"STEAM: Are You Ready?"
Your Questions from the Webinar
These questions were asked by attendees of the “STEAM: Are You Ready” webinar, hosted by the Taking STEAM to TASC Community of Practice on January 15, 2014. The presenter, Peter Richards of the Exploratorium, and one of the moderators, Lucinda Presley of ICEE Success, have provide the answers below. You can view the recording of the webinar here: https://vimeo.com/84256786
Q: What common challenges have you faced in artist/STEM practitioner/museum collaborations?
A: Peter Richards- The biggest challenge is to create a culture that understands the value and is supportive of bringing in outside people with many different viewpoints and methods of investigation.
Q: Peter, would you consider doing installations like this in the NY water system? We're creating a STEM education *park* on the east river and I'd love to connect you with some people!
A: PR- Yes!
Q: Are you comfortable talking about the engineering and math aspects of your art with students?
A: PR- In a general way – in my personal work, I work with engineers who provide structural specifications for my installations.
Lucinda Presley- In programming for formal education, we have had great success in integrating engineering and math with art elements and art principles of design in our science standards-based paper engineering projects. We also integrate writing. This project was inspired by the Exploratorium Tinkering Studio’s paper engineering projects and design thinking processes.
Q: To what extent do artists in, or working with, science discovery centers feel an obligation to create work that scientists can interpret, or draw science themes or connections from?
A: PR- There are artists whose work closely parallels science investigations, or explores science themes, so it is not a question of a feeling of obligation. It is more an issue of selecting the artist whose interests are most closely aligned with yours.
Q: As you said, the art/science discussion is not new, and when the Exploratorium started in the 1960’s, it was a different time and context than now. So what is different today than in 1968? What are the biggest changes in the discussion?
A: PR- In the 1960’s, artists were exploring natural systems, phenomena, technology. They also needed access to tools. Today, they are still doing this but are also embarking on research – they see themselves as knowledge producers. This is possible because the tools to do this are so cheap and available. The term “artist” in these cases becomes more and more nebulous. But what these people are doing, as artists have always done, is provide a window or a mirror to see ourselves and society from new perspectives.
LP- Some of the biggest changes that I see in the discussion are: 1) the prevalence of technology and its power at helping millions see and expand on the possibilities that exist at this intersection; 2) the rise of big data and the power of this intersection to make it understandable; 3) education research that points out the importance of understanding concepts in multiple modalities; 4) arts/science research that describes how many famous scientists’ thinking skills were positively influenced by their earlier arts immersion; 5) brain-based research that points out the importance of synthesizing for brain health.
Q: I get that funding for the science education came from the NSF, but where did the money for the arts programming come from?
A: PR- It came from the NEA and numerous other public and private funding agencies.
Q: How do you balance between artistic expression and science goals? Do you ever find that artistic expression clashes with science goals of your exhibits and other programming?
A: PR- We selected artists whose interests were similar to ours and whose existing body of work showed a compatibility with our current institutional investigations.
Q: What was your experience been using the performing arts in a science-based institution?
A: PR- We have utilized a broad spectrum of artistic mediums over the years to give our visitors access to certain ways of thinking and certain ways of knowing. Performing arts has been an important aspect of this.
Q: What would be your advice to a museum hoping to start an artist in residence program?
A: LP- Look at the Exploratorium’s model and visit with their staff…
PR- …or visit the Pittsburgh Children’s Museum.
Q: Do you have any suggestions for smaller museums on how to incorporate the arts and involve artists with limited space and funds?
A: PR- Just do it. There are plenty of artists who want to do things – but always pay them something. Please don’t exploit artists. No matter what the budget, make sure they are paid something for their time.
LP- There are usually local artists who are very pleased to work with you and understand the space and funding limitations. This opportunity is important for the artists, for it gives them an additional outlet for their work. It’s a joy working with them collaboratively and creatively to bring their work into museum programming.
Q: We are currently planning the development of a Science City in Trinidad which is a big leap from a Science Centre (which is now 15 years old). Is this a critical/useful time for the engagement of artists?
A: PR- Perfect timing! Establishing a culture that supports this relationship at the beginning makes it so much easier going forward.
LP- Most definitely. There is a rapidly growing understanding and appreciation of this intersection nationally and internationally. Helping develop and test models is very important right now.
Q: I work at a children's museum with an art museum in our city network. Do you have any suggestions on how to reach out and how to properly ask artists if they are ‘child friendly’ without possibly insulting them?
