National Science Foundation Embraces Art Based Learning

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Just don’t call it STEAM.

At least that’s what the National Science Foundation (NSF) seems to be saying last week, in their latest grant to launch incubators in San Diego, Chicago and Worcester, Mass.

But maybe it’s not that important, is it?

The fact that more organizations like the NSF are finding that the arts help young people stimulate “the development of 21st Century creativity skills and innovative processes” is exceptional, and it sends the signal that this is what America’s schools are most in need of.

NSF funded the Art of Science Learning last year to produce three conferences — in Washington, D.C., Chicago, Illinois and San Diego, California — to look at what business, education, and communities across the United States were doing to merge the “two cultures” of art and science. In the process, Harvey Seifter, head of the project and founder of the Art of Science Learning firm, explored a framework for sparking creativity and innovation in our schools, our workplaces and in our nation; a proposal that the NSF might find attractive to underwrite.

NSF, in its announcement last week, made clear that it hopes that a new model for education will become apparent over the next few years. Specifically they state:

The goal of the project’s development activities is to experiment with a variety of “innovation incubator” models in cities around the country. Modeled on business “incubators” or “accelerators” that are designed to foster and accelerate innovation and creativity, these STEM incubators generate collaborations of different professionals and the public around STEM education and other STEM-related topics of local interest that can be explored with the help of creative learning methodologies such as innovative methods to generate creative ideas, ideas for transforming one STEM idea to others, drawing on visual and graphical ideas, improvisation, narrative writing and the process of using innovative visual displays of information for creating visual roadmaps.

The grant totaling $2,654,895 is called “Integrating Informal STEM and Arts-Based Learning to Foster Innovation.” Harvey Seifter, Art of Science Learning founder/director, is the project’s director and principal investigator. Balboa Park Cultural Partnership in San Diego is the project sponsor and Paige Simpson, the Partnership’s Interim Executive Director, is project administrator.

Earlier this year the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) announced its grant agenda in art and science. Proposals that demonstrate how both subjects can be woven together in an art work, or play, demonstration or lab experiment or even an educational effort costing no more that $10, 000 to $100,000 are welcomed (there is a one-to-one match required) by the deadline of Aug. 1, 2012. (An archive of the webinar has been posted in the “Podcasts, Webcasts, & Webinars” section of the NEA website.)

Bill O’Brian, senior adviser for Innovation programs at the NEA said that “creativity and innovation” clearly support U.S. economic interests and he expected this effort to continue well beyond the current request for applications. He also noted that the government community of artists and scientists are very much in agreement that these are the kinds of things they wish to fund.

Like the NSF, he stopped short of endorsing STEAM per se — maybe too political a decision — but he seemed enthusiastic about the idea of funding art and science projects.

Whatever it’s called, ArtStem, STEAM, ArtsSmarts — and there are other versions too — the arts are vital to changing the paradigm, and are being recognized for their uniqueness in fostering creativity… which leads to innovation.


John M. Eger

Professor of Communications and Public Policy and Director of the Creative Economy Initiative, San Diego State University

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National Science Foundation Embraces Art Based Learning

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