science & art at denison

Last Friday I co-presented Embracing the STEM to STEAM Initiative: The Library as Bridge Between Science and Art. This was the second time the Natural Sciences Librarian, Moriana Garcia, and I presented about science and art. Part of the presentation centers on what we are doing at Denison University to encourage and support cross-disciplinary conversation.

The STEM acronym has been around since the 1990s and stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. Government bodies like the National Science Foundation and educational institutions believe that these disciplines hold the answers to many of our global issues. STEM careers are promising for students growing up in a troubled economy.

However, as K-12 and higher education started pushing STEM learning, many people were concerned about the disregard for the arts and the humanities. STEAM developed from this backlash, adding Arts (and design) to STEM. The Rhode Island School of Design is a strong proponent of the STEM to STEAM movement. One of the primary objectives of the STEAM movement is to “influence employers to hire artists and designers to drive innovation.”

The emphasis in that quote is mine. STEAM recognizes that arts education teaches creativity and critical thinking, key components of innovation. The government is taking notice. The National Science Foundation has supported workshops on STEM to STEAM. There is also a Congressional STEAM caucus that “aims to change the vocabulary of education to recognize the benefits of both the arts and sciences and how these intersections will benefit our country’s future generations.”

So, what are we doing at Denison to support STEAM? As librarians, we are excellently positioned to foster cross-disciplinary dialogue. While we work independently as subject specialists in the sciences and the arts, we come together as librarians. The library is a neutral space – outside the studio and the lab – for scientists and artists to gather.

We’ve started small. Before I arrived at Denison, Moriana began creating library displays about science in the arts and vice versa. And, for science displays she’s always included works of art that echo the theme (i.e. a sculpture of a lizard for a display on reptiles). It’s simple and subtle, but it’s a start. Moriana has been on the committee that creates displays for many years. I have just joined…so who knows what’s to come!

Purchasing books and media that have an interdisciplinary approach is also easy. There are beautiful books on art and science; a few recent additions:

Bio Design: Nature, Science, Creativity (William Myers, 2012)
Artists in Labs: Networking in the Margins (editor, Jill Scott, 2010)
Imagining Science: Art, Science, and Social Change (editors Sean Caulfield & Timothy Caulfield, 2008)
Laboratorium (editors, Hans Ulrich Obrist & Barbara Vanderlinden)

And for those librarians wondering, Science and Art is a subject heading! Moriana is purchasing image-heavy science books. Moriana also started a Science@Dension blog and Visualization Gallery.

Like all good librarians, we created a subject guide on science and art. It’s geared toward faculty and provides resources on STEM to STEAM and the latest collaborations between scientists and artists. As part of this guide, I have a Scoop.it! page on Science and Art.

Last winter we initiated a Science and Art Interest Group at Denison. The group is made up of any faculty interested in the relationship and collaborative possibilities between the two disciplines. Our initial meeting had about 30 people. We have decided to take the group in two directions. There is a reading group for faculty who are interested in STEAM pedagogy and methods of teaching creativity. We hope to start an immersion group this year – where we hold hands-on workshops in studios and labs, learning how artists and scientists work in their spaces.

Our current project is an artwork proposal for the Green Revolution exhibition to be hosted at the Denison Museum in the spring. Green Revolution is a Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition that provides “education and inspiration for protecting our planet through sustainable living.” Six of us from the Science and Art group proposed (and had accepted!) and “eco-zibit” about fracking in Ohio. Stay tuned for more on that ambitious project.

Overall it’s been an interesting experience to work collaboratively with another librarian on fostering interdisciplinary conversation. The process is slow but the connections I’ve made with faculty have been wonderful. We are planning a November meeting with the Science and Art group to discuss 3D printing, a topic that is trending in science, art, and libraries!