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On 13 February 2019 Rosie Stanbury, Head of Public Programmes at the Wellcome Collection, treated our LANS students and staff to a distinguished lecture.

Rosie ‘burst bubbles of perception’ in her analysis of Public Space as a sphere of freedom and anonymity while excavating the scope for interdisciplinarity within public exhibitions, galleries and museums. Below we have heard from three students who attended the lecture as they reflect on the impact that the lecture had on their own perceptions of public space and interdisciplinarity.

Rosie Stanbury delivering the lecture

My main take-away from Rosie’s lecture was her discussion about the intersection of the sciences and fine arts. The Wellcome Trust provides a very holistic and interdisciplinary approach to public health and their Wellcome Collection is no exception. Providing a fascinating exploration of the human body and health issues both physical and mental throughout their museum. The sciences can often be deemed as inaccessible by the public, and the Wellcome Trust work to breakdown these disciplinary barriers by encouraging audience participation and portraying often very challenging concepts through art. An example was their museum of modern nature in which they crowd-sourced objects from the general public and explored the relationship between human and animals and conservationism.

What struck me the most about Rosie’s lecture was her discussion of the ‘wellcome collection library events’ in which the collection would plan random, unexpected pop up events in the library of the wellcome collection building. Nobody outside the collection knew that these events would occur thus the public would be entirely surprised on invitation to attend whether it was a theatrical workshop, a comedy performance or lecture. The notion of confronting members of the public unpredictably and motivating them to participate in a group event combats certain tendencies within society to, despite being in public space, maintain a sense of privacy and resistance to their surroundings. Rosie used the analogy of individuals constructing private ‘bubbles’ around them, reinforced by the use of mobile phones, which construct barriers preventing individuals from engaging with other members of the public but also their surroundings and physical environment. I love the idea of a group of strangers being motivated to share an experience in the form of these pop up events and share a spontaneous moment, Rosie discussed individuals feeling a sense of comfort in the anonymity of these events and were encouraged to share personal thoughts and feelings that they might not have shared with close friends or family due to the nature of these liberating, anonymous interactions.

The distinguished lecture with Rosie Stanbury was a fascinating opportunity to explore ideas about engaging the public with the topic of interdisciplinarity beyond the academic sphere. We often spend lots of time discussing the benefits of interdisciplinarity: open-mindedness, creativity, overcoming barriers which cannot be tackled from the perspective of a single discipline being just a few of the advantages. However, while interdisciplinarity is of particular importance when considering academic research, a discussion of the ways in which the average member of the public can be encouraged to engage with these ideas is often lacking.

With a particular focus on her line of work in curatorial studies Rosie Stanbury introduced some fascinating ideas surrounding interdisciplinarity and the space of the museum as a place for the public to engage in these ideas. The nature of this space is becoming increasingly challenged and diversified to keep up with the rapid pace of our instant gratification society and the ease of ‘googling’. Her lecture style was novel and engaging, using topics that we are all familiar with from mobile phones to public parks and activism but linking them in new and exciting ways. Her willingness to answer questions from a range of audience members, varied in interests and age, was really refreshing.