Like many others, I have been waiting with anticipation for the California Academy of Sciences to re-open. I would occasionally drive by and catch a glimpse of the construction progress. I would check the website ever so often, and promptly joined as a charter member as soon as I could. Finally, my wait was over! I attended the preview week for members only with my two boys, excited to see what the CAS had to offer the public in science education and exposure. Unfortunately, it was mixed reviews. So I waited until the museum had opened to the public and most of the exhibits had been completed for the possibility I might feel differently. And while there was some progress made, I stand by my initial opinion: they have a bit more work to do.
Here is my caveat: having worked in museums, particularly with public programs and education. No museum is safe from my scrutiny as to whether or not it is serving its most important audience, the public, in an accessible and meaningful way. I am not looking for perfection, but I do need to sense a deep and abiding belief in the mission of giving the public information and experiences that enhance their own knowledge and world view as well as actions that support that belief. I don't feel this is too much to ask of any museum I visit. But because of this, I will also be brief in my description of CAS as to maintain the validity of everyone's experience, which may differ from mine.
The building is everything San Francisco challenges itself to be: green, technologically advanced, and aesthetically pleasing. Designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect, Renzo Piano, the CAS blends into Golden Gate Park seamlessly and beautifully. Both the interior and exterior, mirrors the future of science and environmental literacy with the use of technology and interactive displays. Inside, the different exhibits are separated into appropriate categories, and it is easy to move from one exhibit to another. In fact, without crowds we were easily able to see the entire museum in an hour and a half.
The ability to see above and below the different tanks filled with all kind of freshwater and marine life delighted young and old alike. There is also a science-themed playroom, which may satisfy the common need of young children in museums to expend some energy in a less structured way, as well as the need for their parents to sit down for a few minutes.
But for all of this, I still want to see more. The use of projected images and lights in the lower level was distracting to me. The exhibit spaces felt a little too sterile, and rely too heavily on the use of technology to impart information and interactive experience. I wish there were more connections made between the different exhibits.
I am hoping that the event and educational programs are expanded as CAS gets up and running in this exciting new phase of their existence. Rather than being able to see the museum in one day, I wish I had more to linger over, and then come back for the rest. While certainly the future of science, and the public's relationship with science, is unequivocally going in this direction, I hope the California Acadamy of Science will continue to work on a deeper and richer level of commitment with people of all ages to delight and respect the earth and all its magic first, since this is a necessary first step to saving it.
Visit the California Academy of Sciences:
55 Music Concourse
Gate Golden Park
San Francisco CA 94118
http://www.calacademy.org for more information.