STEAM City: Discussing Creative Collaborations


Mankato Makerspace co-founder Rick Esser shares the vision for the new creative space.

This month, Connect the Grey hosted two open conversations on the STEAM City initiative! This new concept for supporting cross-sector collaborations on a local level is based on the power of adding arts to STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) to get STEAM.

STEAM is a concept that has been gaining momentum in education, but we know that schools and educators have limited funds, especially in the arts. The idea behind STEAM City is to activate the skills and resources of every sector — crossing government, business, education, artists and entrepreneurs, and community leaders and organizers — to support and amplify innovative projects.

In Mankato on September 13, we hosted local entrepreneurs and leaders in business development to share the idea and discuss how cross-sector collaborations could support the Mankato area's growth and opportunities. You can see notes from that conversation here.

Key themes from the discussion included:

  • Organizations and initiatives are promoting community and economic development in Greater Mankato, but not everyone feels reached or supported
  • There is value in being able to identify the gaps in what is being provided now, and offer suggestions for how to fill the gaps
  • Creative economy development can support small businesses and individual artists and entrepreneurs — they're part of job creation and economic growth, too

Our gathering in Mankato also included a field trip! We visited the Mankato Makerspace, home to the Minnesota Makers & Artists Guild and designed to be a hub for makers and creative people. The space is still a work in progress, but co-founder Rick Esser gave us a tour and shared some of their plans for the future. The space was a chance to see STEAM — the combination of art with science, tech, engineering, and math — in action. 

We hosted a second STEAM City conversation in St. Paul on September 25, discussing the possibilities for the platform with representatives from social enterprises, arts funding, and education (at both the classroom and the system-wide level). You can see notes from that conversation here.

Key themes from the discussion included:

  • Students (and all learners) need education on the processes of creativity, not just the technological tools
  • How do we pay for the structures to make this cross-sector work possible, especially when funding entities are often siloed so that arts, business, technology, etc. are separate?
  • How can we connect with organizations and thought leaders doing this work nationally? And how can we use data to measure and support this work?
  • Let's get beyond a mindset of scarcity and expand the narrative of what's possible

A key theme across both discussions: There is exciting work happening in a lot of organizations, sectors, and geographic locations. How can we connect these initiatives to fill the gaps, and to help them share ideas and grow their impact?

The hope is that STEAM City, as a platform for collaboration and education, will be that connector, or at least be one valuable way of connecting.

As we continue to develop this idea, we will be hosting a "virtual brown bag lunch" on Wednesday, October 4, to continue discussing STEAM City, get feedback on the concept as it exists now, and invite more people to help us develop it. See details of how to join that call here.

We are also encouraging people who are interested to begin forming STEAM Teams, made up of representatives from the areas that make up STEAM. One big way those STEAM Teams can begin collaborating is by attending a three-day training that Katie Boone is part of hosting this November. The training focuses on teaching and practicing the skills of collaboration to solve complex contemporary challenges. You can learn more about that training here.

Can't make the "brown bag lunch" call? Want to learn more in general? You can contact Katie Boone at with questions and/or to set up an in-person conversation. We're excited to keep developing STEAM City with you!