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Arts History

Monochrome abstract artwork featuring intricate overlapping lines and shapes.
Arts History

When physicist and educator Frank Oppenheimer founded the Exploratorium, he envisioned a hybrid between a laboratory and a public museum.

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.

The Exploratorium’s doors first opened in 1969 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.

Since 1969 the Exploratorium has cultivated a unique working environment for artists interested in cross-disciplinary investigations and hybrid approaches and has presented the work of hundreds of artists. 

At Pier 15 on the downtown San Francisco waterfront, the Exploratorium debuted scores of new 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 views 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 investigation vital to 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. As an outcome of that project, the Exploratorium renewed its commitment to advocate for the importance of art as an essential aspect of learning.