STEMArts Stemarts Home About Research Contact Agnes Chavez

What is STEM?

The acronym S.T.E.M (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) has been coined to raise awareness to research showing that nationwide our students are lagging behind in science and math. The studies emphasis the importance of improving K-12 STEM education in order to prepare them for the 21st century workplace and the new global economy. There are currently national and statewide efforts and calls for new solutions to redesign STEM curricula and STEM teacher training in order to improve science and math education in our schools.

What is the STEMArts Research Project?

STEMArts refers to an integral approach to teaching/learning that encourages a collaborative exchange between the arts (visual, literary, humanities, performing, etc.) and the STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). The STEMArts Research Project is an experimental research project founded by Agnes Chavez in 2009 with a pilot program at Taos Academy, thanks to LANL CPO and a LANL Small Grant. Its goal is to ask questions and explore possibilities for STEM + Art integration in our schools and our communities.

Why the STEMArts project?

Why is it so difficult to implement an integrated approach to teaching/learning? Why are there so few solutions that incorporate the arts or artists into the STEM equation in high schools? Why is it that art departments, including visual arts, dance, poetry, creative writing, and all other experimental variations thereof, are continually marginalized in our schools, and eliminated when budgets get cut? Why do artists themselves remain an under-utilized skill force in the development of STEM curricula and STEM fields of study? How can we teach or apply an integrated systems approach within educational structures that are still fragmented and disconnected? How can we integrate the revolutionary technology and the radical new ideas unfolding in the sciences in a way that has meaning and purpose in our schools and communities? These are the questions that led to the creation of the STEMArts project.

We believe the answers are revealed when we recognize that the definitions that we use to identify and categorize ourselves have become the obstacles.The artist and the physicist are not as far removed as we are led to believe. Below are some quotes that inspire and influence our research and collaborations.

“Revolutionary art and visionary physics are both investigations into the nature of reality”  Leonard Shlain, Art and Physics. 

"Arts and science are similar in that they are expressions of what it is to be human in this world. Both are driven by curiosity, discovery, the aspiration for knowledge of the world or oneself...But they express themselves in different ways: the arts through the body and mind, often driven by the exploration of the ego, contradictions and the sheer messiness of life; science through equations, directed, collaborative research and experimentation that works in a progressive, linear fashion. Ariane Koek, CERN Arts Program Director

“The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science. Whoever does not know it and can no longer wonder, no longer marvel, is as good as dead, and his eyes are dimmed.” Albert Einstein

“If you attempt to marry and equate art with science, then you fail. If you allow what is not similar about art and science, and their different methods and processes, to co-exist and thrive, then a real art/science collaboration and aesthetic will emerge. But at the end of the day, art and science are united by one logic and one impulse—both are attempts to understand what it is to be human and the world around us.” Keith Tyson

"A 'style' in art is the functional analog of a 'paradigm' in science"...The world of percepual experience is constructed as the "natural universe" in science, and as a meaningful "felt reality" in art. In both cases the construction proceeds by purposively acting in regard to one's perceptions and observing the difference in the resulting percept-patterns."   *Ervin Laszlo, Introduction to Systems Philosophy, Toward a New Paradigm of Contemporary Thought

Laszlo explains that "conservative art", concerned wth maintaining an already established style as the basis of the artistic activity, functions analogously to a paradigm in science. But that conservative "normal-art" members become revolutionary "crisis-art" innovators when the style no longer expresses the patterns of felt experience in their culture. The breakdown of a style, like that of a scientific paradigm, questions the basic ideals, dogmas, and the very purpose and nature of art. The difference is in the cognitive mode. Whereas the scientist re-thinks basic presuppositions, the avant-garde artist re-feels them while being aware of feeling it.

Exploring our experienced duality of reason and feeling, through the constructs of science and art, can be an exciting learning tool. Particularly in light of recent findings in cognitive science and nueroscience that shows that the brain and body make up a single, fully integrated cognitive system. 

The STEMArts project is exploring innovative solutions for integrating STEM and the arts in K-12 education with the goal of providing schools and communities with teaching tools and succesful teaching models.

Our Approach

Dissolving Boundaries

We start by organizing interdisciplinary contributors such as artists, scientists, teachers etc. into a broader group title that focuses on the common denominator that unifies all fields of study; Creativity and innovation. We choose the term Creative Professionals from the research of economist and social scientist, Richard Florida, Creative Class. Florida’s more encompassing definition supports an interdisciplinary approach that is conducive to our mission.

For the purpose of simplification, we are using the term Creative Professionals for all categories listed in Florida's definition. In this way we hope to begin to dissolve the labels that divide us and focus on the common glue that unites us, creativity/innovation. This does not mean that only professionals can contribute to a project  or seek a solution. There are opportunities for anyone to contribute to the STEMArts community. Whether a professional, student or hobbyist.

To encourage truly innovative solutions we are reaching out to Creatives in all disciplines, and in addition we are exanding the concept of classroom projects. We are encouraging STEMArts collaborations that spill out into the real world. We are encouraging to think not only about what the collaboration is, but how it relates to the community, local and global. Sites can be virtual and/or real. Multiple sites are encouraged. For example, a collaboration could develop online, meet in a classroom for a hands-on activity, and then conclude with a presentation to the community at a local cafe.

Compiling research

*”According to “The Creative Industries Report”, published by Americans for the Arts, more than 548000 businesses nationwide are related to the arts and employ 2.99 million people.  Many of these arts-related jobs require employees to understand and apply higher order concepts in the STEM content areas in addition to having a preparation in the arts. In addition, the knowledge, skills, attitudes, and behaviors students acquire from studying the arts have been identified by the Partnership for 21st Century Skills and other organizations as the skills needed to be successful in the global economy.  These skills include creativity and innovation; critical thinking and problem solving; communication and collaboration; flexibility and adaptability; and social and cross cultural skills.”*Joan Platz, Information Coordinator, Ohio Alliance for Arts Education. Economist and social scientist, Richard Florida, shows us that the “Creative Class” will be the leading force of growth in the economy, and is expected to grow by over 10 million jobs in the next decade.

Dr. Ken Wesson states, "The importance of art in science cannot be understated, because the construction of visually explanatory models in science contributes vastly to comprehending scientific explanations. Recognizing there are inherent limitations to what we can express via print, illustrations frequently offer the best medium for describing, sharing and communicating both simple and abstract scientific principles, theories or concepts. In science, a picture or diagram (i.e., models) often exceeds the proverbial “thousand words” equation. In spite of the vital role that language plays in structuring our understanding of science, those data and explanations are often accompanied by pictures of the theoretical construct being transmitted."

Research has also shown us that arts training plays a unique role in  the development of the brain and engaging students fully in the creative process, which then transfers to other fields of study.

Research of Howard Gardner, renowned developmental psychologist, has revealed that there are multiple learning modalities that must be addressed when developing curricula that engages students. It is widely accepted now that visual, kinesthetic, and auditory learning modalities must be incorporated into curricula in addition to the traditional linguistic modality (reading and writing). The arts offer the best approach for teaching through diverse modalities.

Research points to the benefits of integrating the Arts and STEM in school curricula. Art programs in the schools also benefit because the arts are revived and revalued as they become integrated into other subject areas. As a whole this creates an interdisciplinary and multisensory approach which has proven to accelerate and deepen student learning.


These are examples of the concepts being explored through the STEMArts community project. We will be updating this section with further research as the project progresses so please stay tuned. Below are links to additional resources about STEM and STEAM projects and research.

The Art of science learning resources

Use arts integration to enhance common core

Scientific American: From STEM to STEAM