Arts At The Exploratorium
The Exploratorium is an organization infused with art in its staffing, public programs, and exhibit collection. Although the public often thinks of the Exploratorium as a science museum, art has been integral to the mission and work of the Exploratorium for over 40 years.
Artists & Scientists
Exploratorium Founder Frank Oppenheimer called artists and scientists “the official ‘noticers’ of society,” adding that “they notice things that other people either have never learned to see or have learned to ignore, and communicate those ‘noticings’ to others.” Many museums now incorporate both art and science, but this was a revolutionary idea when the Exploratorium opened its doors in the late sixties.
Today, visiting and staff artists and scientists continue to work alongside each other, separately and in collaboration (and with educators, exhibit developers, and other staff). Their common goal: to support a culture of experimentation and collaboration, inspire curiosity and understanding, and stimulate fresh ideas and directions.
Performances, Workshops, Screenings, Temporary Exhibitions, and Other Art Events
In an average year, the Exploratorium invites between 30 and 100 artists to present performances, conduct public workshops, screen their films, demonstrate their crafts, or lend their works.
One current program is After Dark, which often includes artists in a variety of disciplines for one-night installations as part of a larger theme. Under the rubric Nomadic Communities, which included food foraging within city limits, a solar powered traveling sewing machine and hitch hiking creatures in the bay, for example, there was also a mobile diner – a temporary artwork called Dust City Diner. It is a magical 40s style diner, complete with a quilted stainless steel backsplash, red leather stools, chrome finishes, the Ink Spots and the Andrews Sisters on the radio, and -- of course -- blue plate specials. For one night only this mobile, magical and performative artwork served portions of their goodness, created and operated by artists Michael Brown and David Cole, and a raft of volunteers.
Exhibitions have showcased artists whose common ground is an experimental approach to their work. Reconsidered Materials, a popular temporary exhibition, fused artists and recycled materials in large-scale works suspended from the rafters and on the museum floor. Another exhibition, 2nd Skin: Imaginative Design in Digital & Analog Clothing, fused art, science, technology, and fashion, to name only a few in our long history with the arts.
The magic of the moving picture marries the arts and sciences in our Cinema Arts Program, which provides an opportunity for visitors to explore the compelling people, places, and ideas that extend beyond the museum’s walls, and to interact with visiting artists and filmmakers. Cinema Arts collects and screen works that capture the methods and aesthetics of both artists and scientists. Its primary focus is on films that blend observation, poetry, and surrealism; and documentaries that exist in the realm between art and science, and fiction and document. Films often complement and resonate with exhibits or exhibitions, sharing their subject matter and playful interactivity. Filmmakers who have a work in progress screen and discuss it with visitors. The Exploratorium also serves as a venue for collaborative functions with numerous community arts organizations.
Invited Artists (Artists-in-Residence)
Since 1974, more than 250 artists working in many disciplines have held residencies at the Exploratorium. Each year, the museum invites ten to twenty artists to participate in residencies ranging from two weeks to two years. Artists-in-residence work with staff and the visiting public to create original installations, exhibits, or performances, to engage in experimentation and research, and to develop new ideas and directions for their work. Artists are given a stipend, housing, travel expenses, and technical support, and they have at their disposal the Exploratorium's full array of metal and woodworking shops and materials. The Exploratorium's residency program is considered one of the first successful residency programs in the country and many museums have since created similar programs. Several former artists-in-residence have been awarded MacArthur Fellowship "genius" grants.
Artists on Staff
Because arts are a key part of the Exploratorium, the museum employs artists in permanent positions in all areas: exhibit development, exhibit construction and repair, graphics, media, film, photography, programs for teachers, public programs, docents, facilities management, finance, and administrative staff. More than 40 Exploratorium employees have degrees in art, many of them with MFAs, and have a broad range of background in the arts, including film, multimedia, photography, performance, visual arts, sculpture, installation, theater, and crafts.
As an example of the influence of staff artists, the Exploratorium's popular web site has been recognized not only for its content, but also for its excellent design. The Science of Baseball — part of the ongoing Sports Science series — bested thousands of other entries to be awarded the prestigious New York Art Directors' Club Distinctive Merit award. This site was also featured in the international interactive design annual of the graphic design magazine Graphis. Internationally recognized artists, either formerly or currently on staff, include Mildred Howard, Ned Kahn, Walter Kitundu, Peter Richards, Susan Schwartzenberg, and Stephanie Syjuco, as well as such award-winning writers as science fiction writer Pat Murphy.
Funding for the Arts
The Exploratorium receives funding from many government, corporate, and foundation funders for arts projects, including:
-The National Endowment for the Arts, including two prestigious Challenge grants
San Francisco Grants for the Arts has awarded the Exploratorium major institutional grants every year since 1971.
-California Arts Council Organizational Support. The Exploratorium has received the highest score given to large, multi-arts organizations.
-The Exploratorium is one of the first museums to receive funding from the National Science Foundation to fund artists and is considered an exemplary institution that marries art and science.
-Challenge Grants from the California Arts Council. The Exploratorium received three prestigious Challenge Grants and received the highest ranking given to large, multi-arts organizations during its reviews.
-New Experiments in Art andTechnology, The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts and LEF Foundation have funded exhibition projects.
Other foundations include the Nathan Cummings Foundation, Zellerbach Foundation, Fleishhacker Foundation, Marin Community Foundation, The David and Lucile Packard Foundation, The Ruby Sisson Trust, the Wattis Foundation, AT&T, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.