by Arthur C. Brown III
My fellowship at the Walters Art Museum has been positive, informative, and eye opening. I work in collaboration with the education and conservation departments. Currently I am completing research on STEAM programming within museums. In February I was able to witness STEAM Day at The Walters. It is a school program geared towards raising awareness of the relationship between science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) with Art. It currently serves high school students, and explores the role of conservation within a STEM framework. The students are given a presentation by The Walters conservation staff, led on a museum tour, and encouraged to further explore STEAM endeavors inside the museum.
Julie Lauffenburger Director of Conservation & Technical Research, with Meg Craft, Head of Objects Conservation – Courtesy of TheWalters.org
It is imperative that students are prepared for future careers in the STEAM fields. Currently our workforce is inadequate in meeting the demand for STEAM professionals. Programs like STEAM Day offer students a different perspective and possibilities for involvement in the Art and Science worlds. The Education and Conservation Departments have done a good job of integrating art into the science of what is done inside the museum.
A moment that stuck out to me during my experience that day was an encounter with students from Baltimore’s Renaissance Academy High School. The public school has suffered many losses within the last two years, including a stabbing and eventual death of a student, and the shooting deaths of two other students within months of each other.
On this particular day, however, the students were excited to be at the museum. For many it was their first time visiting, despite the fact that the museum is one mile away from the academy. They had an opportunity to discuss topics such as: animal enamel, and their favorite: medieval manuscripts and the funerary practices of Ancient Egypt. The exposure to museum conservation and historical artwork fed their imaginations, and informed them about key periods in humanity.
Although much of the experience was positive for the group, their reality remained present. Another topic of great interest was the museum’s collection of swords and firearms. It was a reminder of the ever-present violence and mourning the students were currently dealing with. Two of the students were graduating seniors, accepted into the Georgia Institute of Technology and The University of the Arts in Philadelphia. Both plan to pursue majors in technology and multimedia design. They shared with me the impact of STEAM Day and were curious to learn more about the museum and possible careers in conservation.
Their experience is an example of the possibilities that students can imagine once exposed and encouraged to invest in the arts and science. I am happy that programs like STEAM Day inspire youth to see that by combining their artistic interests with their studies in science and math, they too can become part of a museum staff. Our future workforce depends on nurturing interdisciplinary studies for problem solvers equipped to be creative and analytical.