Research opportunities  Leeds Creative Labs - Smeaton300 edition (Artist guidance)

Leeds Creative Labs: Smeaton300 pairs artists from the region with researchers from the School of Civil Engineering, celebrating the tricentenary of Leeds-born Father of Civil Engineering, John Smeaton.

Key details

  • Closing date for artists: 23 February 2024 
  • Who is it for: Artists and Creatives from the West Yorkshire Region 
  • When is it: April to June 2024
  • Fee: £1,250

What is Leeds Creative Labs? 

Leeds Creative Labs is a programme delivered by the Cultural Institute that brings creative professionals together with researchers from the University of Leeds to explore creative ways of thinking.  

Since 2012, over 100 pairs of artists and researchers have come together, working across all disciplines and artforms. The programme provides a space for participants to collaborate and explore ideas, in an interdisciplinary way, without the pressure of delivery against targets. 

In the past, hip-hop dancers have collaborated with economists, ballet choreographers with Biochemical engineers, and visual artists with astrophysicists.

What is Leeds Creative Labs: Smeaton300 edition? 

This edition of Leeds Creative Labs brings together researchers from the School of Civil Engineering with artists and creative industries professionals as part of Smeaton300. Smeaton300 is a creative programme from arts organisation Foxglove, working with artists and scientists inspired by the work of the UK's first civil engineer – John Smeaton.

John Smeaton was born in Leeds in 1724 and dedicated his life to developing ways of working for the public good.

This year, the University of Leeds' Cultural Institute and School of Civil Engineering commemorate the 300th anniversary of his birth through a series of curated events.

Researchers from the School of Civil Engineering and artists or creative industries professionals are invited to spend time together to explore one or more of the themes of Smeaton300: 

  • Inspired by Nature – Smeaton harnessed elements like water, wind, and air, earning the Copley Medal for his work on renewable off-grid technology. 
  • The Art of Engineering – Smeaton’s work was interdisciplinary in nature, this theme will be looking at how partnerships among engineers, artists, scientists, and designers can be found everywhere. 
  • Find Our Way Home – Smeaton's contributions to bridges, waterways, lighthouses, and navigation instruments highlight civil engineering's role in navigation, mapping, and migration.  
  • For the Public Good – Smeaton was an ethical employer, providing fair treatment, sick pay, and medical coverage for injured workers. He prioritised public good over personal profit. 

Why take part? 

Previous participants of Leeds Creative Labs have found that working across disciplines and with people from different backgrounds has allowed new partnerships to be forged, opened up interdisciplinary ways of thinking and had an impact both on the creative work of the artists involved and on research and the researchers creating it.  

Sharing ideas and experiences between creatives and academics opens new ways of thinking that inform and add new dimensions to creative processes.

It can also help academic researchers understand the potential value of their work and how, through partnership, their research can have an impact on sectors outside of academia. 

While there is no expectation of a final output, the Leeds Creative Labs programme has incubated an astonishing diversity of concepts and outputs – from the development of new teaching practices, innovative research methodologies, and large research grant capture to the creation of new artistic works and digital products and platforms.

How it works

Academics and artists are to apply separately. The deadline for artist applications is midnight on 23 February 2024. 

The match between researchers and arts professionals will be made by a panel of engineering and cultural professionals, based not only on the participants’ thematic interests, but also on their shared sense of curiosity and ambition to explore ideas without limits. 

In the past, Creative Labs has received a high volume of applications from artists, which means that we haven’t been able to include everyone with a strong application. We therefore welcome applications from past applicants who were unsuccessful. 

Once pairings are made, we host a collaborative workshop for all participants.  

Pairings will then have six weeks to work together across three days. Each pair will work together to think about what they will do. In the past artists have visited labs, and academics have visited artist studios or rehearsals, together with discussions or workshops. 

Pairings will be invited to speak at a public event to share their experiences at the end of the programme.  

What are we looking for? 

Artists working in any art form as well as makers and creative professionals working in the arts and culture sector in West Yorkshire. Experience of collaboration beyond your artform and an interest in the themes of Smeaton 300 would also be useful.

What does participation involve? 

You give permission for any work created as part of the Leeds Creative Lab programme to be accessible in the public domain 

You must be able to participate in a workshop event on the afternoon of 17 April and a sharing event on the afternoon of 24 June.

You commit to a minimum of three days between 17 April and 24 June to work with your paired collaborator at mutually convenient times; this can be online or in person. 

You participate in the evaluation of the programme which includes completion of evaluation questionnaire at the end of the programme and permission for photography and filming during key events.

Materials fund 

Up to £200, administered by the Cultural Institute, will be available for each academic and artist pair to use for assets, software, materials, research costs or anything else that is useful to support collaboration. 

Project timeline

  • 23 February – Deadline for applications
  • 22 March – Inform applicants of outcome
  • 17 April –  Launch event: Participants meet, introduction and creative workshop (to be held at University of Leeds) (applicants must commit to this date ahead of applying)
  • 15 May – 20 June – Cohort in session 
  • 24 June – Sharing event (applicants must commit to this date ahead of applying)
  • July – Feedback form and expenses form completed (applicants must commit to this date ahead of applying)

Past projects

Please visit the Leeds Creative Labs site to read case studies from previous iterations of Leeds Creative Labs. 


To apply, please complete our application form. Alternative application entries via MP4 or MP3 are also accepted.

Please send the file via Google Drive, by emailing the Cultural Institute at Please do not use WeTransfer. If you have any questions please get in touch. 

To help you prepare your application before completing the form, see the following artist application questions:

  1. Can you describe your creative practice? ie Are there any underlying themes within your work? What is your inspiration? How long have you been a practising artist? (300 words max)
  2. What attracted you to this project and why would you like to collaborate with an academic working in the field of engineering, or related discipline? (300 words max)
  3. Is there a particular area of research or Smeaton300 theme you’d be interested in focusing on? It is also fine to leave this open to development in conversation with your matched artist.
  4. Please give one or two examples of a previous collaborative project you have worked on and tell us what equal collaboration means to you.