Do you get the conference blues? I am fortunate to be able to travel to many conferences across the nation, meet new people and explore new cities. Being camped out from dusk until dawn in a hotel room or conference center does not promote creativity or the space to reflect on what you may have learned or been inspired by during the conference. This is why I try to find time to get away from the conference area and explore the surrounding city and culture. Whether it is a nice restaurant with close friends, baseball game or museum, it is good to step away and let the stress of travel or thoughts rattling around in your skull settle.
Two weeks ago while at Dreamforce 2012, I decided to wander through the Exploratorium in San Francisco before going to the airport to catch a red-eye back to Boston. I was extremely excited about going to the institution because of the case studies profiled in the book, The Participatory Museum by Nina Simon. Normally, I prefer to explore museums by myself on the first visit. I am able to go at my own speed, digest information as I can, and not feel rushed through exhibits or feel pressured to like or stay longer in exhibits that do not catch my interest. That might not have been the best choice for the Exploratorium.
In 2013, the Exploratorium will move into a new location, Piers 15/17, with more foot traffic than the current location on Lyon Street. Perhaps the location and it being a weekday in the middle of September was the reason there were so few people in the Exploratorium during my visit. I expected crowds of students and young families in the large warehouse, but may have shared the building with less than ten families.
Almost every space in the Exploratorium was interactive and it was obvious some of the exhibits had been through the ringer and had not withstood the participation. The warehouse environment opened up the exhibit space, but lack of windows and exhibits not well maintained made the space feel dark and a bit depressing. Several exhibits required more than one person to participate, so I observed other families and groups go through the motions. Since the space was so big and there were so few families, there was not an opportunity for shared participation with strangers or impromptu conversations. The exhibits brought groups already familiar with each other closer, but did not encourage participation outside of the immediate physical boundaries.
There were exhibits I thoroughly enjoyed like the “Alice and Wonderland” distortion room and Mix and Match Emotions. One of the most interesting exhibits was Retrained. A small room contains a 19th century constraining device known as a Utica Crib. At the entry/exit, visitors were asked to describe how they felt restrained and write the response on an index card. Visitors could share their response by pinning the card on twine ropes displayed in the glass windows at the exhibit entry/exit. It was amusing to read several responses containing the answer, “skinny jeans.”
Perhaps if I had explored the museum with a friend or my children, the experience would have been more enjoyable. I felt disconnected from the mission of the museum because it was hard to interact with the objects and the visitors. There were no museum professionals visible in the museum outside of the ticket area. I was disappointed with the overall experience, but happy to have had the opportunity to see the exhibits I have read so much about. When the Exploratorium moves to its new location, I will visit again. Dreamforce 2013, anyone?