South Australia is quickly becoming the prime location for those looking for employment in the STEM fields. For those who are uncertain, STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths. These fields currently offer diverse career opportunities, from medical advancements to the Australian Space Agency. However, there is one a vital component to STEM fields: Arts.
Arts and STEM have been inspiring each other for years, from Isaac Asimov’s three laws of robotics to the hard-scientific facts which make Andy Weir’s The Martian more realistic. This combination of STEM and the Arts is better known by professionals as STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics). STEAM has already been making itself known in South Australia, appearing at arts festivals and used to show off new locally developed technology.
In the 2017/2018 budget, the state government invested $250 million into Education to deliver more STEM topics to primary and secondary schools. Flinders University’s Tonsley Campus and its Innovation Hub, alongside the Medical Research and Science Centre (the cheese grater on North Terrace) are some STEM-focused buildings which now make up part of the Adelaide skyline.
It is expected STEM funding will increase with the new budget due in September. In 2018 the Adelaide Fringe generated $16.6 million at the box office and added $29.5 million to the state economy, as set out in their annual report. It is also the highest earning arts festival in Australia, generating a total of 39% of all multi-category ticket sales in the country. These figures show there is money in both STEM and the Arts in South Australia. Combined, they will make a far bigger impact on the local culture and economy than they do separately. Including Arts in STEM education will learning more interactive and fun while STEM in festivals like the Fringe more engaging and interactive.
Modern technology has been heavily influenced by the arts. Many hardware and software engineers/programmers have long been inspired by technology in science fiction. One example of this is the Adelaide based company Voxon Photonics. Their technology, the Voxon VX1, is a 3D volumetric engine that was inspired by science fiction, more specifically Dejarik in Star Wars: A New Hope. For it to work, they required the aid of the STEM fields, especially engineering and mathematics (key components in hardware and software design). They create games to demonstrate their technology’s power. The VX1 was showcased in the Indie Games Room at AVCon 2018, allowing the public to interact with their exciting new technology. While the VX1 can do other things like medical imaging, art shows its power off in a more engaging way. Voxon Photonics has advertised pushing to get more local games developed for the VX1, showing it off at Game Plus (a co-working digital games space on Pirie Street) in June 2018.
Recent advances in science and technology have influenced the Adelaide arts scene. One example is the University of South Australia’s Museum of Discovery (MOD). Opened in 2018, MOD on North Terrace is where visitors can engage with science and technology through art (STEAM). Their current displays are a showcase on the future STEAM can bring. One example being the genetic modification of children, if they’re to survive on Earth from choices made today. This allows visitors to witness these changes first hand. For more on MOD, check out our review here.
In terms of festivals, 2017’s OzAsia Festival saw an international example of STEAM. This was Keiichiro Shibuya’s The End, starring Japanese vocaloid Hatsune Miku. Unlike a traditional opera, The End is entirely virtual, containing only Miku and showcases the relationship between art and technology. This also is a reflection on the term vocaloid itself, as Miku is actually nothing more than computer software herself. Another example of STEAM is coming to 2018’s OzAsia. Called War Sum Up, it is a 21st-century electronic opera that is summed up in three words “Music. Manga. Machines.” This unique blend will be showcasing technology working alongside Japanese Noh theatre.
The South Australian Government should be pushing STEAM rather than just STEM. It is already happening around Adelaide, and if given that extra boost, can help make Adelaide stand out against other Australian cities. STEAM can help bring more young people to Adelaide and benefit other fields like tourism and education. A STEAM revolution has the potential to completely reinvent Adelaide, making it a younger, more vibrant city.
What are your thoughts? Should South Australia be aiming towards a STEAM future rather than a STEM one? Leave your comments below.
Words by Cameron Lowe
Cameron Lowe is a horror and sci-fi writer, editor and student. He’s had fiction and articles featured in Speakeasy Zine and Empire Times. He loves to read, play video games, and drink green tea. He’s one of the 2018 editors at Empire Times. He tweets at @cloweshadowking.