Thursday, September 29, 2011

STEAM: A Powerful Agent for Change

Steam by Ronan_C on flickr*

Have you heard of STEM to STEAM? You may have heard the phrase around the web, at conferences, or even on my blog- it's one that comes up relatively frequently in arts ed advocacy circles. What does that mean? Is it a coalition? An organization? A movement? All or none of the above? In this post I’m going to outline what STEAM is and why it is so important to the future success of our nation...and the world.

 How to Succeed in Business? STEAM!
          STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math - subjects that no one will deny are necessary for success in the global economy. For that reason, these subjects also don't have to stand up to the kind of scrutiny arts and humanities do. However, art education advocates have pointed out that STEM education alone won't solve our economic problems going forward. That includes business executive Harvey White, co-founder of Qualcomm, the largest fabless chip supplier in the world. I don’t know what a fabless chip is--perhaps because my education post-2002 has lacked in the STEM department. ;)
     As an innovator and entrepreneur in the technology industry, White obviously knows a thing or two about STEM subjects, and about what it takes to succeed in business. So it's great news that White has come out as a strong advocate for adding an A to STEM, working with Americans for the Arts, the Conference Board, and others to push this message. Last summer I viewed a webinar in which White made a convincing argument for STEAM (read my coverage of that webinar here). White pointed out that countries such as China, recognize the important role of creativity and critical thinking in the innovation process more than we do here in the US of A. He also quoted former Secretary of Education Richard Riley, who said our future success will depend on "solving problems that we don't know are problems yet." This combination of technological know-how and critical thinking skills that will help students with a STEAM education succeed in business  in the future - locally and globally. (Read more of White on STEAM at ARTSblog.)

Art and Design for Good
    STEAM was on my mind this week because I kept coming across information about a STEM to STEAM forum in Rhode Island, led by Rhode Island School of Design president John Maeda and Congressman Jim Langevin (D-RI). The forum also focused on STEAM as a powerful tool for workforce development (in fact, the forum followed a Washington briefing led by Madea and Langevin demonstrating the potential of STEAM). But though workforce dev was the subject at hand, Maeda's perspective on STEAM also added another layer of understanding- the revolutionary power of design.
     As I mentioned in my ARTSblog post about STEAM, engineering is essentially the art of using science and math to creatively solve problems. That's where design comes in. "Art and design are critical components of innovating products that are both effective and appealing to consumers," Langevin said at the STEAM forum. Maeda continued "I believe art and design are poised to change the world now like science and technology did in the last century," said Maeda, citing the iPod as an example.
     Indeed, the iPod (or the iPhone, or the iPad) is a great example of the practical synthesis of art, design, and STEM. But STEAM also has the potential to create change in ways that range beyond providing consumers with attractive products that do everything. I immediately thought of a New Yorker article I read last year about designing innovative stoves that, if widely distrubuted, could change thousands of lives in third world countries. STEAM doesn't just change lives by allowing us to check Facebook while grocery shopping- it could help drive innovations in social change, too.

     Harvey White and John Maeda provide different yet complementary perspectives on the power of STEAM to revolutionize the American workforce of the future--which, in These Difficult Economic Times, is particularly exciting and appealling. I can't resist...STEAM deserves to, ahem, pick up steam in education policy!

What is your experience with STEM to STEAM? Have you seen art integrated into math and science lessons- or vhave you integrated those two subjects into the art room?

*I was really hoping to use J.M.W. Turner's Rain, Steam and Speed for this post- an artwork about modern engineering if there ever was one...and not to mention the literal STEAM connection! Unfortunately the National Gallery in the UK owns the rights and I could not find a free image. But please enjoy that splendid painting here.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Extra! Extra! Art Teacher Advocacy Hits the Local Newspaper

Newsboys in St. Louis, 1910. Photo by Lewis Wickes Hine, colorized by Frederic Falcon.
Image via Shorpy. View the non-colorized image here.
Despite that this blog is called "Art Advocacy for Educators," thus far advocating educators haven't gotten much play. We've got advocacy, and we've got art educators, but the twain have not yet met. Perhaps it's somewhat akin to "Rhode Island is neither a road, nor an island. Discuss." (Any mid-1990s SNL fans? Anyone?) Well, this travesty has gone on far too long, and it's ending with today's post. I am finally literally interpreting the mission of Art Advocado! Read on to find out about a music teacher who took to the local 'papes (as the boys above would call it) to advocate on behalf of her program.

