A year ago I visited the town of Andover, Massachusetts, to address its public school teachers, businesspeople, and community members on why we needed to turn STEM, the Obama administration’s “Educate to Innovate” campaign for excellence in science, technology, engineering and math education, into STEAM by adding art. It wasn’t hard to convince Andover, because they had just assigned a task force to examine their public schools’ fine arts curriculum—which, regrettably, had been “whittled away.” There are many pockets of the United States that are waking up to the realization that art and design education isn’t a “nice to have” but a “need to have”—especially when we are desperately looking to fuel future economic growth and transformation in our country. I believe art and design are poised to transform our economy in the 21st century, as science and technology did in the last century.
This month, the Rhode Island School of Design has partnered with innovative breakfast series CreativeMornings (“TED for the rest of us”) to have a month dedicated to STEAM. More than twenty-five cities around the world with regular CreativeMornings gatherings, from Aarhus to Zurich, will host remarkable speakers from diverse fields—arts, design, education—that demonstrate their passion for this special mix of the arts and tech. More than ever, design-focused organizations are disrupting industries and sparking innovation. From the thousands of projects funded through Kickstarter to Airbnb’s game-changing service to Apple’s record-breaking sales, art and design represent an undeniable driver of progress.
And this summer, thanks to the generous support of Maharam, we are so proud to launch the inaugural class of six Maharam STEAM Fellows in Applied Art and Design, who will be interning at the likes of the Mayo Clinic, National Public Radio, and the National Defense University. Together, RISD and Maharam believe that bringing artists’ and designers’ minds to government and nonprofits will bring about the needed transformation to address broad societal challenges. These first Maharam STEAM Fellows will fluidly work across technology, art, and culture in ways that will breathe STEAM into city, state, and national concerns and lead the way for this ongoing five-year fellowship.
Given the fact that you can usually find a Maharam textile literally in any “seat” of power—constructed in a way that combines technology, cultural sensitivity, design, and craftsmanship—it seems only natural that Maharam would be our partner in supporting the necessity of art and design in innovation.
John Maeda is a graphic designer and computer scientist, and president of the Rhode Island School of Design since 2008.