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

Leeds Creative Labs: Smeaton300 edition is an opportunity for academics from the School of Civil Engineering to collaborate with artists. Find out about the opportunity and apply.

Deadline to apply: 11.59pm (GMT), 4 March 2024

Drop-in surgeries at the Bragg building Cafe: 29 January 2024 and 21 February 2024

What is Leeds Creative Labs?

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

Since 2012, over 100 pairs or artists and academics 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. Read previous case studies on our spotlight page.

What is Leeds Creative Labs: Smeaton300 edition? 

This edition of Leeds Creative Labs brings together academics from the School of Civil Engineering with artists and creative industries professionals as part of the creative events programme 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.

Academics 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? 

Deviating from traditional ways of working 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 academics creating it.  

Since 2012, 100 individuals from many practices and disciplines have collaborated. Outcomes reported by previous participants of Leeds Creative Labs include: 

  • Refreshed thinking in academic practice and peer learning;
  • Renewed sense of joy and excitement in research and collaboration; 
  • New academic research and impact; 
  • Academic outputs such as conference papers and journal articles; 
  • Large research grant capture, in part as a result of embedded public engagement and well-established pathways to impact through developed partnerships; 
  • Increased capacity and resource as a result of skills development; 
  • Pedagogical approaches instigated and developed; 
  • Leadership skills refined; 
  • Increased profile for academics, partners and organisations through awards, press and media. 

How it works

Academics and artists are to apply separately through an open call. 

The match between academics 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. 

Once pairings are made, we will 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? 

Academics that are driven by a sense of inquiry and a willingness to work with artists on an equal footing. We look for projects that go beyond using art to display a research finding to find a more equitable way of approaching collaboration. 


You must be a member of academic staff within the School of Civil Engineering and employed by the University of Leeds until at least 31 July 2024. 

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 2024 and a sharing event on the afternoon of 24 June 2024.

You must 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 their collaboration. 

Project timeline

  • 29 January 2024 – Drop-in surgeries at the Bragg building Cafe
  • 21 February 2024 – Drop-in surgeries at the Bragg building Cafe
  • 4 March 2024  – Deadline for applications 
  • 22 March 2024  – Inform applicants of outcome

Applicants must commit to the following dates before applying:

  • 17 April 2024 – Launch event: participants meet, introduction and creative workshop (to be held at University of Leeds)  
  • 15 – 20 May 2024  – Check-in meetings with participants
  • 24 June 2024 – Creative Labs sharing event   
  • July 2024 – Feedback and expenses form completed

How can I find out more?

We are offering two drop-in sessions on 29 January and 21 February 2024 at the Bragg Building Cafe. Sessions can be booked through Microsoft Booking. Alternatively, please email the Cultural Institute at with questions.

We will present more information on this opportunity at the School of Civil Engineering staff meeting on 13 February 2024.