The Silver Ray

I was in DC yesterday to advance STEAM in the USA with Representatives Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) and Aaron Schock (R-IL), who co-launched the Congressional STEAM Caucus in a packed briefing (we had to get a bigger room because it was so popular — and unfortunately even had to turn people away). Rep. Bonamici set the stage with clarity — STEAM does not diminish the importance of STEM. STEAM augments existing STEM education strategies with a strengthened economic development imperative. Four experts gave brief testimonials:

Trevor Bailey of Adobe shared an Adobe study that revealed how although most Americans believe that the US is a creative country, they spend less than 25% of their time at work being creative. And that the K-12 subjects that come out ahead of the STEM subjects perceived as “creative” are consistently art and music.

Eric Siegel of the New York Hall of Science shared how creativity is something you work hard at — something that every musician knows — and that “play” is the hardest when you compete against yourself, as artists often do. He also highlighted the Maker movement and national Maker Faires.

Bill O’Brien of the National Endowment for the Arts shared the healing power of the arts, and the ability for the arts to change and enrich communities in our country. He quoted NEA Acting Chairman Joan Shigekawa: “We live in an age when the gap between art and science is narrowing. It appears to be reconvening ….”

Joyce Ward from the US Patent and Trademark Office spoke to how science and art naturally intersect in creating intellectual property. And that you can’t say the word “imagine” without imagining. She also helped remind me that art doesn’t have a patent on creativity and imagination — every field brings and values creativity.

Shortly before the start of the Congressional briefing, I had the opportunity to sit with Rachel GoslinsExecutive Director of the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities. In our conversation about our country and about STEAM, the underlying question of “What is the silver bullet for STEAM?” came to the foreground. Rachel — a prominent intellectual property lawyer turned filmmaker turned national arts administrator — made me think really hard on this point. And where we got to … is that there really isn’t any “silver bullet” as the issues are too complex. We need instead, a “silver ray” — to shine its healing energy onto a space or spot that needs attention. I felt that this Congressional briefing and gathering served the purpose of being such a “silver ray” — I know it certainly renewed me. It renewed my belief that art and science, when combined, produce the best of what technology can offer and what humanity can enjoy as a greater richness in life.

Long, long ago the New York Times asked me to comment on how I see the sciences. I said then, and believe even moreso now:

The arts are the science of enjoying life (November 11, 2003, NYT).

Thanks for turning STEM to STEAM together with us at RISD. 11 states (OR, IL, RI, CO, VA, IA, PA, VA, NY, OH, NH and DC) have now joined the movement! Hopefully there are a few more to come! -JM

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