A View to STEAM Engagement and Education
Using the Lens of Outer Space
By Jancy C. McPhee, guest contributor, SciArt Exchange
What is the future of space exploration? Venturing further into space requires scientific and technical ingenuity, near and long-range planning with sufficient financial and political support, and human drive, cooperation, and creativity. How will we stimulate the education, innovation and teamwork required to solve future space challenges? This article outlines an example of how one program has successfully blended art and science to engage and train youth and adults.
In many countries, children lack STEM knowledge and skills required to advance space exploration and other technical fields (Programme for International Assessment, 2012). When lack of student interest is the culprit, space can be a wonderful umbrella topic to help motivate STEM learning. Teaching STEM facts alone, however, is not sufficient - we also need to teach young people the 21st century skills needed to handle the unknown and the rapidly-changing and to create new technologies (Reinvesting in Arts Education, 2012). These skills include creativity, problem solving and critical thinking, communication and collaboration (Partnership for 21st Century Skills, 2011).
In the recent past, STEM topics have been taught separately from the arts, but accumulating data shows that STEM and arts integration results in better student STEM learning by making learning fun, accessible to a wide demographic, intensely submersive, personally- and ethically-connecting, and sensory-led. This integration also fosters critical thinking, problem solving and reasoning, and communication skills (Seifter, 2017). Incorporating different types of fine arts into a science or engineering educational program (not just visual, but also literary and musical art, for example) further helps to train imagination and creativity. Training these skills fosters the innovation and collaboration important for the future of space programs, whether a child chooses to work directly in the field as an astronaut, engineer, or scientist, or to embrace another important societal role.
Educating children is necessary, but alone is not enough to support the future of space; adults must also understand and engage as well. Effective outreach can help the public understand the short- and long-term needs, and value, of space exploration. Art of all types has universal appeal and thus is a good medium to communicate ideas to groups of all ages and backgrounds. “The ‘why’ of space exploration is a matter of emotions and instincts…The majority of…citizens are not engineers or scientists. It takes a variety of languages, including those of art, music and literature, to reach them.” (Bizony, 2009) Integrating art with space science and technical matters can also promote “inreach,” stimulating comment and dialogue amongst diverse individuals and groups. By providing an opportunity for adults of all backgrounds to think creatively and relay their visions of the future of space, art can potentially generate new ideas needed for space development and allow them to flow into the space community. As seen in the past, many successful inventions, such as the modern submarine, liquid-fuelled rocket, and cell phones, were inspired by the art of science fiction.
Integrating art into space education and outreach for all ages is thus a very effective way to promote engagement, innovation and collaboration for future space programs. What art integration techniques can we use to facilitate these advances on a local, national, or global scale?
Humans in Space ART PROGRAM
We at SciArt Exchange, a 501(c)(3) non-profit based in Houston, TX, integrate science and technology with art to inspire and educate the international public. We aim to promote a global dialogue about the impact of science and technology on humanity, form a thriving cross-disciplinary community, and advance innovation for the benefit of all. As one way to achieve these goals, SciArt Exchange manages the international Humans in Space Art Program, which invites participants to communicate creatively about the future of space and uses their multimedia artwork in displays and performances that engage others. The program’s existing portfolio has three projects: the Youth Art Competition, the Challenge, and Celebrity Artist-Fed Engagement (CAFÉ).
The Humans in Space Art Program began in 2009, when the Space Shuttle was retiring, and many new space agencies and commercial space companies were emerging, generating excitement but also confusion about the future of space. During the planning for the 2011 Houston-based International Academy of Astronautics’ Humans in Space Symposium, we found an opportunity to create the “Humans in Space Art - Youth Competition,” coupling space science and technology with art. Through an online competition, youth 10-17 years old were invited to learn about current space exploration and submit visual, literary, musical, and video art answering a broad question about the future. The project website provided background scientific information for youth to explore, with pointers to additional information to encourage informal learning and extrapolation. We promised participants that large numbers of space industry professionals, artists, educators, and others would evaluate the artwork on both scientific and artistic merit. We would then use the best and most meaningful artwork in a series of displays and live performances viewable by conference attendees, other space professionals, and the public to stimulate a community dialogue about youth ideas and the future of space.
On post-contest surveys, youth said that they felt inspired to learn and motivated to creatively relay their visions of the future in a manner that would be seen or heard by others. Even students not previously interested in space participated in the contest. Examples of the youth artwork show that participants learned about and focused on key important current technical challenges and societal implications. They then used reasoning and extrapolation to creatively communicate their ideas about the future through powerful and meaningful artwork.
As a start to a tour, we wove the artwork into a multimedia live performance at the 2011 Humans in Space Symposium Opening Ceremony and a week-long display to ensure adult attendees experienced the creativity and messages of the youth artists. Indeed, based on survey data, attendees felt deeply influenced by the “inreach” of youth visions. After the symposium, the artwork toured for many years at both space community events and public venues to inspire more youth and adults worldwide about space and to encourage a dialogue between many different groups. Because of the success of the first competition, we organized a 2nd international Youth Competition in 2012-2013, associated with the 2013 Humans in Space Symposium in Cologne, Germany, and again held a multi-year tour. We also brought in visiting artists from around the world to meet each other and attendant scientists, engineers, and managers, hopefully planting the seeds for future youth interest and collaboration in the space community.