A: LP- You could ask them if they have ever worked with children before or if they are comfortable working with children (and give the ages). Also, you could talk to them about your audience and ask them their experience and comfort level with this age group. Another option is to ask local arts providers and the local art museum if they could share names of artists who are comfortable working with children. Also, you could ask the artists for references.
Q: Which would be more efficient and more effective for getting artist involved: 1) To find an artist and design a project around the work they do, or 2) to find an artist that best fits what the program is already about? In other words, is it more beneficial to start with the art and bring in the STEM, or to start with the STEM and then bring in the art?
A: PR- I would start with the STEM – and as you learn how this kind of relationships fits your needs, you could then experiment with designing projects around an artist.
Q: What role does visitor response play in shaping the work of these artists? Are there examples of assessing impact on learning or attitudes or behavior?
Q: Are there programming activities for the visitors to engage in design thinking to create something?
LP- Like Peter said, one of the best movements using design thinking at this intersection is the Tinkering movement, as exemplified by the Exploratorium’s Tinkering Studio. Also, the Exploratorium’s past PIE project.
Q: We are constantly challenged with finding the science in everything to make it relevant. Are there any tips or tricks for shifting thinking around finding the art in everything in a science center? For example, we are constantly expressing that everyone is a scientist; science is everywhere. But it is just as important to say everyone is an artist, and find the art in everything?
A: PR- I think it is important to say that we are all observers and all have an innate curiosity about the world. There a number of methods to use to learn more – both art and science are great ways for doing this. We are all observers. The methods we use are varied and we should be open to using them all depending on the circumstance. We can learn a lot about nature by talking to a farmer or a fisherman.
Q: Could you talk about student focused classes or projects related to the artworks you have done for the science center?
A: PR- That’s a large topic. Here’s a small example: When Susan and I were doing our site study for the new Exploratorium, we included students from classes we were teaching, both at Stanford and at the SF Art Institute, to accompany us while we did our research and to design their own related projects.
Q: Do you know of any examples of projects in higher education that have included artists and scientists in a formal research setting?
A: LP- There is an outstanding research project of the work being done at this intersection that has many contributions from higher education. See the NSF-funded SEAD Final White Papers here. Also, look at Michigan State’s Bob Root-Bernstein’s research into the 13 thinking skills used by famous scientists that they acquired through arts learning in his book, Sparks of Genius, here and here.
Q: How did you become an artist for the museum? What advice would you give to those who might want to pursue a similar career path?
A: PR- There is no magic formula – just get your foot in the door. Bring in as many skills as you can acquire and get down to work. With an MFA in sculpture, I started at the Exploratorium in exhibit maintenance. I was lucky because what I had to offer fit well with the situation and I was able to evolve with the institution.
Q: What is the institutional decision process in funding artists’ work?
A: PR- That’s a complex question. I am not sure our model would work for your institution and our methods are changing all the time. How you make decisions in general about funding programs and exhibitions is where to look for this answer.
Q: Now that we are so focused on test scores in public education, what approach do you think we need to use to help people understand that art is something we can use to help educate students? We have so many educators that believe in STEM but not STEAM.
A: PR- The research is out that there that supports the claim that the arts are an integral part of education.
LP- Very good question! Research pointing to the importance of students understanding concepts in multiple modalities is very important. It shows that they more readily retain information if that information is understood in a number of different contexts. One example is understanding forces and motion as a physical science principle, as Earth science and life science principles, and also as important principles in kinetic art, music, and drama. Additionally, brain research points to the importance of synthesizing concepts and using this synthesis to create new solutions.
Q: What kind of relationship with knowledge do you think art helps to build? How does it complement or differ from science?
A: PR- Please see the notes from our Conference, Art as a Way of Knowing. It is on the Exploratorium website here[link: http://www.exploratorium.edu/knowing/pdfs/ConferenceReport.pdf ] Making sense of the world and one’s surroundings and situations requires many different ways of seeing and understanding art and the physical world in the context of human activity. We can no longer afford to view human activity as separate from natural processes. Artists are looking at this new state of affairs and are giving us tools to think about this. Many other disciplines are doing this too, but the arts have their eyes on human nature and nature.
LP- Art helps promote important critical and creative thinking skills through its many intersections within its context. The art/science intersection is especially complementary because both disciplines can use the same process skills, such as observing, inferring, investigating, and communicating. For example, Newton and Monet each used these skills as they investigated the effects of light, but communicated their findings in very different ways. Also, see the National Endowment for the Arts’ longitudinal study on the impact of art on at-risk youth in a number of categories, including academics, here.
Curious Alliance: The Role of Art in a Science Museum, Exploratorium - available through ASTC here