‘John James Theatre of Curiosity’ to open in Bristol’s We The Curious

Wednesday 14 October | Jen Forster

Educational charity We The Curious will be reopening in November with a bold new experience Project What If, which will feature the ‘John James Theatre of Curiosity’ – a central discussion space which encourages visitors to explore how science works.

The construction of the Theatre has been generously funded by Bristol-based grant-making trust The John James Bristol Foundation, which has a focus on tackling educational inequality and exclusion in science. 

The space will be highly accessible and open, with moveable seating to create spaces that will welcome different audiences and suit different learning preferences. This will include a compressed theatre-like design for large group activities and extracted design to support more informal small group and individual learning activities – encouraging debate and curious questioning, on a range of relevant and topical themes.

As a key central, focal point in the question-led exhibition Project What If, the John James Theatre of Curiosity will also feature an area dedicated to gathering questions. Visitors will be able to hand-write their questions and post them up onto one of the Theatre pillars, as well as digitally upload new questions onto a Theatre screen and explore other questions on the beautiful digital question space.

Visitors will be drawn to the space, attracted by a hanging ‘chandelier’ of projector screens, displaying a mixture of imagery of scientific phenomena, activity-related content and visitors’ curious questions from We The Curious’ question database. This database contains over 10,000 questions from the citizens of Bristol and will be explored in the Theatre by the team of experienced science communicators from We The Curious, working alongside visiting academics and researchers.  

The launch programme for Project What If and the Theatre is themed around ‘A Better World Is Possible’, and includes ‘The A-Z of Secrecy’ – a collaborative open source science activity developed with the Secrecy, Power, and Ignorance research Network (SPIN), which asks what makes secrecy and ignorance interesting, powerful, and sometimes overlooked. SPIN is one of the collaborative research communities funded and supported by the GW4 Alliance – a research alliance between the Universities of Bath, Bristol, Cardiff and Exeter. Visitors will be able to meet university researchers, explore issues around secrecy, power and ignorance, and help develop a new collection of objects which will help researchers and the public to build a better understanding of how these concepts impact on our day to day lives.

The Theatre will also host an activity exploring the connection between happiness and rainbows. Produced in collaboration with artist-technologist Coral Manton, Let’s Be Frank design studio, and community artist Olivia Altaras, a socially distanced community artwork has been on display throughout the summer at The Hub in Lockleaze. Local residents have been able to send messages of hope and support to each other via the digital artwork in the windows, whilst a community art programme has explored how rainbows have taken on new meaning under Covid-19.

This project is part of the ‘Make Space’ strand for Project What If – where each of the seven exhibit question ‘constellations’ will feature an artwork co-designed by a local community in partnership with a Bristol-based artist. The project aims to increase the diversity of voices represented in the exhibits at We The Curious.

The final screen-based artwork from the Lockleaze Make Space project will be projected on the digital screens, whilst visitors create their own rainbow-related artworks in the Theatre space below. The experience will be facilitated by We The Curious’ team of experienced science communicators who also spent time supporting the project in Lockleaze this summer.

The John James Theatre of Curiosity is the physical manifestation of one of the guiding charitable aims of We The Curious, around ‘open source science’ which aims to create a place where everyone can take part in the scientific process as it happens. The space brings together two of the other key pledges of ‘diverse participation and cultivating curiosity’.

During the past three years, We The Curious has worked with visitors, key partners and community groups to test various concepts for the Theatre, including ‘Curiosity Club’ with WECIL (The West of England Centre for Inclusive Living), and early concept ideas for the digital question space with staff and students from Bath Spa University Creative Computing.

The opening of the space marks a shift in the way that science centres have worked previously, with models of public participation moving away from a one-way download of information from researcher to visitor, and into a more collaborative process where all visitors, of all ages and experience, can question researchers and play an active part in their research projects, all with their opinions valued.

Rosalie White, Head of Programming for We The Curious said:

“The Theatre of Curiosity revolutionises our facilitation and exhibition models — a space that encourages questioning, dialogue and discussion between those from all walks of life, putting collaborative dialogue at the heart of our approach to science. By using real questions, from the people of Bristol, we’ll be able to have relevant, topical conversations and discussions, and to explore subjects that really interest people – creating valuable experience for visitors and researchers that recognise people’s input, opinion and diverse experiences.

Along with the wider Project What If experience, the Theatre of Curiosity has evolved from input from visitors and collaboration with our research partners, and brings together our commitments to the people of Bristol, our ‘open source science’ and ‘diverse participation’ pledge, to ‘create a culture of curiosity’.  

It’s a truly unique space which can be adapted to our visitors’ interests and learning styles, as well as to our partner projects so will always be a different, and varied experience each time.”

