Sketch Model: Summer Studio

Interdisciplinarity is called for everywhere in higher education, and nowhere more so than in linking the arts and STEM fields. Under the moniker of STEAM, or maker education, or design thinking, or any other related term, there’s enormous energy behind the notion that connecting the expressive languages of the arts and humanities with contemporary innovation culture is inherently a pedagogical good. But what is all this energy really about? Playful artifacts and accessible design? Novel technologies made friendlier or more beautiful?

Sketch Model at Olin College is an effort to invigorate a much sharper and more critical linkage between the arts, the humanities, and STEM fields. We’re seeking better questions about the politics, ethical quandaries, and symbolic work of technologies in culture, and we’re building our summer workshop to find like-minded faculty counterparts who seek the same. Perhaps, if your domain is in STEM, you share our dissatisfaction with the current scope of technical education: too timid in its ethical stance, too focused on processes and techniques, frequently devoid of context. Or, if your domain is in the humanities, perhaps you’re struggling to combine a socio-political approach to technology with some guidance for students that extends beyond critique alone—guidance for designing a repaired or better world. If so, come join us in our efforts to generously imagine alternatives. We think the arts and humanities are crucial modes of companion-inquiry for any technical matter, and we want to see education structures that bind up these disciplines in much more powerful ways.

In summer 2018, we gathered a dozen likeminded faculty counterparts from across STEM and the humanities to talk about shared interests in these approaches to interdisciplinarity. In summer 2019, we turned our attention to opportunities at the much more local level, and plan to do so again in summer 2020. We are seeking to create relationships between Olin faculty or staff and New England-based artists in a paid week-long studio experience, July 20-24. We’re offering the rare gift of time and a slower on-ramp to thinking across domains, without the immediate pressure to fully commit to a big new project. We’re interested in what happens when we invest in possible relationships—to connect, learn, and imagine possible futures for partnerships between the arts and STEM in and around Olin in coming years.

Perhaps it’s a set of questions in dance performance that find connection in biomechanics, or the travel path of asteroids as they connect to experiments in sound. There are hundreds of possibilities, from the most obvious to the much more associational, and we’re especially interested in works where the social and political stakes for hybrid knowledge is paramount.

We can imagine the outcome of this experience to take a number of forms across a number of time scales: exchanges in classrooms, joint projects ranging from consultation to real partnership, or perhaps, in the longer term, larger endeavors like shared research. We can also imagine this work as seeding some opportunities for artists to explore topics and/or fabrication processes that enables altogether new work.

We’ll report on this experience as it happens. Join our email list if you’re interested in staying up to date on this and our other programs!