The Inspiring Science Fund
Wellcome and UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) launched the Inspiring Science fund in 2017 to support science centres across the UK. “It's a capital fund that helps centres rethink what they do and what they offer to the public.”
We the Curious was successful in securing the maximum £3,000,000 fund for Project What If in which we aim to re-imagine the science centre exhibition experience. This is the first major exhibition experience based entirely on the questions from the people of the city it lives in. People and curiosity are at the heart of it. This will be the signature exhibition experience for We the Curious, a total redevelopment of our ground floor exhibition, around 1000 square metres.
For this project we asked ourselves, what if…we dismantle institutional narratives of science by starting with the questions that people ask and the language they are asked in, and open up the real world of science - creative, collaborative, cultural, dealing in uncertainty as well as wonder, an extraordinary human endeavour that we can all have a voice in.
Project What If is being designed in collaboration with world leading exhibition architects Kossmann de Jong. The questions to trigger the content of the exhibition have been selected with community groups from nearly 10,000 questions collected from across Bristol - from people in shopping centres, parks, the hospital, the prison, street festivals, online, and in venue. Specific exhibits are being further developed in co-design with communities from the city of Bristol as part of our Make Space project.
The new exhibition is due to launch in late autumn 2020. Project What If aims to evolve the science centre experience in the contemporary cultural landscape, making it more relevant and inclusive for audiences.
We the Curious is inviting expressions of interest from South West and Bristol based talent for a series of exhibit commissions.
The New Space
The new space will include:
A liminal space between foyer and exhibition floor that people pass through as they enter the exhibition space. We are working with an artist collective called Troika who have created an art installation that will be unique to this space.
An Open City Lab
A lab space to revolutionise public engagement in science - instead of broadcasting results at the end of the scientific process, engagement is about participation in real research in progress. A rolling programme of resident researchers will open up science to meaningful public involvement at all stages of the research cycle.
Theatre of Curiosity
The central engine of We the Curious in the middle of the ground floor where people can engage in conversation, rest, think and contribute their questions. The Theatre of Curiosity is where we can really excite our minds - uniting science, art, people and ideas in a common culture of curiosity - where everyone is empowered to ask questions.
Constellations of exhibits that explore a Big Question from all angles. Each Big Question was shortlisted from our database of questions asked by people all over the city of Bristol. We have tracked down each questioner for 5 of the 7 exhibit constellations and have been working with them in prototyping and exploring their question further. Each constellation features connected exhibits that explore the question from all angles of science, art and culture. Question Constellations drawings
Make Space is our pledge that inclusion and a participatory approach will be at the heart of the exhibition transformation – with a reach that stretches beyond the building. Seven community partners and artists are part of the development process, changing who usually decides what is explored in cultural spaces and opening up our space to some of the most socially, educationally and economically deprived areas of Bristol. This will result in the co-creation of seven exhibits which are being fabricated in our Bristol workshop, each constellation has one Make Space exhibit included.
The Constellation Questions
From the thousands of questions asked, the following seven are the ones which have been selected:
Will we ever find a way to prevent being ill?
Why do rainbows make me happy?
Is there another me in the universe?
Who was the first person to see sand?
How Do You Become Invisible?
Can your soul be seen by science?
What controls our perception of time and can we slow it down?
The design of the constellations will present the scientific phenomena and ideas as beautiful aesthetic experiences – we want to foreground the concepts and questions without excessive set work around them. At the same time each constellation must have its own character, for example, if the question is about rainbows making us happy, that constellation must feel like a joyful space to be in.
The constellations must all feel like they are part of a family of questions, with the Theatre of Curiosity as the central engine of the gallery.
Project What If puts people and their questions at the centre of our core exhibition. We aim to create interactive experiences that connect ideas, bringing the best of galleries, museums and visitor destinations together in a uniquely relevant, audience led, multi-disciplinary space.
We aim to:
Deepen inspirational STEM learning - by creating relevant, intriguing content fueled by the curious questions people ask.
Broaden and extend our audiences to include under-represented communities - adopting a multidisciplinary approach to discover new points of entry to science concepts for different audiences.
Build a sense of citizen ownership and connection to our activities, leading the Science Centre in a more inclusive direction.
Drive a curiosity for exploration and learning beyond the visit - building lasting engagement and relationships with visitors as part of their digital lives.
Revolutionise our public engagement with university research - with an open public lab programme of real research in progress. An opportunity for young people to meet role models and for everyone to participate in leading local, national and international STEM research.
Enrich the learning experience for school visitors – by connecting education workshops on scientific enquiry more closely to the question-based exhibition floor and Open City Lab research.
Effect organisational change - embedding participatory practice, inclusive co-design and consideration of diverse audiences into our daily operations.
To design a holistic exhibition concept that provides a thinking as well as a feeling space. A space that is aesthetically inspiring and beautiful to spend time in. A space that is permissive and inclusive.
Project What if aims to be:
The most magical, life-affirming experiences happen when we are enabled to suspend our disbelief and inhabit new ideas - the space and situation inspires us before we’ve even interacted with any content in it.
Where we experience things together, new connections and conversations can form.
We want science to be experienced culturally and for people to FEEL as well as learn something as a result of their experience here. Learning is still central to the exhibition, but with feelings and emotive experiences leading the discoveries.
People must feel they can be themselves in the space, lie down, talk, laugh, take a photo – be playful not reverent. The space must be beautiful, but not so polished smooth that people are afraid to ‘mess it up.’ It needs to feel useable and loved.
The majority of exhibit experiences must be interactive, to maintain the sense of playful permission in the space.
Exploring questions and concepts from all angles, science, art, history, philosophy…
Accessible, Sustainable & Ethical
To ensure our services allow inclusion for all and deliver our ethical and sustainable principles.
Overall Creative Design Brief
In our headline creative design brief we state that we want to:
Place PEOPLE at the heart of the exhibition as active agents in a social experience.
Create a sense of ownership of We the Curious by our visitors.
Create light and shade in the spectrum of experiences - intensive, immersive, social, intimate, energetic, quiet, space for reflection as well as for doing.
Provide access points for all levels of confidence and interest, through a conversational interpretation style and layers of supporting information.
Reveal the beauty of phenomena and objects, not over-design sets around them.
Make the most of our building and make use of scale.
Create an exhibition experience that reflects the curious inventive nature of its PLACE - in the city of Bristol.
Create a sustainable exhibition, considering the circularity of materials.