Louise Hanson from John James Bristol Foundation added: 

“The Foundation is pleased to support We the Curious with the development of the Theatre of Curiosity to widen participation in STEM education (Science, Engineering, Technology, Maths). Bristol has a great history in science, engineering and innovation and John James Bristol Foundation is delighted to support the next stage of bringing STEM subjects to the residents of Bristol to inspire the next generation of scientists.”

Project What If

The John James Theatre of Curiosity forms part of Project What If, inspired by 10,000 questions collected from every postcode in the city, Project What If will be the first major science centre exhibition in the UK inspired entirely by the curiosity of a city’s residents.

The project aims to reimagine the science centre experience and will see the foyer and ground floor exhibition spaces completely transformed. The core of the exhibition will be built around seven questions, selected from the thousands of questions submitted by visitors and Bristol residents over the past three years. It will be multidisciplinary, which means ideas will be explained in different and often surprising ways, embracing art as well as science, while   celebrating and cultivating curiosity.

Alongside the support from the John James Bristol Foundation for the Theatre of Curiosity, Project What If was supported by a £3m grant awarded by the Inspiring Science Fund – a partnership between UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and Wellcome – a fund created to enable science centres across the UK to develop new STEM-based exhibitions and learning centres, alongside inclusive and creative community programmes, building a sustainable programme for the future. The support for the charity and new exhibition has been hugely successful in addition to this, with over £900,000 donated by other generous funders.

We The Curious is an educational charity and interactive science centre in Bristol which brings together science, art, technology, culture and innovation to create positive change for its community and environment and “create a culture of curiosity”. This year We The Curious is celebrating 20 years in Bristol.



For more information, images, interviews or to arrange a press trip, please contact: Jen Forster jen.forster@wethecurious.org or 07967 334 152. You can follow We The Curious on Twitter (@wethecurious_) Facebook (wethecurious) or Instagram (@wethecurious_). For more information, please visit www.wethecurious.org

Editor’s Notes :

About We The Curious

We The Curious was previously known as At-Bristol Science Centre; an educational charity with an aim to “make science accessible to all”, it opened in 2000, and welcomed over 5 million visitors in the past 20 years. At-Bristol relaunched as We The Curious in September 2017, with a new vision that is committed to creating a culture of curiosity.

We The Curious is an idea and a place for everyone. Our venue on Bristol’s harbourside is a bit like an indoor festival, with all sorts of different experiences, where you can interact with exhibits, test stuff out and participate rather than just visit.  We’re all about empowering everyone to ask questions and get creative - with boundaries removed between science, art, people and ideas - a culture of curiosity. This year We The Curious is celebrating 20 years in Bristol.

Key partners on the project include:

About The John James Bristol Foundation: 

Remembering the past – Reaching to the future – Giving back to Bristol

Born in Bedminster, John James served in the RAF and became one of Britain’s most successful businessmen. John wanted to give back to the people of Bristol and donated large sums to health, education and the elderly.

The John James Bristol Foundation continue to donate across these areas, aiming to help the wellbeing of as many Bristol residents as possible.


About the GW4 Alliance

The GW4 Alliance brings together four of the most research-intensive and innovative universities in the UK; the universities of Bath, Bristol, Cardiff and Exeter. From the creative arts to the physical sciences, GW4 combines world-leading scholarship, infrastructure and expertise.

GW4’s collaborative research communities deliver outputs and outcomes not possible as a single institution and address major global, social and industrial challenges. To date the GW4 Alliance has invested over £2.9m in 93 collaborative research communities, which have generated over £46m in research income. This means that for every £1 GW4 spends on collaborative research communities, GW4 captures over £15 in external research awards.

For more information, please the GW4 website: https://gw4.ac.uk/


Inspiring Science Fund:

The Inspiring Science Fund, a partnership between UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and Wellcome, has invested £30 million in science centres across the UK, enabling them to revitalise their public offer and to develop more sustainable working practices for the future. New exhibitions and learning centres, alongside inclusive and creative community programmes, will inspire visitors to engage with science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) in fun and exciting new ways.



Wellcome exists to improve health by helping great ideas to thrive. We support researchers, we take on big health challenges, we campaign for better science, and we help everyone get involved with science and health research. We are a politically and financially independent foundation.



UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), brings together the 7 UK research councils, Innovate UK and a new organisation, Research England, working closely with its partner organisations in the devolved administrations of the UK Government. The scheme is co-funded by the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS), UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and Wellcome.

About the funding campaign:

In addition to the support from the Inspiring Science Fund, Project What If has so far received generous support from: John James Bristol Foundation; The Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851; Garfield Weston Foundation; National Lottery Heritage Fund; Stavros Niarchos Foundation; Innovation 4 Growth; Nisbet Trust; Charles Hayward Foundation; Britford Bridge Trust; Kirby Laing Trust; Medlock Charitable Trust; National Lottery Community Fund, an anonymous funder and local individual donors.