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Proposal: an arts/science* ethics advisory panel initiative

Man with an ear growing on one forearmTransparent lab jar with unidentifiable piece of meat-like substance in it

* arts/science, in this context only, implies art that needs or would value science ethics expertise

Following from the artist-initiated events, Gina Czarnecki’s Wasted Debates round table, and Anna Dumitriu’s Trust Me, I’m an Artist with Neal White, I want to suggest a possible structure for an independent arts ethics advisory panel, since a number of artists have said that they would benefit from expert ethics advice on their proposed projects, both to reassure funders, venues, collaborators and media, and to advise the project itself.

This might apply to artworks that use human remains, art that involves people ingesting certain substances, art that involves animals, or art that involves genetically-modified or bioengineered substances or living things, as examples.

I propose that an advisory panel system is set up. The term “ethics committee” may be more useful as a reassurance to some bodies, but a panel implies a more advisory function rather than providing ‘rulings’ or issuing ‘approval’ – which I feel is more appropriate to an art context – and perhaps a less static membership.

The requirements for such a panel are, I believe:

– appropriate balance of expertise

– independence from the proposed project under review

– accessible for artists

– flexible and unbureaucratic

I suggest we need a database of advisors, drawn from science, the arts and ethics, who may either nominate themselves or come via some sort of nomination process (what do people think?). We also need a public list of panel conveners. The conveners play a key role.

How it would work

An artist could approach one of the conveners to ask them to put together an independent panel to consider the artist’s proposed project (or a project underway). The advisory panel would have appropriate expertise, including – I suggest – at least one artist, relevant scientific and ethics expertise, and a curator or exhibitions organiser.

The panel would discuss the proposal and provide the artist with written comments and advice (rather than a ‘ruling’), and would include attached to the document the names and qualifications/expertise of the advisory panel members.

This written statement could then be presented by the artist to venues, funders and collaborators to support a project proposal, and provide information, advice and reassurance on key ethical, legal and safety issues.

Of course, the statement can and may be disregarded by the artist, at their own judgement and risk.

Provisos

My provisos to this proposal are that, to be sustainable, particularly assuming that demand will grow, it would be better if the process could be systemised to reduce workload (perhaps a panel meets once a quarter to review several proposals), and the conveners and panel members recompensed, unless their occupation covers their time on such a panel.

A funding or research body might support this, in which case the initiative might have to be constituted to raise funds. Alternatively, funds to convene a panel could be built into fundraising applications and sponsorship proposals for the art project (so a standardised list of fees would be needed).

Thoughts please!

These are just some thoughts, based on discussions and experience of cross-disciplinary panels. I welcome your comments and further suggestions or alternative proposals.

Images (L-R): Stelarc, Third Ear, Tissue Culture & Art Project, Victimless Leather, 
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4 Comments Post a comment
  1. Are you imagining a panel that meets periodically to discuss *everything* submitted, or a roster of potential “referees” who would be available to comment on relevant submissions as appropriate? The latter is a bit like the way funding applications are reviewed and would be a smaller workload, the former is more like a traditional ethics panel. The latter might be more “advisory” but I cna see pros and cons to both. I think the general concept is sound and I can see demand for it growing over time.

    February 22, 2012
  2. Nicola Triscott #

    Hi Andy, I was really thinking of the former, although I can see the workloads could be onerous if not structured and funded (because I agree demand would grow). The latter is more straightforward but with some of these projects, people need to confer, and particularly fir interdisciplinary projects, although maybe there’s a phone conference solution.

    February 22, 2012
  3. Hi Andy/Nicola think it would have to be both realistically as many involved have very full time workloads.
    I had imagined outlines of ideas/proposals/projects passing through the entire group but then a self-elected subgroup of people perhaps with invited specific experts to follow through on individual projects and make dialogue accessible to all involved (or public?)
    Can we find a date in May or June to have second roundtable?

    March 20, 2012

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  1. International Summit on Human Gene Editing: missing voices, divergent views … What is the role of the artist? | Nicola Triscott

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