New Fred Hutch initiative to foster inclusivity in science and health via art and dialogue

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.

A tangible commitment

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.”

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