Illustration - bird's eye view of an urban street and two people talking about the global scale of contagion.
Credit: Dale Crosby-Close. Wellcome CC-BY-NC

Contagious Cities

Contagious Cities was an international cultural programme which supported local conversations around the global challenges of epidemic preparedness. The programme was staged across four cities: Berlin, Geneva, Hong Kong and New York. It ran from September 2018 to December 2019.

Microbes, migration and the metropolis 

Cities bring people and germs together. Contagious Cities explored the outcomes of this cohabitation, and the relationship between microbes, migration and the metropolis.  

Combining different perspectives and expertise, partners in the programme co-produced artist residencies, exhibitions, interactive experiences, events and broadcasts. Together, they investigated the physical, social, economic and cultural effects of infectious disease.

The programme was developed by Wellcome. It marked the centenary of the 1918 flu pandemic, during which a third of the world's population was infected and around 50 million people died.

Artist residencies 

Artists across four cities explored unique perspectives on the theme of contagious cities: from our relationship with the natural world to the metaphors we use to understand illness.

Click the links below to watch behind-the-scenes with each of the artists.


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.

Koexistenz at the Museum für Naturkunde in Berlin 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

Map of a yellow fever outbreak in New York.

Map of a yellow fever outbreak in New York.


Wellcome Collection, CC BY

Interactive storytelling experiences 

In Berlin, New York and Hong Kong, interactive tours and guided walks offered insights into the history of outbreaks and disease in the area.

Click the links below to learn more about each initiative. 

Berlin: a narrative cartography of virus

Multimedia artist Sybille Neumeyer creates an artistic walk that traces stories of influenza, pandemics and viruses in and around Berlin’s Museum für Naturkunde.


In partnership with BBC Radio 3 and Cast Iron Radio, five writers considered the history and effects of a different contagion in their city. Listen on BBC Sounds.

New York Public Radio's WNYC series of engrossing narratives chronicled the relationship between cities and contagious disease.

Brooklyn Historical Society dedicated several episodes of its award-winning podcast Flatbush + Main to the history of disease and public health in Brooklyn.

An episode of BBC World Service's The Evidence, recorded at the Tai Kwun Centre for Heritage and Arts, looked at how the city has been shaped by epidemics following the SARS outbreak.

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

The Chinese town, West Point, Hong Kong.


Wellcome Collection, CC BY

Event highlights 

Various events ran across the cities. Here are some of the highlights:

  • Oi! Street Visual Art Space helped local communities to explore the idea of contagion through community projects. 
  • Art in Hospital presented 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.
  • New York Public Library showcased more than one hundred years of mapping contagion in the city.
  • New York Academy of Medicine ran a fascinating series of public events alongside the Germ City exhibition.
  • The Robert Koch Institute developed a short film documenting the history of contagion in the 21st century related to Robert Koch’s discoveries. 

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