We extended our Youth Competition model to create the “Humans in Space Art Challenge” to engage young adults (college students and early-career professionals). In 2014, we held a video contest, and a jury of celebrities from the entertainment industry and astronauts selected the final winners. These films toured at multiple venues, including in Hollywood and aboard the International Space Station. As an extension of this project, in October 2017, we opened a new college and early-career contest, the “Project Mars Competition,” to invite young adults to create films and graphic art about humans going to Mars. We will display that artwork in a global Opening Night screening event in fall 2018. Interested participants and potential artwork event hosts should visit www.ProjectMarsCompetition.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
A third addition to the Program, the “Humans in Space Art CAFÉ” project invites professional artists to work with scientists and engineers to support the development of space-inspired artwork of all types that will engage viewers in thinking about the future. In 2013, the Japanese artist and designer Sputniko! created a music video for the CAFÉ project that inspires girls to become space engineers, scientists and entrepreneurs. The video is online and was presented at multiple locations, including as an installation at the Museum of Contemporary Arts Tokyo, the Brooklyn Museum, and the Istanbul Design Biennial. Multiple artists have approached SciArt Exchange since to encourage future CAFÉ activities for this project, indicating that professional artists are eager for access to information about space, science and technology that can inspire their art.
Screenshots from Sputniko! — the Moonwalk Machine - Selena’s Step, by Sputniko! (full video at https://www.lpi.usra.edu/humansinspaceart/cafe/artists/sputniko/)
All combined to date, roughly 3,400 artists from over 52 countries participated in the Humans in Space Art Program. Major sponsoring partners included the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Universities Space Research Association/Lunar and Planetary Institute, and the German Aerospace Center Institute of Aerospace Medicine. We have displayed artwork at over 95 events worldwide including printed art, electronic loops and projections.. Live performances have included symphonies, choirs, dancers, poetry readers, folk and pop vocalists, and more. We have held terrestrial events of varying types and sizes in multiple cities around the United States, Germany, Austria, The Netherlands, France, the United Kingdom, Greece, Denmark, Israel, China, South Africa and Australia. We have even held space performances and displays on the International Space Station and bounced artwork off the Moon.
The Humans in Space Art Program model applies at multiple scales, for many target participants, and in various settings, locally, nationally, and internationally. Classroom teachers, program and event coordinators, camp directors, public engagement and communications officers, workforce development officers, etc. can use the model to encourage participants to learn directly about any STEM topic, although space is a good umbrella subject under which many other science and technology fields can be taught. Each application should start with a presentation of the STEM facts in whatever manner is appropriate for the situation and then lead to an opportunity (or requirement) to answer a question or solve a STEM challenge through art. Art can be inserted into virtually any science or engineering lesson or activity or, alternatively, science and technology can be inserted into an art lesson; ideally, the activity could be managed as interdisciplinary curriculum. The act of learning facts and then extrapolating creatively will foster student imaginative problem solving, communication, and if offered as a team challenge, collaboration.
The addition of a competitive element and/or display of the artwork can further motivate participants to learn and work hard. Displays are an opportunity for the participants to express and contribute ideas in a visible manner that generates discussion, interest, and additional learning by other students or community observers. In some cases, the artworks created locally can be submitted to an international-scale Humans in Space Art Program competition, if one is available at the time. The opportunity for global visibility further motivates participants to do quality work but is not required for successful model implementation. Using the Humans in Space Art model, art can be integrated into virtually any STEM learning environment to enhance engagement, training, and discussion.
SciArt Exchange has consulted with many organizations to support individual classroom teachers or schools, universities and colleges, museums, camps, art festivals, libraries, educational organizations, scientific societies, and agencies to create small or large events that engage their target population using the Humans in Space Art Program model. Some visible examples include the 2017 Eclipse Over Houston Art Competition (city-wide), the Maidstone Art Festival (multi-school activities for a community art festival), and the upcoming 2018 Lunar and Planetary Science Conference’s STEAM Your Science event (scientist training). Each application of the educational model is unique, and SciArt Exchange offers guidance and creates customizable strategies to assist interested parties.
SciArt Exchange uses the core principle that the creation, display and performance of artwork engages, educates, and motivates participants and viewers and enhances the communication of creative ideas about space exploration, science and technology. Implementing art competitions of the dimension offered by the Humans in Space Art Program brings together large and diverse groups of youth and adults, artists and scientists, space organizations and educators, and international and local communities. The Program also offers a down-scalable, flexible model for individuals and organizations who want to engage local students and adults only. SciArt Exchange consults for and trains organizations interested in stimulating science communication, innovation, and teamwork in any group, at any scale. Through our activities, SciArt Exchange hopes to foster advancement and support for future space exploration, scientific research, and technology development and to rally the global community around issues of common interest.