How Dublin’s Science Gallery Went Global

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As a city known for its creativity, curiosity and banter, I suppose it’s no accident that Dublin is home to such a vibrant tech and startup scene.

There’s also no doubt that Dublin’s personality has helped to fuel the development of Science Gallery as a cultural startup – we’re all about sparking new conversations, and connecting people with new ideas.

I became involved with Science Gallery in 2011. I had been considering moving away at the time, but it felt like Dublin was experiencing a post-Celtic Tiger creative renaissance that I wanted to stick around for – so when a job at Science Gallery came up I set my mind on joining the team. This was the exactly the kind of organisation I was looking for when I was considering moving to cities like New York and London – innovative, ambitious, creative and brimming with personality, whilst being focused on making a positive impact on the world.

Younger than Facebook, Science Gallery opened at Trinity College Dublin in 2008, and has rapidly become one of Ireland’s most-visited cultural attractions – a buzzing creative hub that engages more than 400,000 people every year. Now we’re using Dublin as the base to develop one of the world’s most exciting and ambitious cultural projects: the Global Science Gallery Network.

Why a Global Science Gallery Network? We want to extend the reach and impact of Science Gallery, whilst accelerating learning and maximising engagement with each exhibition developed by touring to multiple locations. It’s a proven approach that has received significant international attention since its inception, and we’ve been lucky to have some great partners along the way: seeing the potential of Science Gallery early on, Google were the first to show confidence in the idea for the Network, gifting us €1M as seed capital.

With this funding in hand, we spun out an independent non-profit organisation, Science Gallery International, to act as a vehicle to drive the development of the Network. Splitting my time between local and global projects up until 2013, I moved to Science Gallery International full-time to focus on supporting the development of the Network by further mobilising the Science Gallery brand and approach, and catalysing global initiatives to support the growth of the network.

This approach continues to connect really well with universities and audiences worldwide. It’s very much an entrepreneurial environment, and a little like a startup incubator model – in fact we sometimes talk about it acting like a particle accelerator for people and their ideas. The galleries invite ideas from artists, scientists, designers, entrepreneurs (and everyone in between) based around universal themes like love, the city, or – coming soon in Dublin – secrecy. The gallery teams then select the ideas that will be part of major public engagement programmes consisting of exhibitions, events and workshops aimed at igniting an interest in science and creativity.

Regardless of their background or career stage, the people and ideas that end up involved in Science Gallery programmes usually display a sense of experimentation, research and innovation that results in the highly engaging, participative and often surprising experiences we’re now helping to bring worldwide. We’ve often collaborated with start-ups and researchers with early-stage prototypes or concepts – they see Science Gallery as an opportunity to user-test the concept and products, harnessing the feedback from up to 100,000 visitors during any themed season. For Trinity College Dublin spinout company Surewash for example, Science Gallery provided a perfect opportunity for the testing and development of an advanced hand washing system that prevents disease spread in hospitals. They credit their user-testing of this product at Science Gallery as helping to secure investment, calling our audience ‘supportive but challenging’ = which I think is a wonderful combination! SureWash went on to be commercialised, and in 2011 their founder Gerard Lacey won the Enterprise Ireland ICT Commercialisation Award at the Big Ideas Technology Showcase for his work in developing the system.

Since opening, about 40% of Science Gallery Dublin’s audience has been from that much-coveted (and often hard-to-reach) 15-25 year old age group. There are already many stories about how Science Gallery has affected the lives and career paths of these young adults, inspiring them to discover new areas of interest or study that have helped to determine or accelerate the paths that they have taken. A fine example is Dr. Lara Dungan, who first discovered an interest in Immunology when visiting Science Gallery show INFECTIOUS. Having since worked as a Science Gallery mediator and chosen to pursue a PhD in the area, her research into autoimmune diseases has won international prizes and she has gone on to be a regular radio correspondent on science and technology. When talking about Science Gallery, Lara says that it sparked her love of science, bringing her to the edge of a cliff and handing her a parachute. When you think about scaling this up globally, the potential impact is mind-boggling.

Our main aim at Science Gallery International right now is to secure eight locations for the Global Science Gallery Network from amongst the world’s leading universities by 2020. Once the Network is fully operational, the galleries will engage 3 million visitors directly every year offline, and up to 50 million through online and media engagement. Together, the galleries will create a staggering 32 exhibition and event programmes every year, with 20 of them touring to multiple locations worldwide.

Whilst the ever-inspiring team at Science Gallery Dublin have a head start, there’s already a fantastic team forming at King’s College London, and we’ve recently signed an agreement with the government of India to develop a gallery in Bengaluru (formerly Bangalore) with the Indian Institute of Science. We’re also at an advanced stage in discussions to establish galleries in Melbourne and New York, and have active conversations in Singapore, Munich and Venice. It will be a particularly proud moment when the first new gallery outside Ireland opens its doors – in the meantime, come pay us a visit.

-SECRET opens at Science Gallery Dublin on August 7th.
-The pre-opening FED UP season at Science Gallery London runs until the end of September.

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