Class #14: November 21, 2019–Exploratorium Portal and The Contemporary Jewish Museum exhibitions

Class Summary #15 November 21, 2019

We opened class with a brief overview of Bay Area Science Museums: the Exploratorium (San Francisco), where we would later spend time at its web portal, the California Academy of Sciences, (San Francisco), the Chabot Space and Science Center (Oakland), and the Lawrence Hall of Science (Berkeley). Chabot, like the Lawrence Hall of Science, is less expensive than the Academy of Sciences and the Exploratorium. Though the Academy and the Exploratorium are expensive, both of them, along with the Lawrence Hall of Science and Chabot, participate in the Museums for All program, which offers free passes to people and families in the EBT program, aka Food Stamps.

Best deal of all, however, is the free, hands-on school of science education, the Mission Science Workshop, founded by Dan Sudran, a former City College electronics technician who says: “Science is about doing experiments and believing the experiment.”  This “people’s science museum” is located at Mission High School, with a branch location in the Excelsior District.

Then we continued on to an assessment of the Exploratorium website. The Exploratorium, founded by Frank Oppenheimer in 1969, moved from its original home in the Palace of Fine Arts (originally part of the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition) to Pier 15 in 2013.

Museum web portals are useful to visit both before an actual visit for planning, and after a visit for reminiscing and maybe even checking out the online gift store.

The Exploratorium website, our collective case study, provides an excellent example of a rich and multi-layered on-line experience. With 50,000 pages, the site invites visitors to explore projects, collaborations, permanent and temporary exhibitions, and view a diverse collection of videos. Though the entrance cost is prohibitive for many, the museum offers projects and exhibitions surrounding the museum and at sister sites, all open to the public. This information is available here.


Most of you agreed that information is easy to find and organized in an intuitive manner. There is a lot of information with some of it popping up in unexpected places, but in general you thought navigation was pretty good with lots of options under each pull-down menu and clear instructions on how to navigate through each sub-heading.

The content was clean and shines, but some of you recorded “sensory overload.” It seemed that it was easy to discover new information but not so easy to find the permanent exhibitions. You can find them by going to “Visit” and then clicking on “Museum Galleries.” 


You liked that there was a repository for all the videos in one place and some one appreciated both the “random” and “most popular” selection options. You commented on the excellence of the teaching videos.

The apps, the blogs, the online engagement strategies were enticing, though the social media sites were a bit hidden and could have been integrated better throughout. 


You liked discovering that the Exploratorium offers ASL guides and Braille maps. Eight different languages were available under “Visit” and were mostly satisfied with third party browser (google translates), though commented on its sometime inaccuracies.

You liked the resources for teachers and the free field trips for their students and the heads up about visiting The Tactile Dome, the Exploratorium’s signature installation. The museum is free five days a year, including pi-day. It is also free to EBT card holders with up to four in the family.

Graphic Design

You found the layout to be pleasing and clean–simple, no frills–though some thought the text could be bigger and bolder for an easier reading experience. There was some disappointment that the whimsy in many of the museum’s exhibitions was not reflected in the website’s design.

First Time Visitors

It looks like a place for children or people with children, so first time visitors might need to see the After Dark program for adults on Thursday nights more prominently displayed on the home page. The site could also focus on the museum as a place of wonder and curiosity for people of all ages. A much more developed and highly visible introductory video could welcome first time visitors. There could be a quick link to a “Are you a first time visitor?” question.

You thought that the website might be seriously overwhelming for someone with little museum experience and/or little science literacy, so you proposed a page for those folks: “Are you new to museums? Go here.” “Is this your first time at the Exploratorium? Go here.” Or “What to expect at the Exploratorium for first time visitors.”

After the break, we left the Downtown Campus for a second visit to The Contemporary Jewish Museum where you enjoyed a guided tour with former Museum Studies student Beatriz Escobar, while I met with some of you about your final projects or third reflection paper (pass/no pass students). You visited Annabeth Rosen’s “Fired, Broken, Gathered, Heaped” and Izidora Leber’s “LETHE: Peristyle.” The blogs will fill me in, and Beatriz’s notes below will complete this Summary.

The tour started by us gathering in a circle within Izidora Leber LETHER’s exhibition called Peristyle. As peristyles are known to be gathering spaces, it seemed that we could honor her work by starting off with that. Beatriz shared some information about Izidora’s work and some highlights of a conversation they had, including how Izidora thinks about emigration in contrast to imigration and the experience of diaspora. Each student briefly introduced themselves and described their general mood for that day choosing an element to describe their emotional state, such as fire, air, earth, water, wood, metal or even a chemical element from the Periodic Table as chosen by one student. We used the introductions and the connection to elements to get us warmed up for Annabeth Rosen’s exhibit.

Moving to Fired, Broken, Gathered, Heaped, we explored individually for five minutes and then gathered in the back of the room (near the work Sample, 1999). From there we followed the unusual flow suggested by celebrated curator Valerie Cassel Oliver, almost zig-zagging around the room while experiencing the works from each of the six sessions.

Some students felt really drawn to the drawings on the wall and were glad they were included in the show. We discussed how this curatorial choice helps us experience what Annabeth’s process and studio are like.

We discussed how Annabeth’s work can be seen through the lens of endurance-based performance and how the intense physical labor put into the work is translated in the pieces, creating an interesting tension and contradiction between control and chance. We also discussed the titles for the pieces and the role of sound in the process of naming them.

We ended our time together in a circle again, each person sharing one word about the Annabeth’s work and one question that the exhibition prompted in us.

There is no class this coming week. On December 5, you will meet again at the Downtown Campus with Ann in our usual room #625. Have fun work shopping your final project with her and each other. Bring your Final Project worksheets if you are taking the class for a letter grade.

I will see you at our class class on December 19.



– View Nina Simon video: Visitors as Participants – take notes on key ideas and questions in your journal for class discussion.

– Research & Development – Continue to work on Final Project Research Worksheet. Be prepared to discuss your final project or reflection paper ideas and challenges and share your progress, for class feedback support.   

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