This year I somehow managed to sign myself up to create and host a weekly live talk show on astronomy and art. Here’s the behind the scenes story on how it all happened!
I stumbled into the CosmoQuest community by accident. It all started at the beginning of the year when I went looking for astronomy podcasts. I found one I really liked, Astronomy Cast, and listened almost every morning. Every episode they did a shoutout to their patrons, and that inspired me to become a supporter. One of the benefits on Patreon was joining an associated discord community, which I joined.
That was right about the time the lockdown was hitting in full force. It was also the time when creatives and streaming platforms were exponentially expanding their content. CosmoQuest was no different, and introduced a new program to their streaming schedule: community coffee. The idea was to give people a time in the morning to spend with the community and chat. But that was the operative word – community. They asked for suggestions for content and for members of the community to get involved.
I don’t know where I got the idea, but I suggested they do some kind of art related content involving astronomy (I am predictable, I know). In response, the director of CosmoQuest, Dr. Pamela Gay, asked if I would be willing to host it.
I didn’t know how to begin and certainly didn’t know how to use Twitch, the streaming platform CQ used. Fortunately, they had someone to “produce,” which meant doing all the streaming and tech. I would just have to be there in a Zoom.
To start with I didn’t have much to go on, just a bunch of ideas, but fortunately the CQ community was there to pick up the slack. One of the moderators suggested that I start by reaching out to astrophysicist Paul Matt Sutter, who was a friend to the community and had consulted on an astronomy-inspired dance performance. With some trepidation, I reached out to Paul. He was willing, and the first episode went off better than anyone could have predicted.
The best way I can think to describe what followed is a snowball rolling on its own. The CQ folks helped me with connections for the first several guests, then those guests introduced me to more people who introduced me to more people. On the days that I didn’t have a guest, I reviewed astronomy/science related books I’d read, rabbit-holed on various things like astropoetry, and of course, danced! I created spontaneous performances based on astronomical words or concepts.
It’s hard to pick out my favorite moments, or my favorite guests, because there were so many. I was constantly in awe of the people I was speaking to, and loved learning about their work – I had no idea when I started this just how many crossovers there are!
While it wasn’t exactly for Community Coffee, my favorite performance to date was for the CosmoQuest-a-con in July when I embodied a tentacle monster through dance.
I think I was most starstuck by interviewing Nahum, an absolutely incredible artist who was the first artist to be named a Young Space Leader and currently has an interactive art piece installed on the International Space Station. I remember spending the whole interview fangirling on the inside.
Also, I was particularly chuffed that when I interviewed Jay Pasachoff (THE leading figure in the solar eclipse world) and Roberta Olsen on their new book entitled Cosmos: The Art and Science of the Universe, they sent me a copy of the book as I wasn’t able to get it in Pakistan! Actually, I was also able to feature a couple of Pakistani artists, which I was really happy about.
The best part about it all is that I have met the most wonderful people. I am still in touch with many of my guests, and have even collaborated with a couple! (See Explorer Ready or Not and First Contact). In fact, especially over the spring and summer when I had precious little to look forward to, this program was full of energy and life. It wasn’t just the guests and the show, but also the routine of it. I enjoyed the time before and after chatting with my producer, Tim Hawkins. When he suddenly passed this fall, I was devastated. The best I could do was dedicate a show to him and dance in his honor.
I’ve continued the show all year and plan to keep on doing so. You can find the playlist for all CosmoQuest’s Community Coffee broadcasts here, including videos of my shows.