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Maeda Brings STEAM to MIT



Late last month President John Maeda and a number of RISD students, faculty members and trustees visited Maeda’s former academic home at the MIT Media Lab to speak about RISD’s STEM to STEAM initiative. Although MIT is as well known as a center for technology as RISD is known for its leadership in art and design, what came through in the day’s talks was a sense of how art and technology are, in fact, mutually interdependent.

For Maeda, the idea that art, design, science and technology are interrelated is nothing new. As a professor and associate director of the Media Lab before coming to RISD, he helped shape its focus, bringing these disciplines together in new ways.

In his talk, Maeda traced his own converging interests in design and technology from the dawn of the personal computer era to his solo show last year at the Riflemaker gallery in London. He also spoke about the pivotal people who inspired him by bringing the two fields together– from the late Apple CEO Steve Jobs to Media Lab co-founder Muriel Cooper.

Professor Nancy Skolos, head of the Graphic Design department at RISD, spoke about her own design process, explaining that she draws inspiration from everyday life and daily discoveries. In collaboration with her husband and fellow Graphic Design faculty member Tom Wedell, she takes the research and design process beyond paper or a computer screen by experimenting with various physical materials and developing multiple models or prototypes as research for the finished product.

Professor Andrew Raftery, RISD’s Graduate Program Director in Printmaking, also incorporates that spirit of prototyping and problem-solving into his process, making dozens of sketches and 3D models before he begins the painstaking three- to six-month process of engraving a copper plate for his prints. Though the method of engraving he uses has been around for hundreds of years, Raftery looks to present-day subject matter – including the three-ring circus of a real estate open house – to give his prints a contemporary satirical edge.

In his own role as president, Maeda is not only charged with leading RISD, but with thinking about RISD’s place in the world. One of the college’s key policy initiatives, STEM to STEAM, aims to add Art to the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) mantra that has become central to reforming education. Through speaking engagements such as this recent one at the Media Lab, Maeda is championing the further integration of art, design and technology as a means of promoting much-needed innovation.

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tags: academic collaborations, digital, innovation, interdisciplinary, Graphic Design, multimedia, research, STEAM, Printmaking

The façade of the Chace Center, a new multipurpose hub that opened
in 2008, offers an interesting contrast to the historic campus
buildings that surround it.