Academics behind the campaign say a new label will “unite and celebrate” these subjects and their role in rebuilding a post-Covid economy.
A new campaign led by Arts Council England and the London School of Economics is seeking to raise the profile of arts subjects with a snappy moniker.
The rebranding exercise aims to enshrine a counterpart to the term STEM – science, technology, engineering, and maths – for soft subjects. SHAPE, which stands for social sciences, humanities and the arts for people and the economy, reflects these subjects’ role in observing, analysing, and interpreting world around us.
The navigation away from promoting STEAM – science, technology, engineering arts and maths – as an alternative to STEM indicates the acronym’s failure to change perceptions about arts study.
Many studies have illustrated persistent beliefs that arts subjects are ‘easy’ and that gaining qualifications in them is fruitless. Until last year, most major UK universities did not count creative subjects among their preferred A-levels.
The British Academy, a policy and research centre, is also a partner to the campaign. Chief Executive Hetan Shah said SHAPE aims to “celebrate the [arts] disciplines in their right”.
“The phrase STEAM … has been tried but never really took off. There are many reasons why this could be, but the arts are a rich and diverse field of research and innovation on their own – much more than just an add-on to STEM.”
The SHAPE website says: “the extraordinary times we’re all currently living through show us just how crucial SHAPE subjects are in keeping life running, care going, communities together, the economy working, the environment sustainable and people’s spirits lifted.”
By rebranding the arts and humanities as ‘shaping’ our society and economy, the partners hope to attract more research funding.
They argue that arts and humanities should be seen as complementing and augmenting STEM subjects, rather than in competition with them, and say students should be encouraged to aspire to arts study and see it as a path to high quality jobs.
“Academic and business leaders believe the future lies in recognising and capturing the value of SHAPE disciplines themselves, as well as how they work with STEM to build a better functioning future,” the campaign’s website claims.
Shah added: “The early response has been very encouraging, and we have received offers of support from a diverse range of organisations and individuals – from charities, higher education, schools, business and more.”
An information pack for supporters of the campaign says they may be asked to share “success stories” and ask parliamentarians to show support for arts and humanities subjects.
While supporters are free to use ‘environment’ in place of ‘economy’, the first four letters of the acronym should always represent social sciences, humanities, arts and people, the pack says.
The campaign’s website says: “the extraordinary times we’re all currently living through show us just how crucial SHAPE subjects are in keeping life running, care going, communities together, the economy working, the environment sustainable and people’s spirits lifted.”