Exceptional & Extraordinary: Unruly Minds and Bodies in the Museum (E&E) was initiated and led by Richard Sandell (rps6@le.ac.uk) and Jocelyn Dodd (jad25@le.ac.uk) of the Research Centre for Museums and Galleries (RCMG), University of Leicester. The project, that ran from 2015 to May 2017, builds on 20 years’ experience of working in and with museums and collections of all kinds to:

  • Identify hidden histories of disability;
  • Place the lived experience and perspectives of disabled people at the heart of new museum narratives;
  • Use museums to engage diverse audiences in debates around disability history, culture, rights and equality;
  • Stimulate reflection and dialogue around the social and political implications of entrenched negative attitudes towards difference.

E&E is the latest in a series of ground-breaking projects developed by RCMG that aim to inform and enrich public debate and attitudes (as well as medical professional thinking and practice) around negative attitudes towards disability and difference. This includes the Cabinet of Curiosities, a collaborative research project with artist and performer Mat Fraser and the Royal College of Physicians, the Science Museum, the Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons and SHAPE that was awarded the Observer Ethical Award for Arts and Culture in 2014. Funded by the Wellcome Trust and Arts Council England, E&E invited four artists – David Hevey, film-maker, Julie McNamara, artist and playwright, Francesca Martinez, comedian, and Mark Smith, dancer and choreographer and dance company, Deaf Men Dancing – to explore behind the scenes of eight of the UK’s most renowned medical museums: Bethlem Museum of the Mind; Hunterian Museum at Royal College of Surgeons of England; Langdon Down Museum of Learning Disability; the Royal College of Physicians Museum; Royal London Hospital Museum and Archives; Science Museum; Surgeons’ Hall Museums at the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh; and the Thackray Medical Museum, Leeds. In collaboration with the RCMG project team and experts in medical history, disability and museums, the four artists produced a series of challenging and thought-provoking new commissions which were performed in museums across England and Scotland in 2016:

These four exciting and innovative commissions examine our attitudes towards difference with the aim of stimulating debate around the implications of a society that values some lives more than others.

Project leaders

RCMG Project team

  • Richard Sandell, RCMG
  • Jocelyn Dodd, RCMG
  • Ceri Jones, RCMG
  • Steve Mannix, Producer
  • Catherine Braithwaite, Press and Marketing
  • Jennifer Bergevin, Researcher
  • Sarah Plumb, Researcher
  • Cintia Velazquez Marroni, Researcher
  • Mercy Trent, Researcher

Four extraordinary artists

  • David Hevey
  • Julie McNamara
  • Francesca Martinez
  • Mark Smith and Deaf Men Dancing

Eight medical museums

  • Bethlem, Museum of the Mind
  • Hunterian Museum
  • Royal College of Surgeons of England
  • Langdon Down Museum of Learning Disabilities
  • Royal College of Physicians
  • Royal London Hospital Museum and Archives
  • Science Museum
  • Surgeons’ Hall Museums
  • Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh
  • Thackray Medical Museum, Leeds

Project advisors

  • Tony Heaton, SHAPE
  • Katherine Ott, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution


The Wellcome Trust is a global charitable foundation dedicated to improving health. They support bright minds in science, the humanities and the social sciences, as well as education, public engagement and the application of research to medicine.

Arts Council England champions, develops and invests in artistic and cultural experiences that enrich people’s lives. It support a range of activities across the arts, museums and libraries – from theatre to digital art, reading to dance, music to literature, and crafts to collections. Great art and culture inspires us, brings us together and teaches us about ourselves and the world around us. In short, it makes life better.

Photo Credit: Zbigniew Tomasz Kotkiewicz