Muse Machine Institute equips teachers to turn STEM into STEAM

The Arts Partnership of Greater Spartanburg (Chapman Cultural Center) was awarded a $17,000 Education and Community Partnership grant (ECP) through the South Carolina Arts Commission’s Arts in Education program. The grant will help fund professional performances in Spartanburg County schools as part of the Muse Machine program. The Muse Machine STEAM Institute (taking place June 23-27) equips teachers to integrate arts education in the classroom.

From the Chapman Cultural Center:

ABC Project Director Christine Fisher presents at Muse Machine Institute

ABC Project Director Christine Fisher presents at Muse Machine Institute

While most of the country’s educators are rightly focused on ramping up the hard sciences in the classroom, another faction of educators is looking for ways to enhance the high tech teachings with creativity.

At the urging of the national business community that is looking to fill science-based jobs, primary education has embraced a philosophy of STEM—Science,Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. While there is widespread agreement on the necessity of STEM, most employers believe that for a complete educational experience and preparation for a qualified workforce, art must also have a place in the curriculum, thus adding “Art/Design” into the acronym equation: STEAM.

Toward that goal, a group of teachers from South Carolina schools is focusing on the incorporation of the arts into student curriculum this summer in the annual Muse Machine STEAM Summer Teachers Institute, presented in Spartanburg by Chapman Cultural Center, Milliken & Company, and USC Upstate. The Institute is a graduate-level course for K–12 classroom teachers on how creativity fuels critical problem–solving skills.

“We’ve presented the Muse Machine Institute for many years,” said Ava Hughes, arts education director for Chapman Cultural Center. “Every year, we focus on a different, but arts-related, concept. The whole idea is to equip teachers with something new they can use in their classrooms to inspire new ways of learning by connecting students to STEM theory with the arts. This year, we’ll focus on the most current developments of STEAM.”

Taking place June 23-27 at the Chapman Cultural Center and USC Upstate’s The George Dean Johnson School of Business, the three-credit course is taught by Dr. Mary Lou Hightower, associate professor of Art Education at USC Upstate. Participants will hear from guest presenters such as Kennedy Center Teaching Artist John Bertles of New York, retired engineer and master kite maker Chuck Holmes of Spartanburg, and others. In addition, participants will tour the Innovation Gallery and Research Center at Milliken in Spartanburg.

“STEM is a national educational movement focused on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, but like all stems, we feel it’s only the beginning,” Hughes said. “For children’s minds to truly blossom, Art/Design is needed. That’s how we get STEAM.”

Supporters of STEAM note that added creativity develops students’ ability to adapt in a changing world, view problems from different perspectives, work in a teams, and generate new solutions.

In a 2010 report by IBM, more than 1,500 CEOs noted that, given the ever-changing nature of the world around us, “creativity trumps other leadership characteristics” in forming an innovative workforce.

“Every day Milliken’s community of innovators is invigorated by the challenge of finding new and creative ways to enhance people’s lives and make the world around us easier, safer, more sustainable, and more beautiful,” said Richard Dillard, director of public affairs for Milliken. “Our approach to innovation through unique insights, deep science, and meaningful design is a good fit with the objectives of the STEAM Institute.”

“The Muse Machine STEAM Institute is about equipping our teachers with the power of STEAM to creatively fuel our students’ futures, regardless of the careers they pursue,” Hughes said.

Primarily, Muse Machine is a program through which Spartanburg County schools receive three professional performances each year in music, theatre, or dance. The performances are informal and often interactive, acquainting students with a particular genre or art form. In addition to in-school shows, Muse Machine provides valuable tools to teachers on integrating arts education in the classroom. The STEAM Institute is one of these tools, and since its founding in 1994 has served more than 850 South Carolina teachers.

The Muse Machine STEAM Institute is made possible by the generous support of Milliken & Company, and is one of the summer courses approved by the S.C. Department of Education through the ABC (Arts in Basic Curriculum) Program.

Chapman Cultural Center education programs are made possible by support from Milliken & Company, BMW, Duke Energy, J M Smith Foundation, SunTrust Bank, Target, QT, TD Charitable Foundation, Blue Cross Blue Shield of South Carolina, South Carolina Arts Commission, and Kennedy Center Partners in Education Program.

For more information on the Muse Machine STEAM Institute, contact Ava Hughes at (864) 278-9693 or