By Jacob Ohrvik- Stott, Project Officer (Cultural Development)


On 23 March 2016, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) published the first culture White Paper in half a century. Aiming to emulate Jennie Lee’s influential 1965 ‘A Policy for the Arts’ paper, it places accessibility at its heart, proclaiming “everyone should have the chance to experience culture, participate in it, create it, and see their lives transformed by it”.  

Given this commitment to ensuring culture is open to all, it’s perhaps a shame then that the paper appears to place science on the peripheries of culture. When we spoke to our CREST youth panel in March they offered a contrasting vision, where science, arts and humanities are all the building blocks of our society. The differences in these interpretations of culture pose some interesting questions and suggest there is still progress to be made if we want to understand the reality of it in the UK today.

Whilst it could be argued that the focus on arts and heritage is simply a matter of scope (It’s authors are not employed by the Office for Science, after all), the reality is science has long been an integral part of our cultural fabric. Today, any boundaries that may separate science, arts and culture are blurring at an ever increasing rate. The activities that make up our everyday cultural experiences, from molecular gastronomy to digital DJing, use arts and science in partnership to enrich our lives.   

Using these relationships to improve our experiences seems even more important when we look a society as a whole. In the workplace, our increasingly dynamic and innovation-driven economy requires workers with a broad spectrum of skills that can’t be developed from science, humanities or arts in isolation.  Ensuring everyone can learn from an even-spread of arts, humanities and science, in education and beyond, would emphasise the equal importance of these skills and help the workforce to flourish in the future.   

As the increasing investment in interdisciplinary research centres such as the Oxford Future of Humanity Institute and the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk shows, collaboration between disciplines is also crucial in addressing the challenges on our horizon, from artificial intelligence to social inequality. With the complexity and interdependence of our social, technological and economical systems increasing, the importance of this collaboration has never been so important.    

The exchange of perspectives and expertise such collaborations involve are also helping science and the arts to accelerate their own progress. The emergence of heritage science in the UK over the past decade is transforming our understanding and resilience of cultural artefacts, using scientific approaches to improve the sustainability of the cultural heritage sector. At the other end of the exchange, the promise of art and music orientated therapies in treating diseases such as Alzheimer’s is reshaping our treatment of diseases that had previously been understood in scientific terms.  

Four days before the release of the Culture White Paper, the BSA spoke to young people about their vision for culture in the UK, with members of Birmingham’s City of Colours and Beatfreeks youth panels joining our own CREST panel to offer their responses to the paper’s key themes.   

The panellist groups shared a broad view of what ‘culture’ means, proposing collaborative programmes between artists and scientists and cultural exchange events open to organisations from all sectors and fields. Acknowledging the diversity of culture, others spoke about open exhibition spaces where communities can display what culture is to them. 

Their perspectives offer a refreshing alternative to the outdated idea that science is distinct from culture, and in our society it is certainly difficult to see where such a separation exists.   

Science, like culture, both shapes and is shaped by our common experiences, and is inseparable from our history and heritage. The benefits of culture the White Paper seeks to harness can also certainly be affected by science, be they ‘igniting the imaginations of young people’, ‘shaping the fortunes of our regions, cities, towns and villages’ or ‘kindling ambition and opportunity’. These benefits can only truly be realised when we appreciate science is part of, not distinct from, culture, and until this is recognised they both lose out.

Find out more about our CREST Youth Panel