Many—including various cable companies—are focused on helping to improve STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education in the US. Discovery Communications is a partner in President Obama’s Educate to Innovate campaign. Time Warner Cable’s Connect a Million Minds initiative is a five-year, $100 million philanthropic effort devoted to STEM. But today, on Arts Advocacy Day, there is a push to add an A to that acronym.
 
“STEM without STEAM loses steam, but STEM with STEAM will power our country forward,” world- renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma said Mon night in delivering the Americans for the Arts’ annual Nancy Hanks Lecture on Arts and Public Policy at the Kennedy Center in D.C. “The qualities crucial to success in the 21st Century workforce will not come just from studying science, technology and engineering and math, as important as those disciplines are.”
 
Ovation, one of the sponsors of the lecture, is among those on Capitol Hill today, pushing Congress to fund the arts. Like arts funding itself, Ovation has had its challenges, including Time Warner Cable’s decision to drop the channel in January and layoffs that affected about a quarter of its team (20-25 people). But it continues to go beyond just programming the arts, announcing just last month a $15,000 grant in conjunction with Americans for the Arts to Northside Workshop in St. Louis for its “Community Build the Arts” initiative.
 
Speakers at today’s Congressional Arts Kick Off include Ovation CEO Charles Segars, Ma, Guns N’ Roses drummer Matt Sorum and co-chair of the Congressional Art Caucus Rep Louis Slaughter (D-NY). Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) is receiving this year’s Congressional Arts Leadership Award.
 
In Ma’s lecture (you can watch it below), he made a case for the arts, saying that performing arts embody the four things experts say is most needed in today’s workforce: collaboration, innovation, flexibility and imagination. “Musicians are trained to be attentive to the biggest possible picture and at the same time sensitive to the smallest detail,” Ma said. Kind of reminded us of something a cable network or cable system GM might say. Ma cited a National Educational Longitudinal Study that took place over 10 years and included 25,000 students. It found arts-engaged, low-income students are more likely than their non-arts-engaged peers to have attended and done well in college.
 

“Societies are powered by three engines: politics, economics and culture. A vibrant society exists when all three engines are firing and intersecting, resulting in a populace that is energized, engaged and fulfilled,” Ma said.
 
To illustrate the title of his speech, “Art for Life’s Sake,” he performed with members of MusiCorps, a music rehab program that works with injured service members at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. With Lance Corporal Tim Donley on vocals, they performed Levon Helm’s “Wide River to Cross.” While you can see the performance in the Hanks lecture link above, here’s a recent MusiCorps performance of the song from Dec’s “Stand Up for Heroes” benefit. It’s worth your time.

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