions or universities that are taking action to actually make things happen,” she added.

Eventually, Moon hopes to expand the institute to bring more women into the Wheelhouse network of professionals who have an eye for change. She said future workshops might focus on water and other natural resource issues, and matters of social justice.

“We are still very much in the experimental stage,” Moon said. “But as we fill out this vision, I think [Wheelhouse] will only grow over time as we are able to raise funds and grants to support the work.”

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