Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center unveiled today its new Public Art and Community Dialogue Program, the latest expression of the center’s commitment to advancing inclusion, equity and anti-racism within research and health care. The program explores a new way to foster connections between science and underrepresented communities and to embody the Hutch’s pursuit of scientific excellence through more robust anti-racism and inclusion efforts. It is now open to applications from artists.
“This project centers folks who have often been subjugated, marginalized and oppressed, or targeted in our society. Anyone who’s committed to engaging in the process of submitting their art will be in conversation with the community and with the Hutch about who we are and who we aspire to be,” said Hutch Vice President and Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer Dr. Paul Buckley, who heads the center’s Office of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, or ODEI. “This is an opportunity for an artist to help us signify justice, help us signify love, and be part of this internal and external movement toward greater justice in research and healthcare.”
The Hutch invites diverse artists to engage with Fred Hutch employees to help inform how the Hutch approaches its inclusivity efforts and how those commitments are represented in visual form. Artists will produce commissioned artworks inspired by these conversations as well as the artists’ own experiences and communities. These artworks will express the Hutch’s message of solidarity with each artist’s community and stand as a tangible example of the center’s dedication to building a more equitable world by making science more inclusive and just.
The commissioned artworks will replace the center’s current Black Lives Matter banner and flag with a new symbol and message of solidarity, and they will be featured in public and community materials. The program’s first artist call invites Black and Indigenous artists to submit applications. A second call in late 2022 will accept submissions from Asian, LGBTQ+, Jewish and Hispanic artists. Futher calls will be posted in 2023 seeking artists from other underrepresented communities. The Hutch will select a winner from each category and rotate the artworks on display throughout and beyond the program.
[To learn more about artist eligibility, project guidelines and remuneration, visit the Public Art and Community Dialogue Program page.]
The new program ties directly to the Hutch’s overarching mission of alleviating death and suffering from cancer and related diseases for all people, and it reflects the way the Hutch does science, said Hutch President and Director and Raisbeck Endowed Chair holder Dr. Thomas J. Lynch Jr.
“Diversity, equity and inclusion are some of our core principles at Fred Hutch, and are some of the key objectives of our science, too,” Lynch said. “It’s very much our core business to apply ourselves to improving health outcomes by addressing inequities. We’ve got to move away from the concept of performative anti-racism.”
The project is also a way for the Hutch to help lead social and scientific change in the Pacific Northwest, he said.
“As an important Seattle employer, our support of social justice in our city is critical to our role as citizens of Seattle and [the] Puget Sound [region],” Lynch said.
The initiative’s leaders envision the Public Art and Community Dialogue Program as a new avenue for the Hutch to connect with people who may feel that science’s doors are closed against them, and to further break down the barriers that can cut science off from the broader community.
“Engaging in this dialogue is a way to sustain the change that we need to make as society as we work toward greater inclusion and equity,” Buckley said.
The Hutch raised its Black Lives Matter banner and flag in June 2020 in support of racial justice and equality, and the first commissioned piece to go on display will feature a message of solidarity created by a Black artist.
“We are remaining committed to that effort. We recognize that in raising the [Black Lives Matter] flag, it is also raising someone else’s message. This is an opportunity for us to explore our message and communicate our message with as much strength and power as the Black Lives Matter flag communicates, in solidarity with the Black community and with careful reflection on our mission and purpose,” Buckley said.
The new initiative is a chance to send a message that will resonate within the Fred Hutch and Seattle Cancer Care Alliance communities, and beyond, said SCCA patient navigator John Masembe, who works with Black and African American patients, and is a member of the committee slated to review submissions from Black artists.
“We want to let you know that we do hear you and see you. We're embracing your culture, embracing your background and respecting your values,” said Masembe, who is the son of Ugandan immigrants, and envisions a message that embraces the interconnectedness of Black, African American and African immigrant communities.
Participating artists will draw inspiration from their own experiences, from their communities, and from exchanges with Hutch researchers. As part of their creative process, selected artists will meet and engage with scientists and science supporters in all areas of the center’s administration. Buckley, Masembe and other project leaders, including Hutch diversity, equity and inclusion educator and learning specialist Nikkita McPherson, hope that this exchange of perspectives will inspire new insights for everyone involved — enhancing both artistic and scientific aims. The effort will be a collaboration between the artist and the scientific community at the Hutch.
“The beautiful part of this is we're creating it together, right?” said McPherson, who will be facilitating the dialogues between artist and Hutch employees. “And we're not making any assumptions. We have no preconceived ideas about what will come out of it. This is putting into practice what we've been talking about for over a year in terms of our anti-racist work and doing so through a medium I love, which is art.”
McPherson, who is also a member of the committee slated to review submissions from Black artists, noted that the program’s ideals have deep roots at the Hutch. The Fred Hutch/University of Washington Cancer Consortium’s Office of Community Outreach & Engagement, or OCOE, conducts and facilitates research that connects with underrepresented and underserved communities throughout Washington to reduce inequities in cancer care and research. The HIV Vaccine Trials Network, headquartered at the Hutch, helped spearhead inclusive HIV vaccine science and was the model for inclusive studies of COVID-19 vaccines. Several of the Hutch’s high school and undergraduate internships are designed to foster young scientists from underrepresented backgrounds.
“To say we're anti-racist is to say that we're willing to be in community together,” McPherson said. “We have to be willing to be in dialogue, which is different than debate, which is different than conversation, which is different than discussion. And to be in dialogue with each other means that we are saying that we are going to address [injustice] and also create something together to move forward with. … [With this new project,] I’m joyous about what could happen, and optimistic about what could happen.”
Artists and artist teams working in a variety of visual media are encouraged to apply. The selection committee for each set of submissions will include representatives from ODEI, OCOE, Fred Hutch’s Government & Community Relations and Communications & Marketing departments, Seattle Cancer Care Alliance and the Pacific Northwest arts community.
The opportunity provided by this program extends beyond the Pacific Northwest to artists in several Western states, and even around the globe in Uganda and South Africa, where Hutch scientists collaborate with local researchers to ease the impacts of cancer and HIV.
“It’s a chance for Black/African American/African-descent artists to have a big stage — the type of stage they don’t normally get a chance at,” said Danté Morehead, an OCOE community health educator whose outreach efforts are focused on African American and African-descent communities in Washington state. Morehead will be reviewing submissions with McPherson. “We are talented, gifted — we bring so much to this country. The rest of the country doesn’t necessarily see us that way. This is an opportunity for everybody to see our beauty, to see a big expression of our culture.”
Natalie Curtis, a community relations manager in Government & Community Relations who has joined the same selection committee as Morehead and McPherson, previously worked as an outreach coordinator in Kampala, Uganda, for the Uganda Cancer Institute-Fred Hutch Collaboration. Curtis said that her time in Kampala showed her how powerfully representation can shape the way that others perceive a person or a place.
“In my role of government-community relationships, I’m looking forward to the project influencing the real partnerships we do have,” Curtis said. “I think it will be very impactful to get them involved with this, to show that we’re really trying to integrate them within the community in the space that we’re in, that we’re not off in an ivory tower.”
Morehead is also excited about the potential for the new project to help him connect with the communities he works in, and raise awareness of the Hutch’s work and mission.
“I hope they’ll see it’s not just lip service,” he said.
Sabrina Richards, a staff writer at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, has written about scientific research and the environment for The Scientist and OnEarth Magazine. She has a PhD in immunology from the University of Washington, an MA in journalism and an advanced certificate from the Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program at New York University. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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