Arts & Entertainment, Higher Education, and Technology

Switch and ArtPrize gather STEAM

Tech company’s exhibit will blend science, technology, arts, engineering and math.

July 29, 2016
| By Pat Evans |
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One reason Switch Ltd. executives chose to locate the company’s eastern data center in West Michigan was its culture, led by a visit to ArtPrize.

Now, with the former Steelcase Pyramid in the throes of reconstruction as a Switch SuperNAP center, the company has made an early commitment to partner with ArtPrize.

ArtPrize announced last week it was partnering with Switch on an interactive STEAM experience — that’s science, technology, engineering, arts and math — at the ArtPrize Hub, 41 Sheldon Blvd. SE, during the 8th annual ArtPrize, Sept. 21-Oct. 9.

STEAM Village powered by Switch will let visitors interact in a variety of technological applications and stations to see how those five disciplines are integral to each other.

The partnership’s roots go back to last year, when key members of Switch’s executive team came to town.

“They visited Grand Rapids during ArtPrize, which inspired the purchase, and felt that the creativity and the community was a great place they wanted to be,” ArtPrize Education Manager Becca Guyette said. “That evolved now, and the past year we’ve been in conversation and wanted to do something together and landed on the STEAM Village, to have the arts be integrated into the STEM subjects.”

Included in the educational exhibit will be stations featuring learning programs such as Planet3 and demonstrations, as well as virtual reality painting and tinkering stations. Last year’s $200,000 public vote grand prize winner, Northwood Awakening by Ann Loveless, will be on display, with a docent on hand to help explain how the 2-D work of art translates into the STEAM environment set up around it.

Switch has invested $13 million into Planet3, an educational startup in Nevada that immerses students into data analytics to solve problems, which the Business Journal included in its profile of Switch’s economic impact in Nevada last month.

“The partnership of Switch and ArtPrize creates the perfect environment for bringing our passion around STEAM educational opportunities to life through hands-on immersive experiences and truly capturing the blend of technology with the creativity of art,” said Adam Kramer, Switch executive vice president of strategy.

Guyette said the stations are representative of the technologies becoming accessible to the public and how to push forward with education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Often, however, art is left out of the educational picture, Guyette said, so to see a tech company advocating for arts to be a part of educational curriculums is a positive message.

“Science and art have always gone together,” she said. “It really brings arts back into the picture to ensure students are leaving their K-12 education with creative problem-solving, thinking and the ability to take and be OK with creative risks.”

Ensuring future generations of students can look at world problems and offer creative solutions will help the world be a better place, Guyette said. She also said it’s important for artists to be able to use that creative thinking to dive into deeper subjects within their artwork.

“We really can’t address those issues or problems at a community, nation or worldwide level without being able to have creativity and innovation and approach problems in a different way,” Guyette said. “We all have to work together and understand other perspectives, and that’s how we’ll solve these complex world issues.”

Guyette said working with Switch has been excellent, and she’s excited for a learning lab for nonprofits and schools.

“They’ve been really open to working with our team, and just through this partnership and how well they work with us, they’re a huge asset to Grand Rapids and how they’re looking to support arts education and STEAM,” she said.

Guyette also mentioned ArtPrize has spurred a lot of discussion on a variety of subjects and is now excited to continue its advocacy in education with new programming.

Switch has supported a variety of community endeavors and organizations in Nevada, where its two other data centers are located, and ArtPrize officials expect the business to get more involved in the community as the SuperNAP becomes operational.

“We’re thrilled to work alongside Switch through their leadership-level investment to bolster educational programming at ArtPrize Eight,” ArtPrize Executive Director Christian Gaines said. “This partnership is truly a natural fit, putting Switch and ArtPrize at the forefront of the STEAM conversation — further energizing economic development and expansion across the state, and catalyzing the art and creative communities in West Michigan.”

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