SETI AIR: SETI Institute’s Artists in Residence


The SETI Institute is an international leader in the movement to integrate the arts and sciences. SETI AIR facilitates an exchange of ideas between artists and scientists so that these disciplines may inspire each other to catalyze new modes of comprehension. Our artists in residence program expands upon the SETI Institute’s mission to explore, understand, and explain the origin, nature, and prevalence of life in the universe. SETI artists bring fresh eyes and bright minds to difficult concepts, becoming creative ambassadors for the SETI Institute.

Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were, but without it we go nowhere.

-Carl Sagan

Program History and Recent Developments

The archive of the first eight years of SETI AIR was delivered to the Nevada Museum of Art’s ‘Art + Environment’ archive program on December 5th, 2018. This milestone ushers in SETI AIR v3.0 with two excellent new artists, an updated advisory board, a re-focused mission, and commensurate funding goals.

SETI AIR recently welcomed its first International Artists. Mexico City based Composer Felipe Perez Santiago is collaborating with Dr. Jill Tarter to realize “EARTHLING.” Dubai based Artist-Designer Zeinab Alhashemi will be collaborating with Dr. Mark Showalter. More information here.

The SETI Institute’s Artists in Residence Program began in 2010 when Astronomer Dr. Jill Tarter invited artist Charles Lindsay to visit SETI’s ATA Observatory. Initiating the AIR program Lindsay paired with SETI scientist and information theorist Dr. Laurance Doyle, whose research proved that humpback whale communication exhibits syntax, strongly inferring the whales have language. “Code Humpback” resulted from their collaboration: an installation mixing midi and morse coded messages with field recordings, video, light and sculpture.

MassMoCA curator Denise Markonish chaired the initial advisory committee which selected the first wave of artists. Since 2012 the program has welcomed a dozen individuals, and hosted others for lectures and research. SETI AIR are now partnering on a case by case basis with the Montalvo Arts Center / Lucas Artists Residency program to provide first class accommodation,  studio space, and facilities for SETI Institute artists. The SETI AIR program's archive is being maintained and developed by the Nevada Museum of Art’s Center for Art + Environment in Reno, Nevada. The Long Now Foundation provides honorary memberships to all SETI Artists. Since early 2018 IMPRINT PROJECTS have begun helping shape the SETI AIR program brand.

The inaugural SETI AIR group show “Making Contact” featured work by Rachel Sussman, George Bolster, Martin Wilner, Danny Bazo, Karl Yerkes, Marko Peljhan and Charles Lindsay. “Making Contact” opened at the New Museum Los Gatos (NUMU) in November, 2016.

Bettina Forget continues to be Researcher in Residence and archive liaison. American artists Jen Bervin and David Neumann continue their long term projects.

AIR Program Benefits

The SETI Institute enables artists whose work is influenced by science to engage individuals and facilities they might not otherwise have access to. AIR program outreach includes public colloquia at the Institute, exhibitions, performances, talks at cultural institutions, and remote field trips. This initiative is extended through web-based media of all kinds. The SETI Institute currently has over one million followers through Facebook and Twitter.

The SETI Institute AIR position provides private office space, phone, internet, and communal space at the SETI Institute when the artist in residence is physically present. The Institute also offers access to scientists and educators on staff and small to medium meeting rooms to support meetings and events. The artists in residence are expected to comply with the Institute’s volunteer policies, and are protected by the same business policies as all volunteers.

Air Program Affiliations

The SETI Institute is located in Mountain View, California, in the heart of Silicon Valley. SETI’s Allen Telescope Array (ATA) is located at Hat Creek, in northern California. The SETI Institute maintains relationships with NASA Ames Research Center, the Nevada Museum of Art, Montalvo Arts Center, The Long Now Foundation, New Museum Los Gatos, Stanford’s CCRMA / Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics, Djerassi Residency, California Academy of Sciences, the Exploratorium, ZERO1, JPL / Jet Propulsion Laboratory, USC / the University of Southern California, National Science Foundation, Google, TED, the Computer History Museum, and scientific institutions around the world.

Artist Selection

SETI AIR Artist selection encourages those individuals employing new media and technology and/or those whose work exhibits a direct relationship to the contemporary scientific endeavors of SETI Institute researchers. SETI Institute science is front edge, our artists are similarly minded. Mid-career artists working in the following fields, though not limited to these, will be considered equally: robotics, rocketry, electronic music, theater and dance, bio-arts, digital and data-arts, computational arts, climate-based works, film and photography, philosophy, poetry, kinetic or land based sculpture, geophysical and geological based works, planetary or astronomical based works, and drawing. AIR terms range from six weeks to two years. Approved artists may defer their term for 18 months in order to apply for grants. At this time, there is no open application process, all artists to be considered for the AIR position must first be recommended by a member of the Advisory Committee. We are developing a new ‘Visiting Artist’ aspect to our program. This is being designed to allow additional artists short term access to scientists.

The AIR Advisory Committee

The AIR Advisory Committee is made up of contemporary art curators, SETI Institute scientists, and individuals who have a broad awareness of current trends and developments in the contemporary artistic territory where science, technology, and art intersect. Near Orbit Active Advisors (NOAA) are the most active and will have the most influence. Far Orbit Passive Advisors (FOPA) are former advisors and supporters of the program. The advisory committee works with SETI Institute management to select future artists in such a way that the program is broad-based in terms of discipline, culture, race and gender. The AIR initiative also aspires to encourage young people to experience the exciting possibilities emerging at the nexus of art, technology, and the sciences. Our explicit goal is to make way for the art that we haven’t seen or heard yet. As such, the program favors artists working with new ideas.

On Location

Selected individuals are not required to be in residence at the SETI Institute during their term. Generally, it is expected that the artist in residence has an established practice in another location and visits the Institute periodically. The SETI Institute does not directly provide living space, transportation, or funding for artists selected for the program, although the SETI Institute is available as the institutional home for funded projects that may provide such support.

Funding Requirements

SETI Institute AIR recipients must generate their own funding. The SETI Institute is a non-profit, 501(c)3, and can be the institutional home to administer government and foundation grants and private donations for individual artist in residence projects. In the case of artists applying for grants under the auspices of the Institute, funds received are subject to the same indirect costs as all other awards administered by the SETI Institute. Indirect costs are determined according to Federal requirements.

Additional Requirements

The Artist in Residence position comes with some public visibility. It is our hope that the program will eventually be fully endowed—artist’s contributions, visibility, and successes will affect this prospect. SETI Institute AIRs are, through affiliation, SETI Institute ambassadors. It is expected that the artist’s work and behavior will reflect well on the SETI Institute and the scientific community. In the event that this is not the case, the SETI Institute reserves the right to terminate the artist’s position and affiliation at any time.