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Center for Art & Inquiry

Center for Art and Inquiry
Center for Art & Inquiry

The Center for Art & Inquiry (CAI) serves as an R&D center for the arts within the larger learning laboratory of the Exploratorium. CAI leads the Exploratorium’s arts strategy and direction, expanding the museum’s focus on art as a medium for exploration, inquiry, and discovery. Working with program directors from across the museum as well as a council of national advisors, CAI oversees the museum’s Over the Water program and the long-running Artist-in-Residence Program, hosts research fellows, and initiates special projects to advance work at the intersection of art and interdisciplinary learning.

In 2011, the Exploratorium convened an international conference called Art as a Way of Knowing (made possible by a grant from the National Science Foundation) to better understand the role of aesthetic inquiry in public interdisciplinary learning environments. The Exploratorium formed CAI as an outcome of that project, as part of our renewed commitment to art as an essential aspect of learning.

The Exploratorium’s roots lie in an interdisciplinary approach to understanding the world, and from the very beginning artists have played a vital role in shaping the museum’s public offerings and learning methodologies. In 1969, the Exploratorium opened its doors with Cybernetic Serendipity, the seminal exhibition of art, science, and technology curated by Jasia Reichardt for the Institute of Contemporary Art in London. In 1974, the creation of an artist-in-residence program enabled dialogue and collaboration between artists and other interdisciplinary thinkers such as scientists, engineers, educators, and inventors. By the late 1970s the Exploratorium had established itself as the home for a burgeoning countercultural art scene on the West Coast.

At the Exploratorium, we view art as integral to learning. Inquiry, the learning approach espoused by philosopher and educator John Dewey, animated Frank Oppenheimer’s educational vision for the Exploratorium. For us, the artistic process—much like the scientific process—is a form of inquiry vital to learning. We see art is an open-ended process of investigation, speculation, imagination and experimentation. The results of artistic inquiry can take infinite form, as every artist has the potential to reinvent art practice anew.

Over the last forty-four years the Exploratorium has cultivated a unique working environment for artists interested in cross-disciplinary investigations and hybrid approaches and has shown the work of hundreds of artists. At Pier 15 on the downtown San Francisco waterfront, the Exploratorium presents dozens of art projects both inside and outside the building. Expansive outdoor space, state-of-the-art facilities, and wide-ranging themes of investigation allow for even greater possibilities for artistic exploration.


The Exploratorium’s work in the arts at Pier 15 has been made possible by generous grants from Sakurako and William Fisher, Warren Breslau and Frances Hellman, the National Endowment of the Arts, the San Francisco Hotel Tax Fund, the Rainin Foundation, and the Seed Fund.