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Building STEAM - How Constraints Catapult Creativity

Paula on Feb 5, '20

Posted in News, Community

No doubt, many of us think that Limitless is almost always a good thing. Bottomless-cup-of-coffee? Yes! Unlimited cell phone data? Sure! Yet, however counter-intuitive it may seem, in this story, the LIMITS are the heroes, not the villains. After all, a blank page, canvas, or platform can be intimidating: but grab a big box and throw in a few constraints: time, materials, subject matter … and creative minds go buzzing into action.

The 2020 Building STEAM Sculpture Competition and live auction is happening March 5!

Building STEAM Schaumburg sculpture and crowd

Event Information

When: Thursday, March 5, 2020 at 5:30 pm
Where: Al Larson Prairie Center for the Arts, 201 Schaumburg Court in Schaumburg, IL
Admission: Free (Proceeds from the auction support local youth art programs and the Prairie Center Arts Foundation’s community outreach)

To Get Outside The Box, Start INSIDE One!

First, the boxes are procured and distributed by the hosts of this event, the Prairie Center Arts Foundation. The boxes are the regular, strong, cardboard sort. After that, things get a little more (as the kids say) random.

High School art students picking boxes
High School art students taking pictures of parts

You could make…well…anything with this stuff.

The boxes get filled up with…stuff. Lots of intricate, heavy, functional, but thoroughly out-of-context industrial material. The big pile of mechanical pieces and parts are all generously donated, by several kind-hearted (and creatively-engaged) manufacturers in Schaumburg and the surrounding communities such as: Big Kaiser Precision Tooling, Core Pipe Products, CSM Fasteners, Felsomat USA, Hi-Grade Welding & Manufacturing, Illinois Pulley & Gear, Intec Group, Nichicon America, PM Mold Company, and Prince Industries.

You could make…well…anything with this stuff. But, you have to make something. That’s the core challenge for the teams of 2-5 area high-school students who participate. Teams from Buffalo Grove, Conant, Elk Grove, Glenbard North, Hoffman Estates, Lake Park, Palatine, Schaumburg High, and Schaumburg Christian High Schools will participate in Building Steam in 2020.

The event, including judging and awards, is sponsored by The Motorola Solutions Foundation, and the “big idea” is to have fun, and dramatically demonstrate, the inter-connectedness of Science, Technology, Engineering, Math, and the “A” in STEAM: the Arts.

how does all this creativity come from a box of random parts

Limits are the Heroes

Consider that Dr. Seuss wrote “Green Eggs and Ham” using only 50 simple words. Piet Mondrian restricted his Modernist paintings to just right angles and primary colors. Miles Davis is said to have written his entire “Kind of Blue” album without employing a single chord. And the poetry masterpieces of Chiyo-ni showcase the vast possibilities of the haiku form, just 3 lines, and 5-7-5 syllables!

Just so for each Building STEAM squad: instead of spending mental energy on choosing materials and experiencing the paralyzing fear of making the wrong choice — or simply chucking something that doesn’t work and getting new pieces — the students must come up with creative ways to design and build…with only what they have. To think OUTSIDE the box, first they must grapple with what’s INSIDE it.

They also have a few other rules to follow: the sculpture they create must be family-friendly, be about 2 cubic feet, and weigh less than 25 pounds, and every team member must contribute. Teams are also required to document the process of creation and assembly with video. That’s it. …Now GO!

To think OUTSIDE the box, first they must grapple with what’s INSIDE it.

You won't believe some of things the students and local artists have created. These sculptures below are from past Building STEAM events.

wire sculpture
insect scuplture
meta pulley and gear sculpture
flying insect sculpture
Horse sculpture

The Big Reveal!

In a little more than a month, the sculptures are given their big reveal. This year, the event takes place at the Prairie Center for the Arts, beginning at 5:30 on Thursday, March 5th. After everyone is done “oohing” and “ahhing,” and watching the presentations, the prize money is awarded. Cash prizes are awarded to the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Place winning teams, and a People’s Choice Award is voted on by attendees and announced that night as well.

Building STEAM judging
Building STEAM stage

Each of the sculptures will be made display-ready, then they’re all auctioned-off to the highest bidder. Auction proceeds go to youth art programs and the season of entertainment at Prairie Center, as well as the Prairie Center Arts Foundation’s community outreach programs. It’s a big WIN for everyone.

STEAM: Adding “A” to “STEM” and Building Together

Most of us understand that artists have a creative process—but scientists, mathematicians, and engineers do, too. STEAM is all about bringing creativity and design-thinking to actual, physical projects.

As they like to say "Because STEM is better with Art."

Building their sculptures, the teams tackle time-based logic problems, determine the strengths and weaknesses of the objects, design alternative solutions, then construct their unique sculptures, applying math concepts to real-life scenarios. Teams go quickly from Learn, to Think, to Design, to Build.

And high school students aren't the only ones who get to have fun creating sculptures. This years' participating local artists are veterans of the event: Raul Flores of Illinois Pulley and Gear, and George Vroustouris of The Backyard Experience.

We struggle to engage young people in our new economy, and try to raise awareness of the amazing opportunities awaiting them in the manufacturing world. It’s well developed programs like the Building STEAM event that can excite Millennials and their families, and make them aware of the amazing career opportunities available today in modern high tech manufacturing, and may inspire some brilliant young minds to innovate and discover the ‘Next Big Thing!’

—George Vroustouris - The Backyard Experience

Building STEAM reveal

Building STEAM brings the community together—artists, students, teachers, manufacturers, employers, and curious minds from the entire community—there's nothing else quite like it in Schaumburg.

STEAM is Fun, Exciting, and Great For the Future

Project challenges like Building STEAM foster creativity and innovation —and there’s a practical side too. Over the past decade, the growth in STEAM jobs was 3X greater than in non-STEAM jobs. And STEAM workers command 26% higher salaries than non-STEAM workers.

When students participate in these types of projects, they can develop creative and critical thinking skills, build self-confidence, and have the opportunity for greater communication and expression.

The very next day after the event one of my students came to my office and shared: ‘I think I’m experiencing design, collaborate, create withdrawal’!

—Juan Medina - Hoffman Estates High School

The Harvest Media team has been thrilled to support Building STEAM and we love boosting the arts in our community.

Paula Wiggins

About the Author


Paula is our project manager and customer service specialist.

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