SANTA FE, N.M. — One minute you’re listening to a lecture on the ideal energy source for spacecraft and sustaining life beyond Earth.
The next, you’re in the audience for a rock concert.
The idea of bringing conversations about the future of human life on Earth and across the galaxy into a “digestible” format is the goal of the Santa Fe Institute’s first InterPlanetary Festival.
The free two-day festival in the Santa Fe Railyard combining science, art and technology will take place June 7-8.
“(Guests) can meet researchers working in A.I. or space travel, but they can do it while listening to rock music or a theremin,” said SFI President David Krakauer. “It’s very utopian.”
Organizers hope the InterPlanetary Festival will become a new landmark summer event, in partnership with the pre-existing Currents International New Media Festival and other happenings.
The festival is one piece of the SFI’s larger InterPlanetary Project, which the renowned inter-disciplinary research center began working on about two years ago. Krakauer told the Journal the project is designed to mainstream the ideas of “complexity science.”
There are two ways the project will approach that idea, he said. One is an online platform, still at least a year out from going live, that anyone can access and use to take part in the SFI’s dialogue about the various life support systems another planet would need for human habitation, from ecosystems to energy supplies and transportation to social and political frameworks.
The other is through an annual public festival, using an inclusive format to engage both experts and average people of all ages in, as the festival’s website says, “changing the world one planet at a time.”
“To search through outer space, we shall need to rise above our inner spaces and face the gravest challenges of our time – from reducing disease and economic inequality to managing finite resources and surviving war – to take all necessary steps towards a larger, shared goal: an understanding of life’s place in the universe,” says the festival site. “Confronting the challenges of space requires braving and solving the complexities of life.”
At the festival, “folks who might have had an interest in, or worked on, that will be able to meet each other,” said Krakauer, whose background includes a degree in evolutionary theory from Oxford, a stint at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton and service as the director of the Wisconsin Institute of Discovery,
But the InterPlanetary event is also for people who “just want to understand the energy required to get to Mars or the economic requirements to get to Mars, or the economic requirements to fix problems on Earth using technologies that we might discover in going to Mars,” he said.
Krakauer isn’t making predictions about attendance at the initial festival, especially because it will take place on weekdays – Thursday and Friday – instead of over a weekend. “It could be hundreds, it could be thousands,” he said.
He said the schedule was set to defer to the popular Santa Fe Farmer’s Market that takes place on Saturdays in the Railyard.
But he imagines InterPlanetary having an international reach – and he’s received messages from prospective festival-goers from China and South America.
The two-day festival includes 45-minute discussions and panels on the Railyard Plaza. The topics for talks led by scientists, designers, authors, artists and other professionals range from how humans could live on other planets to long-term to questions about the concept of time.
The discussions will be broken up by musical performances. For example, the June 7 schedule features talks entitled “Sandboxes to Think and Play With” and “Autonomous Ecosystems,” but with a performance by The Illegal Aliens – whose style is described as punk/metal – in between.
Headlining musical acts include a Santa Fe favorite, Los Angeles’ dance-inspiring Ozamatli, and Max Cooper, a London-based electronic and techno musician whose first album was entitled, appropriately for a festival about life support systems, “Human.”
Throughout both days, there will also be sci-fi movie screenings at the Jean Cocteau and Violet Crown theaters. The film schedule includes both the masterpiece “2001: A Space Odyssey” and “Plan 9 from Outer Space,” beloved as maybe the worst movie ever made.
There also will be a “Cosmodity” market including themed arts and crafts sold by local artists and an Innovations & Ideas Tech Expo in the Farmer’s Market Pavilion. The expo, according to festival director Caitlin McShea, will include about 10 to 20 nationwide companies invited to show off their creations in futuristic technology or innovation.
Examples of what guests can expect include a California company with a virtual reality tour of the International Space Station and a Texas outfit that sends prisms containing libraries of information about the Earth into space, leaving them floating in the universe for whoever or whatever might find them.
The InterPlanetary fest has also commissioned interactive art pieces that will be stationed around the Railyard, said McShea.
Joining with Currents
The second day of the SFIs’ festival purposely coincides with the opening night of the Currents New Media Festival, Santa Fe’s annual show that focuses on video and digital art, also held in the Railyard, at El Museo Cultural.
Turning early summer into a festival-heavy time for Santa Fe has always been the wish of Currents co-founders Frank Ragano and Mariannah Amster. “The vision has always been city-wide, all of these events going on in June,” said Ragano. Currents is in its ninth year.
Currents typically attracts about 2,500 visitors in its opening weekend and last year the event had an attendance about 8,000 over its run of a little more than two weeks. Ragano and Amster said they are hoping those numbers will increase through the partnership with the InterPlanetary fest.
InterPlanetary’s McShea called June a “weirdo” month before the city’s world-renowned art markets crank up later in the summer. “We see this as an opportunity to reclaim June and turn it into this future-forward event,” she said.
Over the same period, Santa Fe also will host the Nation of Makers Conference – for independent designers, inventors and tinkerers with a techie edge – at the Community Convention Center and The Motion Conference, an annual meet-up for designers and filmmakers at the New Mexico History Museum.
One criticism the SFI’s Interplanetary Project has received, according to Krakauer, is that it is trying to escape what needs to be fixed on Earth by focusing on other planets.
But he said the goal is exactly the opposite. By looking at today’s economic and resource challenges through an interplanetary lens, the project can put the issues humans now face – how to extract maximum energy from the sun or survive on shrinking water supplies – into perspective and present more solutions, Krakauer said.
“Pose the question the right way and all of these boundaries disappear,” he said.