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On Tuesday 13th July 2021, we invited researchers, teachers, visionaries, industry ambassadors, artists, and scientists, to come together at the STEAM conference 2021 to discuss new methods and different ways of thinking, with the aim of inspiring the application of STEAM to future business and research.

Comprising online talks, presentations, and expert panels, the aim was to showcase international STEAM thinking and practice, as well as demonstrating how Birmingham City University (BCU) is influencing and contributing to conversations around cross-sector working. The day focused on several key themes, including Exploratory education for everyone, Turbocharging with tech, Uncovering CreaTech, and Collaboration through community. If you missed the event, don’t panic – find our key highlights and favourite takeaways below.

Key Speakers: STEAM visionaries and influencers

Exploratory Education for Everyone (Mr Sunil Kant Munjal, Chairman of the Hero Enterprise)

Mr Sunil Kant Munjal opened proceedings, taking us on a journey from Einstein to Covid-19, and the influence of STEAM. Passionate about education, healthcare, and skills growth, he co-founded BML Munjal University with a mission to foster next-generation practices in knowledge delivery and student development.

Mr Sunil Kant Munjal discussed Einstein’s belief that great scientists are also great artists, but that this approach was lost over time as we evolved to become either artists or scientists. He argued that STEAM must be experiential – applied to true life situations – only then can it be brought to life for all. He also reminded us that the Covid crisis provides us an opportunity to reimagine our lives through the prism of STEAM, saying that “it is truly time for us to reflect and be more reflective in what we do, and also how we do this.”

Mr Sunil Kant Munjal was later joined by BCU’s STEAM Fellows for a panel discussion regarding STEAM in education. Dr Victoria Kinsella discussed the thematic-based learning that occurs in schools, along with the challenges facing secondary-level education when the arts are often considered secondary to STEM. Meanwhile, Peter Samuels discussed the use of Lego robotics in secondary schools, promoting practice-based learning in STEAM – a way of getting people working together early on, known as kinesthetic learning.

Turbocharging with tech (Irini Papadimitriou, Creative Director at Future Everything)

Irini Papadimitriou gave us an inspiring presentation on the impact of art in a shifting digital landscape. She is a curator and cultural manager, whose passion is to discover the impact of technology in society and culture, and the role of art in helping to answer contemporary questions.

She spoke of her interdisciplinary collaborations with world-renowned museums and galleries including the V&A in London. This included her work with the robot statue ‘Diamandini’ by Mari Velonaki. The robot was programmed to behave like a human, with attributes including the potential to err. Diamandidni learns from its surroundings and interactions with others, providing researchers the opportunity to learn about social behaviours. She said “a lot of our work is actually about the public realm, and it’s based on experimentation, action research, and participation and collaboration”.

Uncovering CreaTech (Dr Tom Cahill-Jones and Professor Liliane Wong)

Dr. Tom Cahill-Jones, Partnerships Manager for Nesta’s Creative Industries Policy and Evidence Centre, discussed how artistic methodologies can be applied to other sectors to engender new thinking. Liliane Wong, Professor and Chair of the Department of Interior Architecture at Rode Island School of Design, revealed how technologies including Virtual Reality (VR) can engage hard-to-reach members of the community – for example using VR to demonstrate costal erosion in affected regions. As Liliane explained, “we intervene in existing contexts to design for the needs of the new condition, time, and society; our work entails designing for change and unfamiliar conditions”.

Collaboration through community (Nadav Hochman, Associate Director of Gray Area Foundation)

Nadav Hochman – Associate Director for the Arts (San Francisco’s centre for promoting the collaboration of art technology, and community for social and public impact) – provided an intriguing insight into the ground-breaking results of collaborative working within the community and the impact this can have on often marginalised groups.

He spoke about the shift from academic research and work to science- and artist-driven institutions, drawing upon his own experiences growing up in a socialist communist Israel where property and profits were shared equally for the greater good of the community. Through his own practice over the past decade, he says he has been able to “investigate ways to achieve what I hope is meaningful collaborations between different, and oftentimes quite intellectually and culturally different sectors, through STEAM practices.”

Competing in the Collaborative Challenge….

Aside from the array of thought leaders, delegates also had the opportunity to get involved with the Collaborative Challenge, which included breakout sessions for each theme, and time to collaborate virtually with likeminded individuals. This digital fringe event allowed participants the opportunity to explore STEAM behind the scenes, to learn about current STEAM projects at BCU, and find out more about the STEAM Fellows.

It’s safe to say that the second BCU International STEAM Conference was a roaring success. With plenty of thought-provoking content and input from leading global visionaries, you can rest assured that we’ll be set to return in 2022.

To find out more about the support available to new and growing businesses, get in touch with STEAMhouse, part of Birmingham City University. Geared towards the creative industries, STEAMhouse helps bring new ideas to life. Complete the form, or join the mailing list to find out more.