StoryCorps In Kansas City — Finding An Identity Between Science And Art | KCUR

StoryCorps In Kansas City — Finding An Identity Between Science And Art

Dec 10, 2018

StoryCorps' MobileBooth came to Kansas City to collect the stories and memories of residents. This is one in a series of stories KCUR has chosen to highlight.

Stephanie Nowotarski is a lot of things at once. She's a postdoctoral scientist working on electron microscopy at the Stowers Institute in Kansas City. She's an artist working in a wide variety of media. 

She also experiences auditory-tactile synesthesia — When she hears some sounds or music, she sometimes also experiences them as touches.

"Mostly along my back and arms, so a little shivery," Nowotarski said.

"It must be kind of creepy sometimes," her wife Linda Misiura mused.

"Sometimes it does feel a little violating. If someone is loud unnecessarily in public, I'll get offended like, 'How dare you enter my personal space?'" Nowotarski said. "They don't know that their voice is touching me, I haven't asked for that feeling."

It's been hard for her to explain the components of her identity to others. She remembers a Thanksgiving dinner when she first declared herself an artist.

"My family always goes around and says something they're thankful for. I was like, 'I'm thankful for knowing I'm going to be an artist!'" Nowotarski said. "I think I really confused people when I was like, 'I'm also going to be a scientist!'"

Grad school was a particularly difficult time. Studying science at that level meant denying her artistic side. But when she started to pick it up again, she found that her ability to observe scientifically improved too.

"Visually, it was helping train me that there are only so many shapes in the world that you can see," Nowotarski said. "The other part that was very true for me was letting go of stress. This built up stress and anxiety can let itself out of me when I'm making art."

Now, Nowotarski finds joy in both artistic and scientific experimentation. 

"It's a permission thing to make bad art or make something that's like, 'Ooh, that did not work out' and being okay with ripping it up or burning it," Nowotarski said.

"How is that different from science experiments?" Misiura asked.

"I don't think my boss would be terribly happy if I set fire to my failed [scientific] experiments," Nowotarski said laughing.

Matthew Long-Middleton is a community producer for KCUR 89.3. Follow him on Twitter @MLMIndustries.

Cody Newill is an audience development specialist for KCUR 89.3. Follow him on Twitter @CodyNewill.