Agnes Chavez and Anita McKeown

Early 2012, the ISEA2012 Education Program coalesced around a vision: to explore and present new learning ecologies ready to face the multi-dimensional landscape of the 21st Century. This aim led us to a host of thought leaders and cultural creatives whose work lay at the very intersection of art, science and technology.

The collaborative exchanges that followed centered on the conviction that only an integrated learning model that brings together the worlds of science and the arts will suffice to open the portals of education. Education ought to be a convergence of disciplines: as innovative, creative and imaginative as it is empirical, rational and knowledge-based.

As guest editors, and ISEA2012 Education co-theme leaders, we are pleased to present the following collection from five artists and scholars immersed in such conversations. Each contributor, although from different perspectives, collectively and repeatedly addresses creativity, imagination and freedom as qualities crucial to learning and living experiences.

To begin, Dr. Ken Wesson, an educational consultant drawing on neuroscience, lays the groundwork for reconstruction by exploring recent discoveries in the science of how the brain learns. In Wesson’s words, art and sensory information offer “unparalleled contributions to overall body [and] brain development.” [1] Wesson highlights that if we are to thrive as a species, we must not only integrate the arts into our education but, like our ancestors, value their status for our well-being.

Next, Linda Weintraub – curator, educator, artist and author known for making “vanguard art accessible to broad audiences” – eloquently details how eco-conscious artists are ‘distinguished primarily by their shared commitment to environmental reform.’ [2] Through the discussion of these artistic practices, the paper reasons how such reform requires disruption, a rallying call to shatter “the existing armature of society” rather than bolstering “existing social values.” [3]

Ariane Koek, ISEA2012 keynote speaker, continues the theme of disruption and fluidity.  Koek is Director of Collide@CERN, a residency program that facilitates artists to interact and engage with CERN scientists. Ariane’s free flowing writing is deliberate, using creative form as a way to jolt us from our conventions. Koek argues for flexible structures that allow for dynamic exploration combined with a disruptive element to challenge the status quo and trust in the value of this approach, also embedded within Collide@CERN, to bring about new and unexpected solutions.

Nettrice Gaskins’ paper presents  Augmented Reality in Open Spaces (AROS), part of the ISEA2012 Visiting Artist program. A three-week project in collaboration with the ¡Explora! Science museum internship, AROS integrated the rich indigenous art of New Mexico with software that engages with mathematical principles in design.  Gaskins outlines, key concepts in arts based and informal learning and how they were implemented with culturally situated design tools. [4] Merging old and new technologies, science and art, the project illustrates the potential for an integrated approach to engage young people in STEM by drawing on their own creativity and innovation.

Lastly, The Media Art Group (MAG), presents three interdisciplinary case studies that harness the power of media arts for STEM education.  Implemented across three distinct educational settings with content developed by teams of artists, technologists and scientists. 21st century tools like tablet computers and web-based applications harness user engagement, interactive design and aesthetic principles to create informative and motivational learning experiences. MAG’s paper demonstrates the vital role media arts and artists can play in the production of innovative STEM learning.

Taken collectively, these essays powerfully argue that education must be re-considered and re-created as a playful, inventive environment. Only through interdisciplinary exchange and experimentation can a new paradigm focused on creativity, imagination and innovation be fashioned. This paradigm must reach beyond standardized evaluation and testing and focus on tools and skills necessary not only for employment but productivity and personal fulfillment. We must strive towards a praxis that not only questions who we thought we were, but enables us to become who we want to be.

The relevance of these perspectives for education is obvious.

To educate the next generation with 21st century skills that are truly adaptive and meet the challenges of the future we need to unlearn our “current education system’s industrial era operating practices.” [5] Educators must re-imagine mechanistic analogies and develop new metaphors that meaningfully embrace humanity as a complex, multi-sensory species. To do this, we need an educational system that empowers both students and teachers to take risks, explore uncertainties, communicate freely and reach their full potential.


1. Dr. Ken Wesson, Art and the Creative Brain, Media-N, Journal of the New Media Caucus, Fall 2013, Vol 9 No 3.
2. Linda Weintraub, TO LIFE! Eco Art in Pursuit of a Sustainable Planet, Media-N, Journal of the New Media Caucus, Fall 2013, Vol 9 No 3.
3. Ibid.
4. Ron Eglash, Audrey Bennett, Casey O’Donnell, Sybillyn Jennings, and Margaret Cintorino,“Culturally Situated Design Tools: Ethnocomputing from Field Site to Classroom,” in American Anthropologist, Vol. 108, Issue 2 (2006) pp. 347–362.
5. Chris Dede, Comparing Frameworks for 21st Century Skills, July,2009, Harvard Graduate School of Education, (accessed November 4, 2013).


Agnes Chavez is an educator and new media artist.  In 1996 she created Sube, an award-winning language system that approaches bilingual education “thru Art, Music & Games.” Since then, Sube has been used in 3,389 classrooms throughout 10 countries. In 2009, Agnes founded STEMARTS, a multidisciplinary project aimed at bridging the worlds of new media art and STEM education. Agnes has received numerous awards including the 2007’s Kids First! Coalition for Quality Children’s Media Endorsement, and the 2012 New Mexico Women in Technology Award.

Anita McKeown, an RSA fellow, is an interdisciplinary artist, producer and researcher. Research interests focus on the public domain, in particular Creative Placemaking, Open Source Culture and the impact of technology, ethically and ecologically.

Currently on sabbatical from SMARTlab, Ireland an Art/Science research lab within UCD’s School of Education, to focus on her PhD. She has exhibited nationally and internationally, winning the prestigious Bravo Award and first artist in residence in the newly designated Rio Grande Del Norte National Monument.