Gathering STEAM: Why Arts Really Matter

I’ve been really interested lately in the ongoing debate between the so-called STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) education plan, and it’s seeming alternative, STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics). The general consensus behind both is that kids need a deeper education in these areas if they are going to compete in globalized world. (Or, you know, so they can be Not Sure in a Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho world*) On that incredibly superficial point, everyone seems to agree. Realistically, educators and education planners argue their respective sides on somewhat of an endless cycle, but kids are already in the system. As much as I wish I had that deeper education in those STEM areas, I also wish I had a more expansive one in the Arts.

Actor Tim Daly is most known for his work on television on the series’ Wings, Private Practice, and most recently, Madam Secretary, but he also advocates for arts education via the Creative Coalition, a 501(c)(3) public charity (née lobbying group) that regularly holds events and speaks to influencers about the pressing issues in the art and entertainment industry like arts education, but also First Amendment issues and public funding for the arts, among others.

Earlier this year, Daly gave a talk on “STEAM” at the Sandbox Summit, an ideas forum held annually at MIT. The video was released recently and provides an interesting look into his background as an arts advocate, the importance of STEAM education and how he became “radicalized” in support of this cause (and also why it might need to be STEM after all).

Here are a few points that connected with me: 

“Creativity and imagination can be trained — or unleashed, rather — because we’re all born with it”

“The arts are the emissaries and custodians of our culture. The arts are the common language of our humanity.”

“Imagination is a muscle [and] arts is the gymnasium for the creative mind”

“Entertainment is the 2nd largest export in the United States of America, so at least it should be dealt with and talked about with the same amount of respect and gravitas as the automobile industry or the pharmaceutical industry, etc.”

“For every dollar the government spends on the National Endowment for the Arts, they are returned seven tax dollars.”

“The arts are a vaccine for the this social ill [of rate of high school drop-outs]”

“The arts are not something extra. They are not a luxury item. They are not dessert, they belong on the plate with the main course”

“We [artists] put what you [scientists] do into an emotional context. We make people feel something about what you do. And if we don’t feel, we miss out on the miraculous opportunity of our humanity”

“For small creatures such as we the vastness is bearable only through love.” – Carl Sagan

“I think that the arts are more important to teach than science and math. I think that the arts are the conveyance of all these other things.”

“There’s no wrong in the arts. There’s only discovery and creativity and imagination.”

I really liked this talk. I think we need more people advocating for arts since it’s seemingly first to go when cuts are needed, but is clearly a subject we care (whether we admit it or not) deeply about. Not to diminish the others, or even a broader education re-haul (although I can’t imagine any of the various groups agreeing on a way to achieve this), but as Daly said in the talk, maybe “arts do not belong on the plate with the main course, the arts are the plate. They are the thing that takes the meal around, right? And shares it with everyone else.” I dig the metaphor, and I think it’s an interesting way to think about arts education and the role it plays in creating facilitators of communication. If we have all this knowledge, and no way to communicate it, what is it good for?

* This is totally a reference to the 2006 movie Idiocracy, which is one of my favorites ever. It was a parody in 2006, but now…


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