It's All About the Students
     Sondra Collins, a music educator in Marion County, Florida, took to the Ocala Star-Banner this past weekend to make a passionate but rational argument for strengthened music education in the county school system. Collins describes how much she loves her job as a music educator. She admits she knows times are tough - and illustrates this through the music educator to student ratios in Marion County schools (one teacher to over a thousand students, in most cases).
     Collins pulls another very effective stat out of her back pocket: most students in Marion County will only receive 9-12 hours of music education in school this year, which is half of what most students in Florida receive. Think about that - nine to twelve hours! For many people that is a single work day. Of course, a little is better than nothing, but I find these numbers quite striking. (And have spent a LOT of time looking at art education and advocacy stats, good and bad.) Not only does this minute amount of time shortchange students, but it also doesn't fulfill the Florida Department of Education Music Sunshine State Standards, which require 18-24 hours of instruction per academic year.
     Collins closes with a proposed temporary solution to the dearth of music ed in Marion County: fill vacant music teacher slotswith full-time substitute teachers, as is the practice for vacancies in other core subjects. (As Collins points out, art and music are core subjects under No Child Left Behind!) This influx of educators will to ensure Marion County students receive the 18-24 hours they deserve- and that the Sunshine State Standards for Music Education require. "The bottom line is that this is not about the music teachers," Collins writes. "We are concerned about the amount of music education that these students will now be receiving."

A Cool Mix of Passion, Ration, and Stats
     In her op-ed, Collins lays out what is, to my mind, a tight argument for the return of music education to Marion County - combining passion and ration with hard numbers and a proposed solution. Her piece could easily be presented to a school board or city council as-is. But it's not just the argument that is strong - it's also the strategy of placing the argument in a local paper, where these hyper-local stats has potential to reach a very relevant audience. Many readers of the Ocala Star-Banner will have a personal investment in Collins' cause as parents of students in Marion County schools. Additionally, parents of adult children who, perhaps, benefitted from more robust music education in earlier years might feel impassioned - and empowered by this information - to take a stand.  Plus, like many of my favorite advocacy strategies, it's replicable! I would love to see more art teacher op-eds in the local 'papes.

Art teachers! Have you advocated on behalf of your art program, in a newspaper or elsewhere? Tell me about it in the comments!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Art Ed Advocates: The Next Generation

14Feb09 ~ Art Supplies
Art Supplies! Image via flickr user Grace Kat.
Happy National Arts in Education Week! According to the NAEA, “Congress designated Arts in Education Week to promote and showcase the immense role arts education has in producing engaged, successful, and college and career-ready students.” Amen to that! There has also been plenty of arts ed-centric celebrating happening on the internet this week--over at ARTSblog, Americans for the Arts is celebrating with an Art Education blog salon on the topic of “Career Development for Students and the Role of Arts Education.“ As I followed along with the salon this week, I was excited to make a connection between the topic and a terrific article about a student in Kentucky working to help art educators in her community. Read on to find out about a remarkable fifteen year old whose accomplishments bode well for the next generation of art advocacy.
The arts are “helpful in any way shape or form”
     The story goes something like this: Virginia Newsome, a fifteen-year-old student at the School for Creative and Performing Arts in Lexington, KY, took notice of budget cuts to arts programs at her own school. When challenged to create a community based project for a Youth Leadership conference, she realized that if her school, an arts school, felt the impacts of shrinking budgets on arts funding, arts programs must be suffering even more drastically at traditional schools. Thus, heARTS was born.
     heARTS accepts requests for school supplies (via the organization’s website) from art teachers in Kentucky and beyond. For heARTS’ first supplies collection, Virginia and her volunteers collected 266 markers, 128 glue sticks and 1,200 crayons; teachers can request musical and theater arts supplies as well. According to the Lexington Herald-Leader heARTS is also working on getting in the advocacy game, designating a classmate to create a presentation designed to fight arts cuts at the school board level. "We want to explain how arts can raise test scores, they help discipline issues, help time management," Virginia told the Herald-Leader. "Even if you don't want to go into the arts as a profession, they (the arts) can be helpful, in any way shape or form."

Creativity Begets Creativity
     Since Virginia attends an arts high school, I’d say it’s fair to guess that she has had access to art education throughout her educational career, at least to some extent. Aside from being a proactive go-getter it’s obvious that she knows how to problem solve and think outside the box--two skills that businesses want from new hires (per Newsweek’s now infamous Creativity Crisis story). Indeed, those issues have been coming up again and again over at ARTSblog’s Art Ed blog salon.
     Virginia is a terrific example not only of practical applications of creativity but also of a grassroots advocate. heARTS responds to educators needs by filling their requests directly--an effective way of helping art teachers, well, teach. And there is certainly a demand; Virginia told the Lexington Herald-Leader that she has received requests from as far away as Hawaii and even Africa! (Looks to me like we have a new arts education advocate poster girl.) The heARTS model could also be replicated in other communities, effectively helping art teachers and art students far and wide. Aside from all this, heARTS is just getting started--who knows what great things Virginia and her organization might accomplish in the future!

