CMT at STEAM CONF 22 – Barcelona

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By Lisa Finch, CMT Development Director

Sarah on stage demonstrating the Poisoned Milk Automata. The mechanical cat laps up milk and is projected on a large screen at the back of the stage. The crowd looks engaged.

In October we had the huge pleasure of taking part in the eighth edition of STEAMConf 22 (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Maths) in Barcelona, the fantastic vision of  daughter, mother and son; Mariona and Paca Cíllar and Ian Floyd Jones co-founders of  Sokotech.

This year they brought together researchers, local and international organisations and communities exploring project-based learning ‘at the boundary of Hands, Minds and Passion’ with over 450 delegates from universities, institutes and teachers of STEAM from Catalonia.


Sarah stands at a podium on the side of the stage. Peter Markeys Runner automaton is projected on the screen. It is a simple wooden man wearing brightly coloured stripy clothes in a running position.

Sarah had the honour of opening the conference with her keynote presentation that detailed the history of Cabaret Mechanical Theatre, highlighting artists in our collection, our touring programme and engagement programme, our online workshops and automata making kits. She ended with an outline of our vision for our future CMT Tinkering Studio based in Hastings, UK. We had fabulous feedback from the audience that sparked off 3 days of fascinating conversations with so many people.


12 people stand behind tables smiling at the camera. The table has the ensemble automat set up. It is a series of individual cam machines linked together.

On day one (we loved the Catalonian timings with 2pm starts to the day) there was an impressive programme of hands-on workshops by all the presenters. We travelled over with our Ensemble workshop (designed by Stephen Guy) in a suitcase and had about 20 STEAM teachers and researchers making and working as a team to create one motorised automaton with the invaluable help of Arturo from Sokotech. They explored the mechanisms, making their own cams and drive wheels and discussing how they could work with their students. 

During the rest of the conference we installed The Ensemble Automata and a display of our Mechanical Making Projects kits in the foyer of the auditorium. Then we spent the next 2 days meeting old friends, making new ones and deepening discussions.


We were so inspired by the presentations of our fellow speakers. We met two pioneering engineers and innovators in open ended learning;  Deren Guler based in New York, founder of teknikio, girl-centric, craft-oriented electronics toolkits, as well as Nancy Otero based in San Francisco, founder of Kitco Design with card based kits that explore design and engineering. We certainly share interesting parallels with our new Mechanical Making Project kits and ethos to encourage people to play and tinker. 

You can find out more of the other speakers, who were equally brilliant including Jens Mönig from programming software Snap, who have been collaborating with local software engineer Bernart Romagosa. Meirav Bass, Director of iScientif, Tel Aviv University, Israel shared a professional development programme for science teachers in schools they have been running for over 10 years. Tomi Kauppinen Director of Aalto Online Learning, Aalto University, Finland gave a thought provoking  talk about AI and virtual visualisation.

Tibibado Museu d’Autòmats visit

A sign reads "Museu d'Autòmats". It points down some steps. A panoramic view of Barcelona in the haze is in the background.

For Sarah’s talk and the Q&A Mariona paired us up with a local peer Lluis Ribas, the curator at Tibidabo’s Museu d’Autòmats. The next day we had a wonderful behind the scenes tour of their historic collection of automata established in 1901 when the theme park opened. Two of our favourites included the beautifully presented ‘The Clown and Frog Automaton’ by Vichy/Triboulet with extremely clever mechanisms and ‘La Monos’ by an unknown maker, based on a Barcelonian street theatre performer of the time, that was creepy and hilarious at the same time. Lluis maintains all the automata and is also an automata artist, his piece The Balancing of the World sits perfectly with this fascinating collection. Together with the panoramic views, original fairground rides and the funicular make Tibidabo a worthwhile day out if you’re visiting Barcelona.

Video of La Monos and Clown & Frog Automatons at Museu d’Autòmats

Being out in the world meeting such a diverse range of people and witnessing in detail how others are approaching stimulating and experiential learning, integrating new and old technologies was extremely nourishing, especially after the restrictions of the past couple of years. Mariona, Paca and her team curated and delivered an outstanding conference and workshops that exemplified their expertise and first hand knowledge with comprehension of what is needed for teachers, academics and communities to stimulate students, take risks and learn through making. Plus they achieved this with such generosity and care. We wish them all the best for next year’s conference.

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