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Voting is Open for Civic Challenges that Deserve Innovative Solutions

The Balboa Park Cultural Partnership is hosting a bold experiment that explores the connection between arts-based learning and scientific innovation. The project is called the San Diego Incubator for Innovation. It aims to test if involvement with the arts changes the ability to create, develop and communicate STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) based ideas.

Inside the Innovation Incubator, teams of educators, artists, business leaders and students will gather to solve a civic challenge chosen by the residents of San Diego County. Voting is open through January 27; click here for official voting site. Residents can rank the following three challenges in the order they believe most deserves an innovative solution:

21st Century Healthcare --- Utilizing mobile telecommunications in healthcare and biotech industries to advance medical research, healthcare delivery and health information for greater well-being.

Climate Change --- Combating global warming to prevent its devastating effects of rising sea levels, heat waves, droughts, increasing wildfire frequency, severe storms and flooding.

Water --- Finding an answer to increasing water demands so that the region can ensure sustainable, high quality water it needs to support a healthy society, economy and environment.

The civic challenge that is ranked the highest after the votes have been counted will be chosen as the focal point for the San Diego Incubator for Innovation.

Right now, an arts-based learning curriculum is being developed. It will be used to teach incubator participants how to use art when building and communicating their STEM-based solutions to the civic challenge.

Director of San Diego Incubator for Innovation Nan Renner has a background as a visual artist and cognitive scientist. She believes engaging with various art forms can help develop critical thinking that also relate to problem solving, communication and creativity in the STEM disciplines.

“By integrating the arts it helps people to think differently, to think expansively, to see relationships that maybe they haven’t seen before, to express their ideas in different ways and perhaps more compelling ways,” said Renner.

How It All Began

Harvey Seifter the founder and national director of The Art of Science Learning, an organization that aims to integrate the arts in STEM education,  initiated the project in the spring of 2011 by holding three conferences. He brought together more than 400 scientists, artists, educators, researchers, business leaders and policy makers from across the country to discuss how the arts can be integrated in the education system and the workplace to strengthen STEM skills and spark creativity.

Based on the level of expertise, resources and enthusiasm, three Innovation Incubator sites were chosen: the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago; the EcoTarium in Worcester, Mass.; and the Balboa Park Cultural Partnership in San Diego. Each Innovation Incubator site will have a different civic challenge to tackle based on local votes. From September 2013 to September 2014, 100 incubator volunteers will learn various art skills to generate innovative STEM-based solutions.

What It Hopes to Achieve

With the $2.65 million grant awarded by the National Science Foundation, the Balboa Park Cultural Partnership hopes the project will provide some insight into national concerns with the formal education system in regards to providing students with the skills needed for the 21st century workplace. Renner believes the answer to generating innovation in the education system and workplace deserves an innovative approach.

Outside Reuben H. Fleet Science Center

“I think that sometimes we see a problem and we want to beeline to that solution. And that eagerness to solve that problem and that discomfort with the ambiguity of not knowing the solution some times narrows people’s thinking,” Renner said.

“What I am hoping that this arts-based innovation curriculum does, is demonstrate the value of engaging the mind and the body in activity as a means to expand our thinking, to develop our creative skills, and to learn how to work together better,” added Renner.

Balboa Park’s Reuben H. Fleet Science Center will take the experiences and findings of the Incubators for Innovation to create a unique exhibition that will be part of Balboa Park’s Centennial Celebration in 2015.


For more information, visit The Art of Science Learning website and the Balboa Park Cultural Partnership website.

-- Lyn Canilao