A former science teacher and a local artist have teamed up to bring an innovation hub to the former Foster Family Music Center building on State Street in Bettendorf.
Pat Bereskin, owner of Bereskin Gallery & Art Academy, and Aaron Maurer, who spent 13 years teaching in various fields at Bettendorf Middle School, see their shared space, scheduled to be unveiled next week, as the ultimate mix of art and science.
Along with Bereskin’s art gallery on the first floor, the 8,000-square-foot property houses 212 STEAM Labs, a new nonprofit offering science, technology, engineering, arts and math, or STEAM, classes for preschool, elementary and middle school-aged students. The new nonprofit was founded by Maurer, who now serves as the STEAM lead for the Mississippi Bend Area Education Agency, which serves 21 eastern Iowa school districts.
Maurer considers 212 STEAM Labs “a vision that is coming to life.” Its name, he said, comes from this idea: “At 211 degrees, water is hot. But at 212, it begins to boil.”
“Our tagline is one degree of separation, so that means we want to be able to push and expose kids to things they haven’t thought of before," he said. “So many kids don’t know what they want to do, and that’s OK, but are we providing them enough places to explore that?”
Students will soon be able to explore topics such as ancient engineering, 3D printing, coding and silkscreen printing via interactive classes, which kick off Sept. 7.
Maurer said he hopes to fill the gap in what "schools just don't have enough time to do in eight hours."
“We can say, ‘Here’s robotics, sewing, coding and a whole gauntlet of things,' and if something sticks, we can help them develop that,” he said. “They can figure out what’s going to be a successful path for them as opposed to waiting until high school or college.”
Maurer is all for starting early.
“One of my missions is by the eighth grade, they should be employable,” Maurer said. “If we can inspire them at a younger age, it gives them more possibilities to craft who they want to be."
As for the “A” in STEAM? That’s where Bereskin comes in.
She moved her art gallery, which showcases her own work and exhibits from area artists, from its home at the Bucktown Center for the Arts, Davenport, where Bereskin has been for four years, to the property on State Street.
Bereskin, 61, who studied elementary education at the University of Northern Iowa, has taught art classes for 27 years out of her house and later her gallery. She currently teaches about 160 students.
Bereskin said she will miss her former studio space in downtown Davenport, but she's ready to realize "larger goals and aspirations."
“My whole life has been dedicated to art and working with kids and sometimes marrying what I do with the community,” she said. “Legacy is a really good word for this. In the next 30 years, I want to make time to bring up the next generation of artists. That’s our goal.”
The building, owned by Vizient Properties LLC, had been empty since December 2014, when Foster Family Music Center closed.
“It’s a concept where you’re bringing the arts and education together; it’s nice to bring that downtown,” Jeff Reiter, Bettendorf economic development director, said. “There are some unique features you don’t see in many communities.”
As Maurer said, next week's grand opening is only the beginning.
“Everything we do we want to have a connection to the community,” he said. “There are tons of possibilities once we get rocking and rolling.”