rethink. reskill. reboot

An advertising campaign prompts unexpected discussion on the arts

By now, most of you will have seen the infamous “Fatima” poster – the government’s ill-considered STEM career drive. And most, if not all, of you will have heard Rishi Sunak’s interview where he appeared to suggest that people in arts careers should retrain in other (read: more useful) occupations.

Both the poster and the interview went viral, (type “Retrain Fatima poster” to see for yourself) and have led to outrage from the arts community, who see this as yet another move by the government to prioritise STEM careers over artistic ones. People in artistic occupations have been dismayed at the government’s apparent lack of appreciation for their role in society, especially in light of the new Rishi Sunak’s National Careers Assessment that leads most people into technological or practical careers, not artistic ones.

The aforementioned poster depicts a female ballerina, with the words “Fatima’s next job could be in cyber (she just doesn’t know it yet)”. The tone here has been interpreted as patronising, as it suggests that aspiring to be a dancer or performer is of no use to the economy, whereas working in “cyber” is. The slogan “Rethink. Reskill. Reboot.” suggests that skills are only useful if they are scientific, and artistic skills are irrelevant.

Picture courtesy of M.G. Norris Photos

People on social media were quick to point out that the entire infographic was put together by artists –words by a copywriter, graphics by a graphic designer and styling by stylists – making the campaign entirely self-contradictory. Furthermore, the photograph was used without the permission of the original photographer, US-based Krys Alex. Alex said she was hurt by the government using her photo to promote an anti-art ideology. She also said that the campaign echoes her childhood feelings of needing to “suppress [her] creative energy to satisfy what ‘others’ saw as productive lives”.


do these blunders truly reflect government policy and opinion? Or are they being hyperbolised by the press?

To answer these questions, we need only look to the government decisions surrounding the arts that have been made during lockdown. One article published in May by the Bristol University student paper, Epigram, discussed the plans to bring practical science students back long before arts/humanities students. It argues that STEM students were being prioritised as they were seen to be ‘they key to solving the pandemic’, whilst students in humanities or arts subjects were seen to be superfluous.

But is this really the case? Many feel it is not. The Guardian published an article in April suggesting that, in order to solve the pandemic, we must use a variety of disciplines and not just science.


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By Mathilda Heller: Culture Columnist


Artists and humanities academics approach problems in different ways to scientists, delivering an alternate perspective that is highly beneficial in a crisis. In fact, the abstract thinking and imaginative minds of arts careerists is of paramount importance to solving problems.

Time and time again, the arts have been overlooked. And without reason.

In her recent interview for The Times, Tasmin Little expresses her anger at the lack of government support for musicians during the pandemic, and her dismay at the push for artists to retrain. She makes the point that most professional musicians have dedicated their entire lives to their art and have invested more in their career than most others. She finds the government’s dismissal of this highly insulting.

In reality, the art sector has been highly valuable throughout the pandemic, especially in terms of public morale. The arts are also an integral part of the UK economy, contributing £5 billion in 2018, which is no small sum. A recent study in May of this year found that “graduates in the arts, humanities and social sciences are just as employable as their counterparts in #STEM subjects” and that humanities graduates form the “backbone of the economy”.


Key source of stimulation

UK citizens spent months in complete isolation, and during these taxing times, it was music and visual art and theatre and film and television and literature that kept them going.

Most people will measure their lockdown by its artistic content: book series they read; Netflix dramas they binge-watched; new albums that consoled them.

In times where people were fed up with scientific jargon and medical statistics, the arts provided that warm snuggly blanket of comfort and familiarity.

The arts are not just economically significant, they are emotionally and psychologically potent too. Without them, we lose a wealth of knowledge, perspective and energy that is just as valuable to society as the knowledge provided by scientists.

This is not a matter of which one is more important; they are of equal importance. We cannot compare the knowledge provided by one to the knowledge provided by the other as they are individual fields with individual merits. The government needs to recognise and honour the value of the arts and give them the support they deserve.

Isaac Asimov once said “there is an art to science, and a science in art; the two are not enemies, but different aspects of the whole”, and the government needs to harness both halves if it wants to achieve its true potential.


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