Award-winning exhibition returns as a traveling show, bringing social science insights to San Francisco’s waterfront and other neighborhoods
SAN FRANCISCO (June 7, 2022) — The Exploratorium is relaunching its award-winning Middle Ground: Reconsidering Ourselves and Others installation on June 15, 2022 with the exhibition’s debut at the Exploratorium’s Public Plaza. Developed in close collaboration with the City of San Francisco, Urban Alchemy, the San Francisco Public Library, San Francisco Recreation and Park Department, and key community stakeholders, Middle Ground’s bright yellow activity towers engage the public in aspects of social science. Middle Ground will be on display at the Exploratorium’s Public Plaza on the Embarcadero, Pier 15, for five months before moving onto future sites including San Francisco’s Civic Center and India Basin.
Originally installed at the San Francisco Main Public Library in 2019, Middle Ground invites passersby of all ages to learn more about themselves and how they relate to the people around them as they interact with the exhibition and each other. The expanded Middle Ground includes 15 architectural-scale, interactive, and multimedia exhibits about topics such as stereotypes and biases, social influence, prosocial behavior, and social polarization.
“We are thrilled to bring Middle Ground back to our community and continue exploring the intricacies of how we interact with each other, especially following the past two years of unprecedented global events,” said Shawn Lani, Principal Investigator of Middle Ground. “The opportunity to come together to think, reflect, learn, and engage in conversations about social behavior is more important than ever, and we are grateful to our partners for their collaboration in bringing this unique installation to life across many parts of our beloved city.”
Middle Ground brings insights from social science research to public urban environments. The traveling exhibition is part of a citywide effort to breathe new life into central civic spaces and was developed in close partnership with the City of San Francisco, community organizations, and cultural institutions. With the development and installation of Middle Ground, the Exploratorium extends an ongoing 10-year partnership with the City of San Francisco to create convivial, educational, and inclusive public spaces in some of San Francisco’s most challenging areas.
“The pandemic reminded us that humans are hyper-social creatures. We rely on healthy social connections and need to connect with one another with empathy and respect,” Lani said. "Middle Ground offers a safe space where people can explore the social sciences and reflect on how we navigate one another. Having this happen in the public realm is an integral part of our strategy to be inclusive and relevant to people who might not normally visit a science museum.”
Following the five-month Exploratorium installation, the exhibition will return to the main branch of the San Francisco Public Library near City Hall. The Exploratorium is working in close partnership with Urban Alchemy, the San Francisco Public Library, San Francisco Recreation and Park Department and other site partners to ensure that Middle Ground will be a safe, inclusive space that invites everyone to be part of the conversation. All aspects of the exhibition will be ADA compliant, and Spanish, Chinese, and Braille translations will be available on-site.
“Middle Ground is an exciting project that serves as part of a broader effort to bring positive activations and transformational improvements to the public realm,” said Phil Ginsburg, General Manager of San Francisco Recreation and Park Department. “Experiences that help us understand one another brings communities together by promoting equity while being wholly accessible and genuinely inclusive. It’s a perfect pairing of the Exploratorium’s joyful exhibits and our park system’s commitment to serving our local communities.”
Passersby on the Embarcadero will be greeted by more than a dozen interactive exhibits that feature group activities like rope pulls, prompts for individual reflection, and even a community-building coffee cart. Mounted on a whimsical mobile trike, the Pay it Forward Cafe invites people to leave a small tip that helps pay for a coffee token to be used by others. This simple act of generosity helps provide a free cup of coffee – and a sense of belonging and comfort – to a fellow citizen.
“Social scientists are not only trying to explain human behavior, they also apply their knowledge to important questions concerning society at large,” said Heike Winterheld, staff social psychologist and exhibition advisor at the Exploratorium. “The field of social psychology, for example, seeks to understand how people think and feel about, relate to and influence one another. An improved understanding of these processes in their own lives can help people recognize that broader social problems are often precipitated by beliefs or values upon which we act–and that social science-based solutions that target human thought and behavior are needed to meet some of the most urgent global challenges we are facing today.”
Community members employed by Urban Alchemy, a nonprofit organization that focuses on bringing a sense of peace and respect to urban public areas, will help facilitate the interactive experiences and serve as mediators and caretakers of the space.
“Urban Alchemy is honored to continue partnering with the Exploratorium on this installation,” said Lena Miller, Executive Director of Urban Alchemy. “Middle Ground captures and creates an evolved social narrative about the invaluable role of former long-term offenders who harness redemption and service to create safe public spaces. These community members can act as the connective tissue between neighbors, housing insecure, workers, tourists, and individuals struggling with mental illness.”
Middle Ground is funded by a National Science Foundation Advancing Informal STEM Learning grant. For more information, contact the Exploratorium Press Office at email@example.com.