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 


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, was developed with the New York Academy of Medicine.

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, 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(opens in a new tab) 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 

The back of artist Sybille Neumeyer who is wearing headphones and a backpack

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(opens in a new tab).

New York Public Radio's WNYC series of engrossing narratives(opens in a new tab) chronicled the relationship between cities and contagious disease.

Brooklyn Historical Society 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.

An episode of BBC World Service's The Evidence(opens in a new tab), 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:

News and opinion 

Our partners 

Contact us 

See who's in our International Cultural Programmes team, and find out more about our plans for future programmes. 

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