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An Insider’s View into the Market Street Prototyping Festival

An Insider’s View into the Market Street Prototyping Festival

Since opening in 1969, the Exploratorium has been leading the way in bringing ideas to life and turning imagination into innovation. Every one of our projects or exhibits begins as an idea and goes through a cycle of building, observing, tweaking, and observing again.

Thus it’s fair to say that we’re not just familiar with prototyping. It’s fundamental to who we are.

The inaugural Market Street Prototyping Festival is right around the corner, and I couldn’t be more excited. For three days from April 9-11, Market Street will transform into a public platform featuring more than 50 amazingly inventive ideas for improving city life and changing the way the world learns.

Market Street Protototyping Festival - Civic Center District


The Civic Center District at the Market Street Prototyping Festival.

For the last six months, the Exploratorium’s Studio for Public Spaces has played the role of team captain for the Civic Center district that spans from Market Street between Polk and Hayes. (Check out the five different districts and their projects.) We have had the pleasure of not only working with the San Francisco Planning Department and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in executing the festival, but also of working with 10 builders of all backgrounds and skill levels to bring their unique ideas to life. We have provided access to space and tools that our makers would be hard-pressed to get anywhere else. And in addition to serving as teacher, mentor, and coach, our Studio for Public Spaces team has played the all-important role of cheerleader because, as Founding Director Shawn Lani once told me, “If you’re not failing, then you’re not prototyping.”

But of all the highlights, perhaps most satisfying is seeing the powerful results of inquiry-based learning in changing the world for the better. The Exploratorium has always strongly believed in educational equity and the power of anyone to learn by pursuing the answers to his or her own questions about the world. Despite the diverse backgrounds of the Civic Center team artists, each one has followed his or her own path of inquiry and as a result produced something creative and original for the public to enjoy.

But the victory doesn’t stop there. While conceiving, building, and placing one’s own installation is certainly a win, there is another level of success when those projects promote thinking and learning by everyone who passes. On the average day, most who walk down Market Street go straight from Point A to Point B because there are few thought-provoking pieces with which to interact. We want to not only bring learning experiences into the city and in public spaces, but have visitors cultivate an increasingly inquisitive mindset that follows them wherever they go, long after the festival is over. We want learning to become contagious!

Tree Sitting


Tree Sitting gives pedestrians a chance to quietly contemplate what tree rings are telling us.

While we have coached and supported makers on our team on their own exhibits, we just wouldn’t be the Exploratorium without contributing a prototype of our own. The Studio for Public Spaces team will be displaying a festival anchor project, Tree Sitting, which provides passers-by a brief respite from city life and educates the public on how tree rings can provide important data on climate trends. Pedestrians are invited to sit in one of five reclining chairs located in a circular, string-bound enclosure at the base of the tree and look upwards to discover how colored bands convey a series of drought events, and what the data means for us moving forward.

You can see all the wonderful projects by all festival participants from Thursday, April 9 to Saturday, April 11. Daytime festival hours are from 11am-7pm and evening hours are from 8pm-10pm.