Project What If

Project What If artist's impression. Credit: Kossman.dejong

We’re all about people's questions and curiosity – that’s what drives us. 

This November, we’re opening a bold new exhibition Project What If – which will be the first major science centre exhibition in the UK all about the curiosity of a city.

Project What If  uses questions asked by real people as a springboard to delve into the real world of science which is creative, collaborative, inspiring and has never been more important.

 

What if we built an exhibition with the people of our city?

Over the past three years, we’ve gathered over 10,000 questions from people in every postcode of Bristol - both in our venue and out in the city with our silver Curious Cube. 

With the help of some of our community partners, staff and volunteers we whittled the list down to just seven final questions, covering themes such as happiness, the universe, invisibility, illness and time. Each question will be explored through a 'constellation' in the Project What If exhibition space.

'Each exhibition area uses high-tech, beautiful design to explore these very different questions in lots of ways, covering a huge variety of different disciplines and voices. We’ve worked with so many amazing people, from members and volunteers, to partners and schools, the question askers themselves and people who have never even stepped foot in our doors.

We want Bristolians of all ages and backgrounds to be proud of the gorgeous exhibition they helped create and for that exhibition to mirror the diversity and beauty of Bristol itself. We want everyone to feel a part of science and curiosity, at a time where it’s never been more important.” - Amelia Howarth, Projects Producer

Image: Dan Watkiss

Throughout the COVID pandemic, we’ve been working away on the project as planned, albeit under challenging circumstances. We’ve continued testing out and exploring how we bring the themes of the questions to life with you, looking at what they make you think of and how different ideas make you feel. 

This has meant working in completely new ways, including conducting user testing sessions virtually with visitors, members and new faces to We The Curious. We’ve pooled the ideas that came from lots of different people from researchers and magicians, to skateboarders and students. 

Image: Lisa Whiting

What if we could place people at the heart of science?

Through our MakeSpace project, we've been continuing our work with our community partners across the city. Each constellation area will include an exhibit co-designed by a different community partner in collaboration with an artist or collective.

With Project What If we're aiming to open up science by putting people at the heart of it. As well as the exhibit constellations, on the exhibition floor you'll find 'Open City Lab', a ground-breaking area where you'll be able to take part in real scientific research as it happens and the ‘John James Theatre of Curiosity’, which will explore visitors’ questions in new and unexpected ways. 

Over the coming weeks we'll be sharing lots more Project What If updates including more detail about the constellations, MakeSpace project commissions and how to book tickets. 

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Huge thanks to our funders and partners

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. The fund aims to inspire people from all backgrounds to interact with science and consider the possibilities it holds for their own future. 

Key partners on the project include: 

 

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 (SNF); Innovation 4 Growth; Nisbet Trust; Charles Hayward Foundation; Britford Bridge Trust; Kirby Laing Trust; Medlock Charitable Trust; National Lottery Awards For All, an anonymous funder and local individual donors.

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

UKRI 

UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), brings together the seven 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.