Contagious Cities is an international cultural project which supports local conversations around the global challenges of epidemic preparedness.
Where and when
The project is staged across three global cities:
- New York
- Hong Kong
It is running from September 2018 to winter 2019.
Microbes, migration and the metropolis
Cities bring people – and germs – together. Through the stories it tells, Contagious Cities explores the outcomes of this cohabitation, and the relationship between microbes, migration and the metropolis.
Combining different perspectives and expertise, partners in the project are co-producing artist residencies, exhibitions, interactive experiences, events and broadcasts. Together, they are investigating the physical, social, economic and cultural effects of infectious disease.
The project has been developed by Wellcome. It marks the centenary of the 1918 flu pandemic, during which a third of the world’s population was infected and 50 million people died.
Germ City: Microbes and the Metropolis takes a fascinating look at New York’s long battle against infectious disease – a fight involving government, urban planners, medical professionals, businesses and activists. The exhibition, at the Museum of the City of New York, was developed 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.
- Dava Sobel reflects on polio and the efforts to find a vaccine in New York, with Professor Naomi Rogers
- Frances Wilson discovers that TB is hidden in plain sight in London, with Dr Al Story
- Okwiri Oduor faces HIV/AIDS in Nairobi and recalls a tragic story in her childhood, with Joshua Kimani
- Debora Diniz and her colleague Gabriela Rondon visit several women whose children have the Zika virus in Maceió
- Dorothy Tse learns how SARS took hold in Hong Kong, with Professor Malik Peiris.
The essays were broadcast on BBC Radio 3 in November 2018 – you can listen again on BBC Sounds.
WNYC – operated by New York Public Radio – have drawn on their archives and newsroom to offer a series of engrossing narratives chronicling the relationship between cities and contagious disease.
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. This will coincide with the opening of a separate BHS exhibition in 2019, Sick: seven diseases that changed Brooklyn, to explore how four centuries of Brooklynites have experienced and understood sickness and health.
Oi! Street Visual Art Space helps local communities to explore social issues through community projects. A programme of events in 2019 will bring to life collective memories and individual sentiments in times of epidemics.
In midtown Manhattan, the New York Public Library (NYPL) 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. An exhibition at NYPL will showcase more than one hundred years of mapping contagion in the city.
The New York Academy of Medicine has organised a diverse range of panel discussions and events, in partnership with the Museum of the City of New York (MCNY). This includes two exciting walking tours – one of Roosevelt Island and one of the Ellis Island Hospital Zone – and a workshop, Germ City: Science + History, for teachers.
MCNY will also run several school and family programmes investigating New Yorkers’ relationship with infectious diseases over time.
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 Academy of Medicine
- New York Public Library
- Oi! Street Visual Art Space
- Tai Kwun Centre for Heritage and Arts
- Tenement Museum
- The University of Hong Kong
- World Health Organization.
Credit for main illustration: Dale Crosby Close/Wellcome. CC-BY-NC
If you have any questions about Contagious Cities, email: