Contagious Cities

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.

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.

Map of a yellow fever outbreak in New York

Credit: Wellcome Collection. CC BY

Map of a yellow fever outbreak in New York.

What's planned

Artist residencies

Three artist residencies will explore some of the surprising interactions between people and pathogens in urban settings. 

The residencies are:

The artists will use local and international sources as inspiration, including materials from Wellcome Library

Angela Su

Credit: Nora Tam / South China Morning Post

Angela Su, artist in residence at Hong Kong Museum of Medical Sciences.

Exhibitions

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.

Jacob Burinescu pictured with his amateur Yiddish theater acting troupe

Credit: Lower East Side Tenement Museum Collection

Jacob Burinescu pictured with his amateur Yiddish theater acting troupe, 19th century.

The tours will link themes of disease, medicine, immigration and reform to the lives of their 19th and 20th century residents. 

Those featured include: 

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.

The Chinese town, West Point, Hong Kong. Photograph.

Credit: Wellcome Collection CC BY

The Chinese town, West Point, Hong Kong. Photograph.

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.

Museum of the City of New York

Credit: Museum of the City of New York

Our partners

Contagious Cities has been developed by Wellcome in collaboration with: 

We’re also exploring other collaborations with strategic and public partners.

Contact us

If you have any questions, contact