Extraordinary project challenged perceptions of disability and attitudes towards difference

An extraordinary project led by Leicester brought together 4 artists and 8 of the UK’s most renowned medical museums in a unique collaboration to question and challenge our attitudes towards difference with the aim of stimulating debate around the implications of a society that values some lives more than others.

Through a series of groundbreaking events held in museums across the UK, the project called Exceptional & Extraordinary has stimulated and shaped debate around deeply entrenched negative views of disabled people that manifest themselves in numerous ways from everyday acts of disrespect and discrimination to hate crimes.

Initiated and led by the Research Centre for Museums and Galleries (RCMG) at the University of Leicester, Exceptional and Extraordinary was a collaborative project involving 4 artists – comedian Francesca Martinez, film-maker David Hevey, dance company Deaf Men Dancing led by Mark Smith, artist and playwright Julie McNamara – and 8 museums (the Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons of England (RCS); the Science Museum; the Royal College of Physicians (RCP), Thackray Medical Museum, Leeds; the Royal London Hospital Museum and Archives; Surgeons’ Hall Museums at the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh; Museum of the Mind; Langdon Down Museum of Learning Disability).  Project advisors were Tony Heaton, SHAPE and Katherine Ott, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution.

Funded by the Wellcome Trust and Arts Council England, Exceptional & Extraordinary was an ambitious collaborative research project that aimed to engage museum visitors, professionals in the field of biomedicine and the broader public in a reassessment of widely held assumptions surrounding physical and mental difference, disability and contemporary (often negative and discriminatory) attitudes towards disabled people.

In a new post, released on 24 February, Francesca Martinez, reflects on this in a special guest blog for the School of Museum Studies.

  • Press release