Posted on: Jun 28, 2011

WASHINGTON – What role do artists play in the technology and science fields? A big one, say John Maeda, president of the Rhode Island School of Design, and Congressman James R. Langevin, D-R.I., who have joined forces to promote adding an “A” for arts in the nation’s STEM – science, technology, engineering and math – agenda.

“Artists and designers humanize technology, making it understandable and capable of bringing about societal change,” the initiative’s website said.

In a news release, Langevin highlighted, as examples, a RISD project developing toys for disabled children and how artists help medical doctors design prosthetics.

The STEM to STEAM initiative kicked off with a Congressional briefing in Washington Wednesday at which Langevin announced his introduction of a resolution urging Congress to include art and design in the STEM fields as part of the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

The resolution also calls for the creation of a STEM to STEAM Council in order to take a comprehensive approach toward incorporating art and design into federal STEM programs.

“These days, we hear a lot about the importance of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, known as the STEM fields,” said Langevin. “We know that our nation is woefully behind in these subject areas.”

“We know that if we do not engage future generations to excel in these fields, it will hurt our nation’s ability to innovate, and hurt our employers’ ability to fill the jobs of the 21st century,” Langevin said.

The forum’s key speakers included Adam Bly, founder and CEO of SEED Media Group; Randy Cohen, vice president of research and policy, Americans for the Arts; Martin Storksdieck, director of the board on science education, National Research Council; and Brian K. Smith, dean of continuing education, Rhode Island School of Design.

“In the past 20 years, we’ve focused on just the science aspect of technology innovation. Art and design humanize those developments, and fuel true innovation, which ultimately leads to economic recovery and leadership,” said Maeda.

“Apple’s iPod is a perfect example of technology that basically existed for a long time as an MP3 player, but that nobody ever wanted until design made it something desirable and useful in a way that you could integrate it into your lifestyle,” Maeda added.