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Science meets art at The London Cancer Hub


The ICR's Public Engagement Manager Mariana Campos reflects on a year of cultural activities at one of London’s most ambitious regeneration projects

Posted on 20 April, 2024

A glass sculpture by artist Julie Light. (c) Robyn Manning

A glass sculpture by artist Julie Light. (c) Robyn Manning

We've been celebrating the fusion of art, science, and community this year here at The London Cancer Hub through Sutton STEAMs Ahead. The programme – led by our leading London Cancer Hub partners at the London Borough of Sutton – has invited the public in our local community in Sutton to explore the intersection of creativity and scientific discovery through creative films, interactive events like the Sutton STEAM Fair, and the innovative online STEAM Hub.

The year-long calendar of events culminated with a residency at The Institute of Cancer Research from Julie Light, an innovative glass artist, with artworks sparked by some of our groundbreaking research.

Sutton STEAMs Ahead was launched on World Cancer Day 2023, 4 February. Exploring the fascinating connection between science, art and culture, the initiative celebrated creativity and innovation in science and artistic disciplines at The London Cancer Hub – Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics (STEAM) – and was funded by a Cultural Impact Award to Sutton Council from The Mayor of London, as part of the London Borough of Culture programme.

Evolving the ecosystem

At the culmination of Sutton STEAMs Ahead lay Evolving the Ecosystem, a research and development residency and a unique opportunity that brought together an artist and scientists to collaborate and inspire. This residency, awarded to Julie Light, was all about exploring new ideas and developing art inspired by the ground-breaking work happening at The London Cancer Hub.

For Julie, the project involved dissecting some of the key concepts behind the cutting-edge research into the idea of cancer’s ecosystem, and using those same ecosystem concepts to help understand how the organisations forming The London Cancer Hub can grow together to tackle cancer as effectively as possible.

Julie said: "I have found the whole residency experience incredibly inspiring.  As well as learning lots about cancer ecosystems, I’ve met some fantastic people, found out much more about how they work together across organisations and been able to reflect on how the development of the London Cancer Hub might impact that.

“Also as part of the residency I’ve developed prototypes and ideas to use as the basis for new sculpture and explored innovative technical glass-making processes. I’ve no doubt this experience will influence my artwork relating to cancer and its implications for years to come.”

Artist Julie Light. (c) Robyn Manning

Julie's journey during the residency has been nothing short of inspiring. Over the past few months, she has immersed herself in cancer research, meeting with experts from the ICR, our hospital partner The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust, and local schools like Harris Academy Sutton, which is also a partner in The London Cancer Hub programme. These interactions deepened her understanding of the scientific process and fuelled her creativity, sparking ideas for a new body of work that we hope will leave a lasting impact.

But the residency wasn't just about creating art; it was also about engaging our local community and sparking conversations about the intersection of science and art.

Professor Trevor Graham, Director of the ICR's Centre for Evolution and Cancer, said: “I found it very rewarding to work with an artist: it is a chance to take a step back and think about what ideas in our science are most integral and interesting, and also think about how to communicate those ideas to non-scientists. It can help me crystallise ideas and lead to creative new ideas.

“With Julie, we discussed how to make sense of the complex ecosystems of cancer. It was fascinating to see her make connections between the ecosystem of molecules and cells in the cancer and the ‘ecosystem’ between researchers she was exploring at the ICR.”

Sutton STEAMs Ahead: blending art, science, and community engagement

Sutton STEAMs Ahead wasn’t just an artist residency programme but an initiative bridging the intersection of art, science, and community engagement across the Borough of Sutton, all led by the Council.

Kicking off the programme last February was the premiere of We Dance for Life, a captivating film highlighting our outstanding research and celebrating Sutton's vibrant tapestry of talent and culture through dance.

Featuring local dance groups, beautiful imagery from the ICR’s research and cameos from scientists, this film has captivated audiences worldwide, earning it multiple nominations and prestigious awards on the international stage.

In the Summer, Sutton STEAMs Ahead took the excitement to the streets with the Sutton STEAM Fair – an interactive event that brought science directly to the community.

From engaging demonstrations at Sutton Grammar School to exhibits on the bustling High Street, the fair provided a platform for students and families to explore the wonders of STEAM in a fun and accessible way and an opportunity to learn about the research happening in their borough.

Another highlight was the STEAM Hub, a platform designed to inspire the next generation of STEAM professionals with the help of an artificial intelligence interviewer named IRL (short for 'In Real Life'). With curiosity and enthusiasm, IRL embarked on a mission to uncover the endless opportunities available to young minds today.

Through fascinating interviews with STEAM professionals, including our very own Matthew Tyler, a medical statistician, and Debarati Sethi, a senior scientific officer, students gained valuable insights into the diverse career opportunities available in STEAM fields.

Sutton STEAMs Ahead has successfully merged art, science, and community involvement. The programme highlights the power of collaboration and, we hope, leaves a lasting impact on participants from various backgrounds. It has been a fantastic example of how art and science can unite to inspire and educate.

Julie's residency, characterised by collaboration and inspiration, offered fresh perspectives on cancer research, and we hope we will have a lasting impact on participants from artistic and scientific backgrounds.

It's another exciting year ahead for The London Cancer Hub: Sutton Council recently announced Aviva and Socius as new partners in the creation of a new life-sciences development in a large area at the centre of the site. We look forward to working with them and all the partners at The London Cancer Hub to further inspire our local communities with our science and creativity.


public engagement the london cancer hub sutton sutton steams ahead julie light
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