Contagious Cities is an international cultural project which supports local conversations around the global challenges of epidemic preparedness.
Developed by Wellcome, the project will be staged across three global cities – New York, Geneva and Hong Kong – from September 2018.
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Microbes, migration and the metropolis
Cities bring people – and germs – together. Through the stories it tells, Contagious Cities will explore the outcomes of this cohabitation, and the relationship between microbes, migration and the metropolis.
Combining different perspectives and expertise, partners in the project will co-produce exhibitions, interactive experiences, artist residencies, events, broadcasts and more. Together they will investigate the physical, social, economic and cultural effects of infectious disease.
The project marks the centenary of the 1918 flu pandemic, during which a third of the world’s population was infected and 50 million people died.
Three artist residencies will explore some of the surprising interactions between people and pathogens in urban settings.
The residencies are:
- BLAST THEORY at the World Health Organization in Geneva. Focusing on the work of the Strategic Health Operations Centre, this residency will explore the global governance of disease outbreaks.
- Angela Su at Hong Kong Museum of Medical Sciences. She will investigate alternative narratives of contagion in Hong Kong, centring on the cosmology of Chinese medicine and philosophy.
- Mariam Ghani at the New York Public Library and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. She is interested in conflations of threatening diseases with dangerous others, and how these metaphors have been deployed in different contexts.
The artists will use local and international sources as inspiration, including materials from Wellcome Library.
Germ City: Microbes and the Metropolis will take a fascinating look at New York’s long battle against infectious disease – a fight involving government, urban planners, medical professionals, businesses and activists. Opening in September 2018, the exhibition will be hosted at the Museum of the City of New York, in collaboration with the New York Academy of Medicine.
The Tai Kwun Centre for Heritage and Arts will host an exhibition exploring contagion in Hong Kong from a contemporary art and heritage perspective. Opening in January 2019, the exhibition will delve into Hong Kong’s relationship with epidemics in unexpected and intriguing ways, attempting to reveal the interactions between people and disease in urban settings.
Interactive storytelling experiences
New York’s tenements and the generations of immigrants who called them home have long been the focus of concerns about contagion and public health. In late 2018 and early 2019, the Tenement Museum will offer a series of special tours of its historic tenement buildings on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.
The tours will link themes of disease, medicine, immigration and reform to the lives of their 19th and 20th century residents.
Those featured include:
- Romanian immigrant Jacob Burinescu, who died during the 1918 influenza pandemic
- German-born John and Caroline Schneider, who operated a mid-19th century beer saloon while suffering from TB
- Benjamin and Crispin, a Puerto Rican migrant couple who lived with HIV during the 1980s.
The 1894 bubonic plague devastated Hong Kong’s Taipingshan District for almost 30 years, compelling the government to improve public health. To bring this unique history to life, the Hong Kong Museum of Medical Sciences will develop an app for the Taipingshan Medical Heritage Trail, featuring exciting new archival research.
Broadcast and events
We’re partnering with BBC Radio 3 and Cast Iron Radio to commission five compelling writers in five cities to follow the path of an infectious disease, each accompanied by a relevant expert. The series of essays will be broadcast in autumn 2018.
Brooklyn Historical Society (BHS) will dedicate public programming and several episodes of its award-winning podcast, Flatbush + Main, to the history of disease and public health in Brooklyn, and will also look at why disease preparedness is challenging in a globalised society. This will coincide with the opening of a separate BHS exhibition in 2019, Sick: Seven diseases that changed Brooklyn, which will explore how four centuries of Brooklynites have experienced and understood sickness and health.
Oi! Street Visual Art Space – which helps local communities to explore social issues through community projects – will run a programme of events with local artists in 2019. The events will bring to life collective memories and individual sentiments in times of epidemics.
In midtown Manhattan, the New York Public Library and the Graduate Center of City University of New York will present a series of public events during spring 2019, looking at how stories of contagion are told.
Contagious Cities has been developed by Wellcome in collaboration with:
- BBC Radio 3
- Brooklyn Historical Society
- Cast Iron Radio
- Graduate Center of the City University of New York
- Hong Kong Museum of Medical Sciences
- Museum of the City of New York
- New York Public Library
- Oi! Street Visual Art Space
- Tai Kwun Centre for Heritage and Arts
- Tenement Museum
- The New York Academy of Medicine
- The University of Hong Kong
- World Health Organization
We’re also exploring other collaborations with strategic and public partners.
If you have any questions, contact