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.

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Find out more about our plans for future international cultural programmes

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.

What happened 

Artist residencies

Map of a yellow fever outbreak in New York
Map of a yellow fever outbreak in New York.
Credit: Wellcome Collection. CC BY


Koexistenz(opens in a new tab) at the Museum für Naturkunde(opens in a new tab) 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(opens in a new tab)

Germ City: Microbes and the Metropolis(opens in a new tab) 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(opens in a new tab), was developed with the New York Academy of Medicine(opens in a new tab).

Contagious Cities: Far Away, Too Close(opens in a new tab) 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(opens in a new tab), it included an art exhibition featuring local and international artists, and a heritage exhibition that looked at the historical context of the bubonic plague.

Interactive storytelling experiences

The Chinese town, West Point, Hong Kong. Photograph.
The Chinese town, West Point, Hong Kong. Photograph.
Credit: Wellcome Collection. CC BY


In partnership with BBC Radio 3(opens in a new tab) and Cast Iron Radio(opens in a new tab), 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(opens in a new tab).

WNYC(opens in a new tab), 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.

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

In collaboration with BBC World Service and Wellcome Collection, a special episode of The Evidence(opens in a new tab) 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:

New York Public Library
New York Public Library
Credit: New York Public Library

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