- What Is the evidence that art-science-technology collaboration Is a Good thing?
in recent years, the topic of integrating arts, design and the humanities into the STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering and math), often referred to as "STEM to STEAM" in the U.S.A., has gained traction. Using the insertion of the catchall "arts" to represent multiple non-STEM disciplines to the acronym, STEAM has been growing in policy, education and business debates around the world. The E.U. STARTS program (Science Technology and the Arts) promotes this approach. The current discourse in business regarding the need for "T-shaped" professionals echoes this discussion. We are really renewing a multicentury articulation between disciplinary and inter-or nondisciplinary approaches. Last century these were targeted via holistic studies, integrative studies, creative industries and interdisciplinary studies. More recently the argumentation of Bill Mitchell et al.'s National Research Council (NRC) report "Beyond Productivity" led to funding initiatives in the U.S.A. The United States National Academies are currently carrying out a study, "Integrating Higher Education in the Arts, Humanities, Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine," due in 2018. Today, the core question is: What new evidence exists of benefits from such integration or collaboration?
Different stakeholders obviously seek different evidences. Robert Root-Bernstein has summarized the evidence that successful scientists and engineers have avocations in the arts in greater proportion to those of less-renowned peers. He has also rigorously reviewed the existing studies. Sometimes these correlations are clear, but the routes of causation less clear. Within the educational literature the evidence for near and distant skill transfer remains debated. Kathryn Evans's recent phenomenological studies on STEM majors taking music and sound design courses refocuses these debates.
Another simple piece of evidence is "exemplars," or peer-assessed, high-quality examples of work demonstrating benefits of the disciplinary combining that led to their creation. See, for instance, the collaboration between a geologist and designers who were educated as architects. Their findings moved back the animal fossil record more than 90 million years before the ice age and suggest that some animal lineages survived the "snowball Earth." Another simple kind of evidence, for example, is the growing number of patents filed by artists or with artists.
The SEAD Exemplars project aimed to collect and catalog a diverse array of exemplars covering a range of trans-disciplinary projects, with the purpose of presenting them as evidence of benefits, effects and outcomes of STEM to STEAM practices. We have relied on the nominations of professionals who are known for relevant work, respected among their peers and appropriately credentialed. More than 100 exemplars were submitted by 21 nominators during a 6-month call. Collaborators analyzed these exemplars according to disciplines, demographics, work models and funding sources. The result is a curated showcase of exemplars, diverse in geography, practice and discipline, displayed in an online exhibit and printed for gallery exhibition. (See the Endnote published in this issue with the report's Executive Summary, and the online supplement with the full report, and the SEAD Exemplars exhibit at <www.seadexemplars.org>.)
These exemplars—ranging from visual art and storytelling experiments to robotics and individuals' career portfolios—arguably show that intersections among SEAD disciplines can contribute significant advances for sustainable agriculture, influence transportation and telecommunication technologies, create novel educational practice, humanize medicine and scientific practices (or approaches), promote new expert insights about human brain functions and foster peace in real-world conflict zones. The exemplars offer specific evidence that transdisciplinary collaboration is not the exception to the traditional rules of scientific research, technological innovation, art practice or academic inquiry but has emerged as a discrete paradigm in need of its own definitions, rules and recognition.
Over its 50-year history, Leonardo has now published the work of over 10,000 professionals in art-science-technology practices. We see growing evidence that such practices, through a variety of methodologies, contribute to a healthier development of our societies. This kind of work should assertively and intentionally be supported to advance knowledge about the world and to drive the redesign of our culture.
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