Museum Mondays: Wellcome Collection
You may not know this, but the United Kingdom has a unique history of supporting art-science collaborations. From 1996 to 2006, the charitable nongovernmental organization Wellcome Trust played a principle role in funding these activities through their Sciart program. Wellcome Trust funded 124 projects and awarded £3 million to art and science projects. They established the Arts Award due to its success — a funding initiative to “support imaginative and experimental arts projects that investigate biomedical science.”
In June 2007, Wellcome unveiled a “free destination for the incurably curious” open six days per week. Wellcome Collection is a six-storey museum with three galleries, a café, boutique, member’s club, and auditorium as well as its Wellcome Library — all made possible via the trust’s founder, pharmacist and philanthropist Sir Henry Wellcome.
But Wellcome Collection is not your average medical/science museum. In addition to Sir Henry’s collection of unusual medical artifacts and curiosities, there’s a range of exhibitions on topics from human enhancement and the brain to dirty soil and mind-altering drugs. They also present public competitions and invite artists to re-imagine their window displays, including Julia Lohmann who transformed 9,000 petri dishes into a microbial art installation and Joanna Walsh who covered the lobby windows with a large-scale drawing. Most importantly, Wellcome wants to inspire its visitors understand and enjoy science. Ken Arnold, Head of Public Programmes says:
The basic idea was to present science in a completely new way: science connected to art, connected to history, connected also to other aspects of our lives. It’s a venue for fourteen and aboves. It’s a venue that takes science very seriously, but maybe doesn’t take itself too seriously. So you can have fun here. You can explore new ideas and you leave with a sense of really wanting to find out much more about your own lives, about your own body, [and] about your relationship to the world of science.