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The Disruptive Power of STEAM

The Disruptive Power of STEAM

In April President John Maeda accepted a 2013 Tribeca Disruptive Innovation Award (TDIA) at an awards ceremony in New York City.

In April President John Maeda accepted a 2013 Tribeca Disruptive Innovation Award (TDIA) at an awards ceremony in New York City. The TDIA was in recognition of RISD’s STEM to STEAM initiative to add art and design to the national education agenda, along with increased emphasis on STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, math). STEAM advances the notion that the critical thinking and making skills developed as part of a studio art education will lead to the breakthrough innovations needed in the 21st century.

Now in its fourth year, the annual awards program is hosted by the NYU Stern School of Business and presented at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City. It grew out of Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen’s Disruptive Innovation Theory, which explains how simpler, cheaper technologies, products and services end up decimating industry leaders. TDIA recipients showcase how disruptive innovation has spread beyond the realms of business and technology to the fields of health care, education, international development, politics and advocacy, media, the arts and entertainment.

President Maeda’s ongoing work to champion the STEM to STEAM message is a prime example of disruptive innovation in that it loudly proclaims the need for new approaches to old problems, the driving force behind the TDIAs.
 At the awards ceremony, he told a personal story about being pigeonholed when he was a child. After hearing from teachers that his son had a special gift for both art and math, Maeda’s father would boast to family members, “My son is good at math!”

This lighthearted allusion to the societal bias that art is nice but inconsequential in terms of serious education tied in well with the focus of this year's awards. “In our fourth installment, we are exploring the ever-increasing gap between the rate of technological change and the bumpier, slower-moving cultural adoption and diffusion . . . necessary for societal change,” noted TDIA Chief Curator Craig Hatkoff.

Other 2013 TDIA winners include accomplished choreographer Twyla Tharp, who was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award; the City of Manchester, England, which has reinvented itself on numerous occasions; the pop-cultural sensation Psy; fashion designer Norma Komali; and Elise Andrew, who created I Fucking Love Science, a popular blog that has captured the attention of millions of young science lovers.

Simone Solondz