What is STEM, and What Ground Does It Share with Artists?

a word "cloud" generated by ARTStem Participants in August 2009 after our discussions of the relationship between the ARTS and STEM fields

In other words, why should those of us in an arts institution reach toward STEM, build bridges between the arts and math, or the arts and biology, or even try to advance the cause of STEM education in K-12 at a time when arts education is struggling to survive in many school systems? Some possible answers:

1. Because artists fulfill their greatest societal function when they direct their energies towards society’s greatest needs. Because they share the view that educators must produce a citizenry of curious, critical-thinking, question-asking young people.

2. Because artists are uniquely capable of illuminating relationships between things, ideas, and emotions, and helping audiences understand and feel those interconnections.

3. Because the best art tells important stories and asks important questions. Peering into the worlds of scientists, mathematicians, inventors, and builders puts artists and their audiences face-to-face with the most important, entertaining, and enduring dilemmas that humans confront.

4. Because ultimately there is no real distinction between STEM education and arts education. Those are just mantels we hold while fighting for turf in the curricular battles of the day. At bottom, we’re preparing young people to be culture-makers, equipped with the curiosity, the skills, and the confidence to construct stories that help them make sense of the then and now and to author the worlds of tomorrow.

5. Because artists can be both purists and pragmatists. Pragmatism leads them to observe that STEM education is the educational cause of the day, it is where the money is, it is where both public and private energy and resources in educational reform are being directed. (e.g. a report, yesterday, from the President’s educational advisors . .. HERE). Some might see STEM as a competitor to the arts place in schools. ARTStem conceives of them as collaborators.

The ARTStem website, hopefully, functions as a clearinghouse of news and notes that further elaborate on some of these principles. Our faculty project awards are intended to seed work that makes these and other ideas come to life at UNCSA, Reynolds High School, and places between and beyond.

Here are some references to texts that have inspired the “ARTStem idea.”:

Why Art Educators and Science Educators Need Each Other

Mathematics and Narrative (by Mark Turner)

STEM, STEM Education, STEMmania

We have scientists on the arts, but where are the artists on science?

–Mike Wakeford (ARTStem Project Director)