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Susan Schwartzenberg

Artist, Director Bay Observatory, Exploratorium, San Francisco, USA

Toward a Pedagogy of Place – The Bay Observatory/Exploratorium, San Francisco

The Exploratorium’s new home at the Port of San Francisco
The Exploratorium, a museum of science art and human perception, moved in 2013 opening its doors in a renovated shipping pier on the Embarcadero. The new location consists of two pier sheds and an open plaza. These historic structures comprise the Embarcadero Heritage District. An extraordinary location for a museum, we are at the juncture of the City and the Bay in downtown San Francisco. Our building is Leed certified. We have a solar array on the roof and use the Bay water for heating and cooling. Over a million residents, tourists and school groups visit the Exploratorium every year, and we are easily accessed through public transportation.

The Bay Observatory-Placed–based education
At the very center of the new campus is the Bay Observatory, a glass walled building with a restaurant on the first floor and a gallery on the second. The focus of the gallery is to connect visitors to the built and natural landscape at our location. The Environmental Initiative is a multidisciplinary long-term plan to develop exhibits, artworks and programs centered on ways to explore local environmental conditions to better understand global climate change as well as our place in the global economy. Offerings in the Observatory include a live ship tracker, a browsing library of historical and contemporary maps, commissioned artworks, a topographic relief of the Bay Area upon which a series of datasets; sea level change, earthquakes, population density, fog and salinity are modeled and can be interacted with and an environmental monitoring program. By partnering with scientists and local agencies we have instruments in the water and on the roof gathering data on air and water quality, weather, tides and the changing estuary conditions.

Museum as Citizen – from environmental education to civic agency
To build a community around the new environmental work we implemented a series of programs. The events bring together scientists, artists, environmentalists, policy makers, a general audience and staff from a range of institutions; including museums, agencies, the Port of SF and Oakland. By focusing on contemporary regional issues we see the museum as a partner and convener. Current partners include: Resilience by Design–on sea level rise adaptation strategies; The Port of San Francisco-the Sea Wall Awareness project, a long-term plan to engage residents on the process to restore our 100 year old sea wall. Museums must reconsider their role as educators only and align their programs with critical, local/regional issues and in this way foster approaches through education to human agency.


Susan Schwartzenberg is a senior artist and Director of the Fisher Bay Observatory at the Exploratorium in San Francisco. The Observatory is an exhibition and convening space designed to engage Bay Area residents in local environmental conditions. In this capacity she has spearheaded the museum’s Environmental Initiative, a multi-year plan for evolving place-based education and environmental literacy. Currently she is working with numerous Bay Area programs, including the SF Port to explore the impacts/implications of climate change adaptation planning. She is also on a project team for the Resilience by Design Challenge.
Schwartzenberg also works as an independent curator, photographer, designer and author and has exhibited her work internationally, including numerous public commissions. She is a Loeb Fellow at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, and has taught at the San Francisco Art Institute, the California College of Art, and Stanford University.