Getting STEAMed up
I guess I’ve always been interested in the cross-overs, blurred edges and ways in which ideas, disciplines, themes and people can merge to make new meaning. I trace it back to working in archaeology, where in order to shine a light on the material culture of the past, everything from electron microscopes, spatial analysis, artistic typography, linguistic and literary studies, geology and systems theory were deployed.
The power and joy of facilitating projects across subject disciplines was further brought home working at NESTA (National Endowment For Science, Technology and the Arts) as its first Director of Learning in 2000. Here I was able to both solicit and commission projects and for me the most powerful crossed a number of boundaries and were child-led, such as Room 13 http://room13international.org/studios/ and http://www.pallabs.org/
It was in 2010, when I was CEO at the Sorrell Foundation, that I came across initiatives in the US such as Rhode Island School of Design bringing STEAM forward as an idea – injecting the Arts into the subject cluster of Science, Technology and Maths. The President of the School, John Meada, has subsequently championed the development of a STEAM Caucus: http://stemtosteam.org/
It’s taken a while for STEAM to make headway in the UK, but it’s heartening to see a growing number of initiatives and individuals embracing it. My old organization, NESTA, continues to build on its interdisciplinary foundations; we’ve had Eric Schmidt’s talk on the arts/science divide; the work of the Cultural Learning Alliance http://www.culturallearningalliance.org.uk/ Maria Miller’s endorsement when she was Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport; and, most recently, John Cridland’s call for STEAM from the CBI – to name but a few.
There is much more to be done, most importantly for the next generation in our schools, still largely experiencing a curriculum and approach that looks pretty much as it did in the 1950s. Imagination, and the ability to apply it, is the fuel of STEAM, and it’s something we’ve embraced since our formation. The Institute of Imagination draws no subject boundaries or distinctions between the artistic and scientific worlds: so we say ‘bring it on’.
Director of Content and Learning