STEM to STEAM was the theme of last week’s Museum Association of New York (MANY) conference that was held in Albany. My attendance there serves as explanation for the absence of a Wildenhain Blog posting here. And not an April Fools’ Day prank.

An annual gathering, typically of some 125 museum professionals from across New York State, this year’s theme sought to dovetail that which museums “do” with a popular (to the point of overworking) acronym associated with a current trend, or maybe it’s a fad, in college and university curricula, STEM: Science, Technology, Engineering, Math.

The nontraditional educational environments created by museums add the “A” to STEM (and form STEAM) in order to underscore the integration of Arts, including visual and performing arts, humanities, social sciences, language arts and history.

For many in the antiques and collecting communities, “Steam” may appear to be shorthand for “steampunk.”

Steampunk surfaced as a term a few years ago in the antiques trade papers. Perhaps it was earlier introduced by (frequently) self-defined edgy design periodicals, I don’t know.

As offered in the antiques trades, though, steampunk also gave the appearance of either a designer’s dream or nightmare.

It was a fancy title for that which had been cobbed together: elements of this bolted to that which was all glued to some other thing.

Steampunk integrated the best of the industrial revolution (maybe the phrase is an oxymoron) with the worst of 1970s Punk movement, which itself was later named “Grunge” – and that term also has a connection to the antiques industry.

As we all know, everything old is new.

In 1986 Don Naetzker published “Waste Not, Want Not: The Art of Make-Do.” A slender, paperback book of 113 pages, the book detailed how broken objects could be repaired using parts from similar objects or how broken objects could be repurposed – in order for them to “make do.”

At MANY, however, panelists and their panels embraced positively the STEAM theme in order to enhance, revitalize and renew the museum experience for visitors.

Let’s see how the Albany energy translate to local communities served by the museums.

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