Have you seen anything like heARTS in your community--and if not, would you want one? (Materials for the Arts here in New York City is like a big free thrift store for artists and arts organizations--not unlike heARTS.) And have you celebrated Arts in Education week? Maybe every week is Arts Ed week for Art Advocado readers....!

P.S. Check out heARTS on Facebook here!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Welcome back! An Art Teacher News Roundup for a New Academic Year

Welcome Back
Mr. Kotter Figure from the Children's Museum, Indianapolis. Image via flickr The Kozy Shack.
Welcome back to school, art teachers! Labor Day has come and gone, and here in New York City it really feels like fall. All around these United States art teachers are improving lives simply by doing their jobs; some are lucky enough to be recognized for their work in local media. So to kick off the 2011 academic year I am rounding up some of this art teacher news from around the web. Read on to have your heart warmed and maybe to find some inspiration for the upcoming school year! (Plus: a bonus retro-riffic video.)
Did you win an award, make the local paper, or have a remarkable story to share? Let the Art Advocado know about it for a future art teacher roundup! Comment on the blog, tweet me @DavisPub, find Davis Publications on Facebook, or email me at

(I can't resist closing with this one)

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Positive Possibilities of Public Art: Wapato, WA

Image via (Apoligies--I couldn't find a free image of Wapato's sculptures! Check them out here.)
It’s the Thursday before Labor Day and the first day of September. (Can you believe it? As a major summer lover I am just going to pretend that today is August 32.) Accordingly, I am wrapping up the Art Advocado public art series today. What was planned to be a mini-series turned into more of a maxi-series! I’ve written about many and varied public art projects since I began the series in July. But though the projects may have varied aesthetically, most were urban projects with major dollars behind them, whether public or private. That’s all well and good but many communities simply don’t have that kind of funding available for art—especially in These Difficult Economic Times. So for my final post I’d like to tell you about Wapato, Washington, population 4,997, as a public art success story. Read on to find out how public art has impacted the town of Wapato, Washington—without art stars or big money. 

“It all started with art”
     I learned about Wapato from an article in the most recent NEA Arts Magazine which focuses on rural placemaking through the arts (I recommend checking it out—all of the articles are excellent!) Barbara Peterson, who was working on education outreach in Watapo, felt that the underserved but wonderfully diverse town needed some aesthetic inspiration. “The town didn't have a good sense of self, so I felt it needed public art, student art," she said. "It was a hardworking place and it didn't have beautiful architecture or other lovely things to retreat to.” But Peterson (who was working in Wapato because of it’s lack of services in the first place) also recognized that a large-scale, expensive public art project was not possible. So she turned to one of the town’s natural resources—children. Peterson describes Wapato as having “oceans” of them.
     To realize her vision for Wapato, Peterson sought funding from the Washington State Arts Commission for local children to collaborate with guest artists such as sculptors, bronze casters, and metalworkers; the resulting works were placed all over Wapato. The success of this project spurred Peterson to go even bigger. Inspired by metal cutout sculptures in downtown Seattle (which were affordable, easily maintained, and visually impactful), Peterson again turned to Wapato’s children to create a similar installation for their town. A group of children from each of the town’s local cultures—from the Wapato tribe to different Latino groups—chose imagery to represent their community on a cutout sculpture in downtown Wapato. Festivals, such as the now-annual Tamale Festival, were planned to draw attention to the works. To make a long story short, the presence of the sculpture has both aesthetically and economically improved Wapato by drawing residents downtown and spurring more public art projects. "Many great things are happening in Wapato and it all started with art. That was the spark,” Peterson told the NEA.

Small Town, Big Impact
     To me, the positive possibilities of public art are nowhere more evident than in the story of Wapato. The driving creative force behind the project was local children, not an art world star or even a commissioned artist. I think this local connection makes it the most site-specific work of all. (Take that, Richard Serra!) These sculptures were created by the community, for the community, and the community enjoys them. Every small town in America could emulate this project, and the results would all be different. The fact that Peterson could achieve this in Wapato, a town recognized as chronically underserved, means it could really be achieved anywhere. What a wonderful note to close out the public art series with! Happy Labor Day, everyone.

Does your city or town have a public art project like Wapato’s? What might it look like if it did?