Martinez ARTU4iA owner John Kleber is among those who hope to show how art brings wonder and relevance to the study of math and science, at the third annual Bay STEAM Colloquium.

The art-science connection enhances problem-solving skills, said Hillary Dito, Contra Costa County Office of Education STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math) coordinator.

"We are bringing educators and policymakers together to highlight how you engage students in and out of school, and illustrate best practices for integrating STEAM and STEM," Dito said. "The art part gives you the creative, out-of-the box thinking from different perspectives."

STEAM is an educational offshoot of the federal STEM program intended to encourage students to major in science, technology, engineering and math studies. A movement to add the art element started in Rhode Island and was adopted by the Contra Costa and Alameda County Offices of Education.

San Francisco State's art integration program, the San Ramon Unified School District and KQED TV are on the list of other possible presenters at the colloquium at the San Ramon Valley Conference Center in February.

Kleber's work as a painter, digital artist, illustrator, Academy Award-nominated art director and his work with design-driven companies, such as Disney, Harley-Davidson and Warner Brothers, epitomizes the integration of art and science that educators believe demonstrates the relevance of traditional math and science classes.


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Kleber collaborated with Roger Renn on a curriculum for the STEAM presentation. Renn is the former California Institute for Biodiversity director of education and Red Brick Workshop creator and teacher.

They suggest that a simple right-brain artistic exercise might be giving students a piece of paper with a coffee cup stain, and asking them to investigate it closely from different angles and then incorporate it into a drawing. It is a hands-on dilemma with is no wrong answer.

"At the heart of it, is the ability to work with ambiguity and complexity," Renn said. "With the academic study of math and science you are locked on to one answer and often there is no visible result, other than that answer."

Kleber and Renn say that right-brain artistic thinking involves the search for nonjudgmental growth without concern for mistakes, and accepting the possibility of multiple answers is necessary to successful scientific and technical research and development projects.

They insist that students trained in both art and science disciplines are well-rounded.

"It is not just art for art. It is a way to understand math and science. Students are more motivated by wonder, are accountable based on the results. They have a clear way to assess their progress," explained Renn.

Elements of art training provide a necessary focus in the present, use creative visual imaging and result in a tangible, visible outcome of student efforts, they say.

Kleber and his wife, Carol, maintain that these are an integral part of artistic endeavors at their relatively new ARTU4iA studio in Martinez.

"Last spring we heard about the popularity of "art jamming" in Hong Kong from one of John's colleagues," Carol recalled. "We got excited by the idea. We researched and discovered that studios had begun on the East Coast and a few in other areas."

Coincidentally, John Kleber was called to jury duty for a protracted trial in July and spent his breaks strolling downtown, where he spotted the potential studio space on Ward Street. With three months of hands-on remodeling completed, they opened the walk-in open studio -- including art supplies, with hourly and monthly rates, and lessons on request -- on Halloween.

"John is really wonderful with people. His strong point is mentoring," Carol Kleber said. "I knew we had the knowledge for it and we thought we could create a really inspiring space for artists to socialize and develop."

Both Klebers have college degrees in art. John's study emphasis was illustration, and Carol majored in visual communication. Artists such as Alhambra High School freshman Kayley Woods and retired electrical worker Ren Nevels are gravitating to the Klebers by word-of-mouth.

Kayley is taking private lessons to develop a portfolio for application to the San Francisco School of the Arts in February.

"I was self-taught, and my work with proportions improved immensely," she said.

Kleber noted that proportion is related to math and ratios.

Nevels is another self-taught artist who watches art classes on television. He is looking for feedback and suggestions on his existing body of work.

"Sometimes I just get stuck and don't know how to go ahead," he said.

"It's remarkable how people communicate ideas through original art. It transcends all ages and backgrounds," Carol Kleber said. "We just create the catalyst by providing the artists with skills and a comfortable space to work."

Art jamming may be a new word, but the manifestation of it is not. The birth of the modern art movement is attributed to the social and artistic interaction of late-18th century artists, writers and poets in the Montmartre district of Paris.

Third annual Bay STEAM Colloquium Full Steam Ahead: Pathways to the Future, is from 7:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Feb. 8, at the San Ramon Valley Conference Center. Educators, parents, students, legislators and business leaders are invited. Tickets are $30-$50 at the Contra Costa County Office of Education, 77 Santa Barbara Road, Pleasant Hill.