Updated February 26 at 12:37pm

Emphasizing arts can make U.S. innovation leader


John Maeda, president of the Rhode Island School of Design since June 2008, thinks innovation is the answer to the U.S.’ economic woes and that art plays an integral role in that equation.

What’s the difference between an ordinary MP3 player and an iPod? Art and design, he says.

That’s why Maeda, U.S. Rep. Jim Langevin, along with other local organizations, are fighting to add an “A” to the science, engineering, technology and mathematics federal agenda – STEM to STEAM.

Maeda will turn up the spotlight on the initiative in March at the SXSWedu conference in Austin, Texas. His panel “Turning STEM to STEAM in Modern Curriculum” was recently selected for the second annual conference by popular vote and is slated to include R.I. Education Commissioner Deborah A. Gist as a speaker.

PBN: What is the ultimate goal of STEM to STEAM – to get more funding for the arts?

MAEDA: It’s about transforming America’s position in the world – as a leader of innovation and creativity [and] invention. Right now our innovation policy is grounded in science, engineering, technology and mathematics – which we believe could be vastly augmented by the arts.

It’s not what we at RISD want to do with it. It’s what people around America will do with it.

We have people calling from all around the country saying: “Well, we know art is important and STEM is so core to our education system - how do we argue for art as an important part of our education system”?

So starting from the young and also from the older spectrum … increase [the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities] funding – we’re taking from the same pot of RICH’s funding and providing more access to artists and designers, to get that funding for them too.

PBN: How at a K-12 school level would you incorporate arts in science and math?

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