Contagious Cities was an international cultural project which supported local conversations around the global challenges of epidemic preparedness. The project was staged across four global cities: Berlin, Geneva, Hong Kong and New York. It ran from September 2018 to September 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 have co-produced artist residencies, exhibitions, interactive experiences, events and broadcasts. Together, they investigate 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.
Koexistenz at the Museum für Naturkunde was a collaboration between artists and scientists that explored the relationship between humans, animals and viruses. It included artistic commissions by Simon Faithfull and Sybille Neumeyer. The exhibition was complemented by public talks and events in the museum’s Experimental Field.
Germ City: Microbes and the Metropolis took 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 with the New York Academy of Medicine.
Contagious Cities: Far Away, Too Close explored the psychological and emotional dimensions of disease and contagion, particularly in relation to people’s ways of life. Co-produced by the art and heritage teams at Hong Kong's Tai Kwun Centre for Heritage and Arts, it included an art exhibition featuring local and international artists, and a heritage exhibition that looked at the historical context of the bubonic plague.
In partnership with BBC Radio 3 and Cast Iron Radio, we commissioned a series of essays in which five writers consider the history and effects of a different contagion in their city. 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, drew on their archives and newsroom to offer a series of engrossing narratives chronicling the relationship between cities and contagious disease.
In collaboration with BBC World Service and Wellcome Collection, a special episode of The Evidence was recorded at the Tai Kwun Centre for Heritage and Arts and broadcast in April 2019.
Various events ran in Hong Kong and New York:
- Oi! Street Visual Art Space helped local communities to explore the idea of contagion through community projects. Writer Lawrence Pun and artist Tozer Pak created Contagious Reading to help people rediscover the importance of sharing knowledge through writing and art.
- Art in Hospital presented Our Times, a series of art workshops, exhibitions and activities exploring people’s memories and experiences of disease.
- Asia Art Archive hosted a series of talks and workshops focusing on zines as a self-published medium.
- Common Core hosted various activities, including Jazz Thoughts and Ferris Wheel Lectures around the concept of contagion.
- The New York Public Library (NYPL) and the Graduate Center of City University of New York presented a series of public events during spring 2019 looking at how stories of contagion are told. An exhibition at NYPL showcased more than one hundred years of mapping contagion in the city.
- The New York Academy of Medicine and the Museum of the City of New York organised a diverse range of panel discussions and events. This included 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.
Contagious Cities has been developed by Wellcome in collaboration with:
- Art in Hospital
- Asia Art Archive
- BBC Radio 3
- BBC World Service: The Evidence
- Berlin Museum of Medical History at the Charité
- Brooklyn Historical Society
- Cast Iron Radio
- Charité Institute of Virology
- Graduate Center of the City University of New York
- Hong Kong Museum of Medical Sciences
- Humboldt University of Berlin
- Museum für Naturkunde
- Museum of the City of New York
- New York Academy of Medicine
- New York Public Library
- Oi! Street Visual Art Space
- Robert Koch Institute
- 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