Susie Mitchell: We can all benefit when science meets art

From the business world to education, we have a natural tendency to separate science from the arts.

Susie Mitchell says innovation must be at the heart of Scotland's long-term growth plans. Picture: David Stanton
Susie Mitchell says innovation must be at the heart of Scotland's long-term growth plans. Picture: David Stanton

However, history and current research show that encouraging collaboration between the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and creative sectors can deliver solutions to some of society’s biggest challenges.

When art, design, engineering, and science come together, we can enable great innovation. Art and the humanities can amplify social change – by healing, provoking and disrupting the way we think. Equally, design is one of the most powerful tools we have for smoothing the journey from research insight and discovery to creating better places to live, better products to use and healthier living.

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In Scotland, we have a distinct and diverse economy with a world-class research and innovation base.

For many years we’ve known that innovation must be at the heart of our plans for long-term economic growth, and that it is crucial to our ability to address urgent and complex societal and health challenges.

A report for Nesta, The Fusion Effect, found that companies that deploy STEM together with art and design skills experience faster employment, more innovation and stronger sales growth than STEM skills alone. Importantly, other skills such as leadership, creativity, adaptability, and entrepreneurial ability are must-haves to maximise the impact of STEM skills on economic performance.

Scotland’s new revolutions in science and technology including the emerging and enabling technologies such as virtual reality are being exploited across a range of sectors, from healthcare to gaming. Crucially, they are providing new opportunities to interact and combine our diverse range of skills in different ways. We are beginning to see this come to life. Innovation interfaces such as Glasgow City of Science & Innovation and Scotland’s eight innovation centres aim to drive demand-led innovation by creating the conditions for businesses to grow and thrive. But, businesses have to be in it to win it.

There is so much happening in Scotland right now in terms of mentorship and innovation support plus programmes that curate new opportunities to collaborate. One example is Venturefest Scotland, the national innovation summit targeted at growth potential SMEs (taking place at Glasgow Science Centre on 20 September) to help them become more productive, competitive and resilient.

A number of year-long Venturefest feeder sessions offer different formats for businesses to explore doing things a bit differently. The Art of Possible, a series of talks and workshops in Glasgow, offers innovators, entrepreneurs, investors across the STEM and creative industries, as well as policy-makers, the chance to engage in Scotland’s thriving emerging and enabling technology sector, and to explore the future opportunities for their own businesses and institutions.

Another critical element in achieving our innovation ambitions is to upskill Scotland’s young people. Glasgow City of Science and Innovation has launched VentureJam 2017 with partners Young Scot where 40 participants from a range of backgrounds will be tasked with co-designing fresh ideas to tackle society’s energy-guzzling ways whilst disrupting the energy market. The teams with the most inspiring ideas will go head to head, Dragons’ Den-style, to pitch to investors at Venturefest in September.

These young people will get a taste of solving complex problems through multi-disciplinary collaboration. And hopefully by effectively sowing the seeds of co-creating better places to live, better products to use, as well as healthier and fairer societies; they will bring a wide range of skills to our economy and be ready to transform lives by innovating a brighter future.

Susie Mitchell is programme director at Glasgow City of Science & Innovation