NSF awards $2.6M for national innovation incubator project

The National Science Foundation has awarded a grant of $2,654,895 to the Balboa Park Cultural Partnership (Partnership) for phase 2 of the Art of Science Learning Initiative, a project entitled “Integrating Informal STEM and Arts-Based Learning to Foster Innovation.” Harvey Seifter, Art of Science Learning founder/director, is the project’s director and principal investigator. Paige Simpson, the Partnership’s Interim Executive Director and Director of the Balboa Park Learning Institute, is project administrator.

Over the next four years, this grant will fund arts-based incubators for innovation in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) learning in San Diego, Chicago and Worcester, Mass, as well as the development of a new arts-based STEM curriculum; experimental research to measure the impact of arts-based learning on creativity, collaboration and innovation; and public programs using the project’s activities to advance civic engagement with STEM.

The incubators – hosted by San Diego’s Balboa Park Cultural Partnership, Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry and Worcester’s science and nature center, EcoTarium – will bring together 30 cross-disciplinary innovation teams of STEM professionals, artists, educators, business leaders and students. The teams will learn arts-based techniques for generating, transforming, prototyping and communicating creative ideas and apply them to STEM-related civic innovation challenges. Participants will also collaborate on the development of new educational projects that integrate arts-based approaches into STEM learning.

Deborah Klochko, President of the Balboa Park Cultural Partnership and Executive Director of the Museum of Photographic Arts remarked: “We are enthusiastic about the opportunities afforded us by this groundbreaking project. As nonprofit art, cultural, and science institutions, the work we accomplish on a daily basis relies on the critical ability to integrate innovative methods of learning to solve 21st century challenges. We look forward to demonstrating the success of this approach to the global learning community through the work we will undertake in this Innovation Incubator.”

Innovation festivals, art/science innovation symposia, prototype demonstrations and a culminating interactive exhibition, created by the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in San Diego and traveling to each incubator site, will reach national audiences with compelling stories about the civic impact of innovation at the intersection of art, science and learning. The exhibition will launch as a key element of the 2015 Centennial Celebration in Balboa Park, which will honor the 1915 Panama-California Exposition and set the stage for the next 100 years, with a focus on innovation.

National partners for this project include the Association of Science-Technology Centers, American Association for the Advancement of Science and Americans for the Arts. The project is supported by a distinguished national advisory council and a network of local and regional partners and advisors in all three incubator sites.

The Balboa Park Cultural Partnership (Partnership) is a nonprofit created in 2003 that facilitates collaboration among 27 diverse arts, science, and cultural institutions in San Diego’s historic Balboa Park. Through collaboration, Partnership members speak with one voice on issues of mutual importance, reduce expenses, attract new resources, and help innovate new practices—achieving more collectively than would be possible individually. This work is carried out in a range of activities, from collective purchasing and “green” sustainability improvements to advocacy, joint programming, and professional development (delivered through the Balboa Park Learning Institute). Working together, the Park institutions are creating the best “Balboa Park Experience” for people who visit, work in, and/or partner with the Park. The Partnership represents 3000 staff, 7000 volunteers and 500 trustees working to serve 6.5 million visitors to Park institutions annually. http://www.bpcp.org

The Art of Science Learning is a national initiative that uses the arts to spark creativity in science education and foster the development of a skilled 21st Century STEM workforce. In 2011, the initiative’s first phase explored the connection between arts-based learning, scientific innovation, and economic competitiveness; convening more than 400 scientists, artists, educators, researchers, business leaders and policymakers from across the country to participate in regional conferences at the Smithsonian Institution, CalIT2/UCSD and Illinois Institute of Technology.http://www.artofsciencelearning.org/

The Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago (MSI) offers thousands of fun and interactive exhibits and one-of-a-kind, world-class experiences to inspire the inventive genius in everyone. Through its Center for the Advancement of Science Education, MSI also aspires to a larger vision: to inspire and motivate children to achieve their full potential in science, technology, medicine and engineering. MSI is open every day except Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day, and hours are 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. The Museum is supported in part through the generosity of the people of Chicago through the Chicago Park District. For more information, visit http://www.msichicago.org.

EcoTarium is New England’s leading science and nature center, an indoor-outdoor venue dedicated to inspiring a passion for science and nature in visitors of all ages. The center offers a museum building with three floors of interactive exhibits and is home to live animal habitats, interpretive nature trails through forest and meadow, the Alden Digital Planetarium, a tree canopy walkway (seasonal) and a narrow-gauge railroad. Located at 222 Harrington Way in Worcester, Mass., the EcoTarium is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sundays 12 to 5 p.m. For more information, visit http://www.ecotarium.org.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency created by Congress in 1950 “to promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare; to secure the national defense…” With an annual budget of about $6.9 billion, NSF issues limited-term grants — currently about 10,000 new awards per year, with an average duration of three years — to fund specific research proposals that have been judged the most promising by a rigorous and objective merit-review system. NSF’s goals–discovery, learning, research infrastructure and stewardship–provide an integrated strategy to advance the frontiers of knowledge, cultivate a world-class, broadly inclusive science and engineering workforce and expand the scientific literacy of all citizens, build the nation’s research capability through investments in advanced instrumentation and facilities, and support excellence in science and engineering research and education through a capable and responsive organization. NSF is “where discoveries begin.” http://www.nsf.gov