Contagious Cities: an international collaborative enquiry

Contagious Cities: an international collaborative enquiry
By Ken Arnold, Danielle Olsen
The Wellcome Trust

Contagious Cities was a cultural project that explored how urban environments in different parts of the world have coped with infectious diseases. Its theme of how populations prepare for and deal with epidemics is a core strategic concern for Wellcome – the large health and medicine foundation behind the project. Thoroughly interdisciplinary in their approach, the variety of exhibitions, events and other cultural activities the project supported placed a special emphasis on the illuminating potential for artists to investigate medical, scientific and social phenomena. The initiative also drew inspiration from Wellcome’s track record of curating interdisciplinary projects in its own museum in London, and approached its international ambitions (in Geneva, New York, Hong Kong and Berlin) through partnership and co-production. This article looks back at this unusual project, which ironically was concluded just before the world plunged into the current pandemic. The emphasis here, however, is somewhat less on the project’s themes – the fascinating and frightening implications of human co-existence with microbes in crowded contexts. Instead, we have focused on the complexities of working with multiple stakeholders in very different contexts, and we reflect on Wellcome’s role as an experienced, knowledgeable and creative, but also powerful and well-funded partner cum commissioner.


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